How to Sleep on a Plane: Tips and Tricks

May 05,2023 | JAMIE SMALLEY

Anyone that travels regularly will know that sleep is the holy grail of in-flight entertainment. Having the latest movies on demand and few in-flight cocktails is all well and good, but the pursuit for a decent nap is fraught with complications. The professional traveller is always prepared and the tips below can make the difference between a refreshed disembarkment and a groggy arrival.


Regardless of whether you turned left or right when entering the aircraft, there are a few hurdles that are the same for every passenger. Noise presents the biggest problem for travellers trying to sleep, making noise-cancelling headphones one of the most important weapons in your sleeping arsenal. As well as being able to enjoy your movie in peace and quiet, you’ll be able to escape the incessant sound of tannoy announcements, drinks trolley orders and screaming children.

Lean forward, not back

According to Lifehacker, it’s a common misconception that reclining your seat is the best way to sleep – unless you are first class with lay-flat seats. A more successful tactic is to fold your tray down, take a pillow and lay down on folded arms like you would at a desk.

Wear an eye mask

There’s a reason you get given an eye mask when embarking the plane, though the quality and performance of these freebies is questionable. Our eyelids aren’t very good at blocking out light on their own, which is why in nature we’d wake when the sun came up. An eye mask allows us to give our eyelids a rest from straining to block the light out and simulate entire darkness. When our eyes rest and sink back into their sockets, it sends a signal to the brain to say you’re ready to sleep.

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The window seat

While many will sit on the great seat choice divide – window or aisle – there are a few key facts that make the former a better option for in-flight sleep. Not only do you have the curved wall surface to lean against and sleep on, but you have access to the window blind, meaning you can control the daylight flooding your space, putting you one step closer to some serious Zs.


There’s a lot to be said for meditation from both a business and relaxation point of view. Learning how to silence the mind can be a powerful way to recharge and slip into some quality sleep. Whether you’re using an app like Headspace or Calm, or simply focusing your concentration on your breath, meditation combined with eye masks and a comfortable sleeping position can get you accessing sleep in a matter of minutes.

Alcohol & hydration

A swift Bloody Mary may become something of an in-flight tradition, but for sustained, quality sleep you may want to dodge the booze. Air travel is renowned for dehydrating you with the humidity sitting around 10-20% (compared to 30-40% back on dry land). Adding alcohol to the equation is going to compound that dehydration and leave you feeling nauseous and groggy, getting in the way of your nap time. If you can't resist a cheeky G&T, then be sure to follow up with a glass or two of water to make up for it.

Get comfortable

You might have business meetings on arrival, but that doesn't mean you need to be uncomfortable for your entire flight. For long haul, pack some respectable clothes in your carry on and get comfortable in a t-shirt and yoga pants. Alternatively, jeans and a t-shirt can be dressed up on arrival with a simple blazer. It almost goes without saying that taking your shoes off is one of the most immediate ways to get comfortable and signal to your body that this is a time to rest.

Don't forget…

Always put the buckle over your blanket and make it clearly visible. The last thing you want once you’ve accessed that sleep pattern is to be rudely awakened in order to fasten your seat belt.

You might also want to avoid using sleeping pills as these can leave you in a daze upon arrival, not ideal when exploring a new city, and certainly not a state to be in if you are about to meet with clients.

Photo by Sofia Sforza on Unsplash