How to Sleep on a Plane (and Enjoy It)

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Long plane journeys (especially overnight ones) are often the perfect time to get some much needed sleep, but unfortunately it’s not always as simple as that.

Spending 10 hours tilted backwards on a small seat in a sardine-like space and surrounded by dozens of (potentially noisy) strangers isn’t a good way to sleep. Fortunately, there are a few things that you can do to help you get to sleep on an air-plane, so that you can feel fresh and revitalised upon landing.

Wear Comfortable Clothes

If you really want to sleep on a plane, make sure to wear comfortable clothes (even if they aren’t the nicest looking). I recommend joggling bottoms (i.e. sweat pants), a loose fitting T-shirt and an optional zip-up hooded jumper (in case you get cold). While shorts are comfortable, I always find that my legs get cold wearing them when I’m trying to sleep (possibly due to the air-conditioning/air-circulation on the plane).

As a rule of thumb, the clothing you wear should be warm, loose fitting and comfortable.

If it’s important that you look smart/nice upon landing (if perhaps you’re heading straight to a business meeting), bring a second pair of (smarter) clothes with you, fold them up neatly and put them in the overhead locker. Then, a short while before landing you can take these clothes and change in the plane bathroom.

Give Yourself the Maximum Amount of Space

How to Sleep on a PlaneIf you’re flying in first or business class you should have all the space you need to sleep, but for those of us who travel in economy it’s important that we maximize the amount of space we have so that we can get as comfortable as possible.

For me, I like to increase my legroom (as I have long legs) by taking whatever might be under the seat in front of me (i.e. the blanket and the pillow that the airline supply) and putting these things underneath my own seat. I also like to make sure that I don’t have any bags of my own in the area where my legs are, so that I can stretch them out as much as possible and move them freely.

Follow Your Usual Bedtime Routine as Closely as Possible

The human body runs on a set of routines, habits and patterns that you’ve developed throughout your life. Your routine of getting ready and going to bed is one that you’ll do every night, so it’s likely that it’ll be ingrained so heavily into your biology and physiology that by simply following the acts that you go through each night (such as getting changed into your pajamas, brushing your teeth, eating a pre-bed snack, reading a book) your body will start to prepare itself for sleep and you’ll elicit the physiological responses that you normally would before you go to bed.

Obviously to accomplish this you’ll need to carry a toothbrush and toothpaste in your carry-on luggage. Remember that you’ll only be allowed to take a very small tube of toothpaste on board (or else it’ll be confiscated at security).

Depending on the time of your flight, it might be best to brush your teeth in the airport bathroom before boarding, or while you’re actually on the plane in the bathroom there.

Use Sleeping Aids

By using ear plugs, a sleeping mask (the kind that goes over your eyes and has an elastic bang around it) and a travel pillow (or any combination of the three) you can really increase your chances of sleeping on a plane (and how well you sleep).

The ear plugs are there to block out the sounds of the world around you (such as passengers talking or air hostesses pushing their trolleys up and down the aisles).

The purpose of the sleep mask is to block out the light from your eyes. Even when your eyes are closed, unless the room around you is totally dark you’ll still see some light coming through (which is why it’s best to sleep in total darkness).

Travel pillows aren’t for everyone, but the horseshoe-shaped ones are great because they completely support your head and stop it from rolling about when you drift off.

If you have any other tips you’d like to share about how you sleep on airplanes, feel free to share them in the comments section below, or alternatively, for more slumber-related tips check out my guide on sleeping in airports.

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