13 Hacks to Sleep Better on Airplanes

Flight Attendants will turn down the lights, but the rest is up to you!

If you’ve ever taken flights over 8 hours, there’s a strong chance that you’ve had to try to fall asleep in an uncomfortable cramped chair. Nobody likes this, but here are a few tips that will help you make it as bearable as possible.

Flight Attendants will turn down the lights, but the rest is up to you!
Flight Attendants will turn down the lights, but the rest is up to you!

Before Your Flight

Switch to an Empty Row on Flights that Aren’t Full

For instance, if you were in 34J, I'd strongly consider grabbing a seat like 40H, since it's unlikely the rest of the plane will fill up in the next 24 hours (and others might snipe those empty rows!) Source: Expertflyer.com
For instance, if you were in 34J, I’d strongly consider grabbing a seat like 39H, since it’s unlikely the rest of the plane will fill up in the next 24 hours (and others might snipe those empty rows!) Source: Expertflyer.com

Many people don’t realize that planes tend to fill up back to front, so while you may have chosen a seat towards the front to get on and off faster, take a look at the seating map to see if there are empty rows in the back, particularly in the center section. Don’t pick one right behind the occupied seats, pick a seat in an empty row several rows back as a buffer. Close to departure, some additional seats will fill up, but you can maximize your chances for space without inconveniencing others and do it all from your phone on the airline’s mobile app.

Consider a “J-pillow”

The J pillow supports the front and back of your head - Source: jpillow.com
The J pillow supports the front and back of your head – Source: jpillow.com

While many people have heard of or carry inflatable neck pillows onboard, there is a newer style of pillow called a “J pillow” that keeps the head from rolling forward (like mine does). It comes in a plush and inflatable version and was developed by a Virgin Atlantic flight attendant.

Sometimes these pillows can also be used to cushion the gap between the hard armrest of the window seat and the edge of the plane. Give it a try!

Eyemask and Earplugs – Good Ones!

I don’t always bring a travel pillow, partly because I try to opt for lie flat seats on flights over 6 hours by redeeming my miles. However, I do bring a GOOD set of high quality earplugs (for comfort and actual noise blocking) and an adjustable, (ideally) velcro eye mask, so it won’t slide around. These tiny helpers can make a big difference between a decent sleep and hearing the cart rattle throughout the meal service or that baby two rows over.

Some of the nicer amenity kits in premium cabins – Lufthansa’s first class eye mask for instance – are great for blocking all light out. Etymotics makes some great earplugs with christmas tree inserts that won’t fall out and are attached together by a cord so you won’t lose them in the seat.

Meditate before You get Onboard

I’m not a big fan of spiritual meditation, but spending a few moments at the gate before you board to get yourself in the right frame of mind can really help you get a good night’s rest. Try to pick a point where you know you will no longer be rushed, perhaps right at the gate waiting area. Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths and reduce your heart rate (if you were running to the airport or sweating it out in security, you’d be surprised how high it gets).

Once you’ve calmed yourself, try to avoid activities that will raise your heart rate, like repeatedly lifting heavy luggage.

Limit Looking at Screens

This starts before you board. If you intend on sleeping, try to avoid spending too much time looking at screens, either from phones, laptops, tablets or seat backs. Turn the screen off as soon as you get onboard.

Why? Screens tend to emit blue light, which will trick your body into thinking it’s still daylight (and therefore still time to stay up). If you have to use your laptop to finish some work, consider using a plugin like F.lux that will dim your screen and eliminate the blue tones, making it easier to fall asleep when you’re done.

Once You’re Onboard

Put your Bag Under your Legs

I’m always surprised more people don’t do this. While are are obligated to put your smaller bag under the seat in front of you during takeoff and landing, there’s nothing saying you can’t put it behind your legs after takeoff. This allows you more room to stretch your legs out. Just make sure your bag isn’t crushing the toes of the person behind you.

Cross your Shins in an “X” to Give Yourself More Room

If I’m trying to sleep in economy, I’ll often cross my shins in an “X” to give my rather long legs a bit more room – It sounds unnatural at first, but can actually be quite comfortable, especially when paired with the next tip.

Sleep Like You’re in School

If can sleep forward, try using the tray table with a pillow or bag on top of it. Source: MC Quinn - https://www.flickr.com/photos/mcquinn/2302823476
If can sleep forward, try using the tray table with a pillow or bag on top of it. Source: MC Quinn – https://www.flickr.com/photos/mcquinn/2302823476

Remember how in school you may have dozed on your desk during a boring lecture?

Put your tray table down (sanitize it with a wet nap if you have one) and put your blanket or neck-pillow there – This can often help those that can’t sleep upright, like sleeping in class

Stay Hydrated

I usually bring a collapsible water bottle in my bag and ask a flight attendant to fill it towards the end of boarding or after the meal service. Air travel is immensely dehydrating, and that can often cause you to wake up in the middle of the night parched.

Limit Alcohol

Some people advocate not drinking at all while onboard. I’ll usually have one glass of heavier red wine like a cabernet or a class of scotch or whiskey, mostly because I associate those types of drinks with relaxing before bed at home. If you don’t drink wine or whiskey regularly though, consider skipping.

Check Whether your Carrier has Express Dining

Most international overnight flights will have a meal served just after takeoff and a snack for breakfast just before arrival. This can be great so you’re not left hungry, but on short red eyes (say 6 hours from the East Coast to Europe) this leaves precious little time to get some shuteye (especially as you move 5 or 6 timezones – quite rough)

Some carriers offer express dining in business and first class, where all of the courses of your meal are served simultaneously, so you can get an extra hour of shuteye. In coach, you may be able to ask a flight attendant to save a meal for you to be served before arrival or rely on the snack towards the end of the flight.

Build a Pillow Fort around the Window-Armest

If your flight is rather empty, see if you can grab a few pillows from empty seats around you to pad the hard bump between the window seat and the side of the aircraft

Use the Latch on the Aisle Armrest (if you’re not in a high traffic area)

Lastly, if you need the extra room, remember that the aisle armrest on most aircraft can actually be moved up. Feel along the bottom going backwards until you feel a bump or latch. If you pull it, the armrest will be free to go up. This can be helpful if you don’t think you’ll be hit by other passengers or fliqht attendants

Hope these tips will help you get some shuteye on your long flights. Have a favorite tip? Share it below!

Eric

Comments

  1. Frank says

    A chiropractor or massage therapist will tell you that use of the J-pillows may cause problems for your neck, with a tendency to extend the neck muscles the wrong way while sleeping. A better neck pillow for use while on an airplane (according to my massage therapist) is the Brookstone BioSense support cushion, a cylindrical pillow. I’ve used it comfortably on airplanes to avoid neck pain, and it fits handily in a carry on bag, due to it’s size (12.6″ x 4.3″).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *