How to Sleep on a Plane and Like It

Boarding a nighttime overseas flight doesn’t have to be walk down the gangplank of no sleep. Spending 15 hours tilted slightly backwards seatbelted onto a small slab surrounded by 400 strangers runs counter to relaxing off into the dream world. You can, however, take steps to ease yourself into hours of slumber rather than suffering through a night of looking at your watch and thrashing about. I’m not sure I’ve mastered sleeping on a plane, but I have improved my ability over time. On my last overnight flight I slept so well I awoke feeling almost as if I’d spent the night in bed at home. Here’s some tips to get your eyes closed and keep them closed the next time you find yourself flying at night.

Lie Down While You Can – Before you board your bedtime flight, or during a layover, lie down across a couple of seats or on the floor. Even 15 or 30 minutes of going horizontal can relax your body into realizing just because all the lights are on and everyone is buzzing around, it still is time to sleep. When I have a middle of the night layover and I lie flat I can almost feel my molecules rearranging themselves into their proper positions. Getting your body into its natural bedtime position will help it realize that now is the time to sleep.

Dress Your Worst – Don’t worry about looking good 15 hours later when you land. Focus on the here and now of getting through the night. Imitate the comfort of pajamas – not during your entire traveling day but for the flight itself. Before you board the plane, change into something loose, comfortable and warm, so if your plane morphs into a refrigerator, you might not shiver yourself awake. You’ll be able to somewhat neatly fold the clothes you want to wear upon landing and throw them in the bin above your head. Then, after you land, hop back into your dress-to-impress clothes.

Stick To Your Bedtime Routine – Although your position while sleeping on a plane will be drastically altered, your bedtime habits can stay roughly the same. In fact, stick as close as possible to your bedtime routine, and sleep may not be too hard to find. If you’re a pre-bed snacker, eat the snack. If you like to read yourself to sleep, bring on board the book you were reading back home. Carry toothpaste and a toothbrush with you to add to the whole bedtime ambiance. Sure, it’s gross to brush your teeth in public and far more gross watching someone else brush. Nevertheless, at night airport bathrooms are rife with teeth brushers readying for their overnight flights. Alternatively, you can tie up a lavoratory for an extra couple minutes and brush them on board.

Bring Ammunition – Carry with you earplugs to silence the chatter of passengers who talk their way through the night, a sleep mask to block the lights shining from the seats of those who read the night away, and a travel pillow to prevent your head from lolling about once you drift off. Also while flying at night, try an holistic or over-the-counter sleep aid. This can help ease you away from the discomfort of the plane and into a world of sleep.

Maximize Your Legroom – You don’t have to spend the night with your legs wrapped around each other. There is a way to stick them straight out in front of you. After the plane has hit its peak altitude, after you and your seatmates have finished all of your getting up and down, drag whatever you have stowed under the seat in front of you and set it on the floor where your feet are resting. Now you can slide your legs right over or around that object and stretch them all the way out under the seat. You’ll be infinitely more comfortable and your position will more closely imitate lying supine.

Be a Lemming – Unfortunately, the cast and crew of the plane always feel like calling it a night long after I do. Ordinarily, I try to ignore their activity and sleep when I get tired. It never works. On my last overnight flight from L.A. to Sydney, I immediately gave up hope of sleeping as I wished when I learned that dinner would be served at approximatley 11:30 p.m. So I ate with the crowd, channel surfed, and patiently wasted time until the plane lights dimmed and people began wrapping their blue blankets around themselves. My patience rewarded me with hours and hours of the best night’s sleep I’ve ever gotten while on an overnight flight.

Add all of these tips together and signal your mind and body that it’s bedtime. Then you can land at your next overseas destination groggy with a fair night’s sleep rather than wiped out from a night of staring out a dark window.

How about you? Are you able to sleep when flying through the nighttime sky? If you’re one of the fortunate ones, do you have any additional tips for successfully sleeping on a plane?

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