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11 tips for sleeping on planes

I have been blessed with the gift of being able to sleep on virtually any moving vehicle. I've slept in large airplanes, small propeller planes, trucks on unsealed roads, cars, trains and boats. I sleep without the help of drugs, herbal supplements or any other gimmicks. I find my seat and my brain seems to decide, "Hey, this is going to be boring; let's just skip it." Several hours later, I wake up as my plane is on final approach.

My personal record for continuous sleep on a plane is 11.5 hours on a flight from Sydney to Los Angeles. Granted, that was in first class on V Australia, so the conditions were optimal. But my coach class record is 8.5 hours of uninterrupted sleep on a flight from Detroit to Tokyo. I followed that up with a 2.5 hour nap later in the flight. I would say that, on average, I spend 85% of my time on airplanes in an unconscious state. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

So, how do I do it? Well, if I could guarantee a solid slumber on a flight, I'd be hosting an infomercial right now selling the Mike Method for two easy payments of $49.95. Sadly, I think I am just lucky that I can sleep anywhere. However, there certainly are a few things that you can do to create an environment more conducive to sleeping on a plane (or any mode of transportation, really).
1. Relax
Whether you're on your way to an important meeting for work, visiting your in-laws or just going on vacation, the act of transporting yourself from one place to another can, in and of itself, be stressful. The same things that keep you awake at home - stress, anxiety, pressure - will keep you awake on the plane. Clear your mind and sleep is more likely to come.

2. Remove Contact Lenses
I always fly with my contacts out and my glasses on. Plane air is dry and sleeping with your contact lenses in is never fun. I'm much more apt to fall asleep if my contacts are out and my eyes are comfortable. In fact, when I'm ready to go to sleep, I take my glasses off and clip them on my shirt. They're close by for when I wake up, but without them my body knows that it's time power down.

3. Familiar Music
An iPod (or other portable music device) is a great way to block out the noise around you. But for optimal results, create a playlist purely for sleeping. Fill it with music that is soothing (for you) and, most importantly, very familiar to you. If you listen to music that is new to you, your brain will stay active trying to pay attention to the unfamiliar stimuli. Find some comfort music that you know backwards and forwards so that your brain can listen to it on autopilot. I have a playlist on my iPod entitled "Sleep." I've listened to that 400+ song playlist on countless flights over the years. It has changed minimally and the moment it starts, my mind begins to shut off.

4. Earplugs/Noise-Canceling Headphones
If music isn't your thing, simply block out the noise with good old-fashioned foam earplugs or new-fangled noise canceling headphones. Whatever you need to block out the crying babies, sniffling germ-carriers and endless announcements from the flight crew about how the in-flight entertainment system needs to be reset.

5. Dress Comfortably
THIS DOES NOT MEAN THAT SWEATPANTS IN PUBLIC ARE SOCIALLY ACCEPTABLE! However, packing a change of clothes for long flights can be very helpful. If you don't want to carry around a pair of pajama pants, wear an outfit that is comfortable and breathable. Bring layers so that you can handle whatever the plane's climate control system throws at you. And take off your shoes when nap time comes. But trust me, put them back on when you visit the toilet.

6. Have a Drink
Notice that I said a drink. Drink too much and you'll only guarantee yourself numerous trips to the lavatory and some fitful half-sleep followed by dehydration and a headache. If one glass of wine makes you drowsy, don't feel bad. Just don't let that one drink turn into a party at 35,000 feet.

7. Travel Pillows
This is going to shock many of you, but I do not use a travel pillow. At least not on planes. But I know more than a few people who swear by them. If you're one of those people, find one that works for you and stick with it. The more you make it a part of your routine, the more likely you are to get comfortable with it.

8. Sit With Friends
Every little creature comfort can help when you're not used to sleeping on planes. Having friends around you rather than strangers may help you relax and get comfortable. Plus, you won't feel bad if your snoring keeps your husband awake. He probably deserves it.

9. Sleep Masks
Again, this one isn't in my toolkit, but it may work for you if you are easily distracted or are a very light sleeper. Sure, you're going to look like a moron, but if you need to block out everything in order to sleep, then you need to make sensory deprivation your top priority. What's more important to you: Looking cool in front of people you will never see again or arriving at your destination well-rested?

10. Pack Snacks
Many people eschew sleep out of fear that they will miss the in-flight meal. While microwaved chicken is pretty underwhelming, it is often the only substantial meal you'll receive on a long-haul flight. Pack a few filling snacks (ie, trail mix, dried fruit, a sandwich or Handi-Snacks) and you can eat whenever you stomach desires. Once you're not held hostage by the flight's feeding schedule, you'll be able to relax, sleep and wake up to a treat of your own choosing.

11. Sleeping Pills
Call me a purist, but I consider sleeping pills and herbal supplements to be cheating. However, if you genuinely cannot fall asleep naturally and truly need to sleep on a flight, then I suppose I can understand going the pill-popping route. But I will put an asterisk next to your name in the record books.

It's not rocket science, but falling asleep on planes can be challenging for some people. Hopefully these tips help you drift off to your happy place rather than enduring the mundanity of air travel. Your mileage may vary, and I can't guarantee that you'll be a plane sleeping machine like me, but utilizing some or all of these suggestions should help you get comfortable and sleep through almost any flight.

Do you have your own method for falling asleep on planes? Any tricks worth sharing? Drop us a line in the comments.

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