5 Hacks for Actually Getting Sleep on a Plane5 min read

Flying is one of those activities that you either love or despise. However, it’s a necessary inconvenience far preferable to spending days cooped up in a car. Despite the relative speed of this mode of travel, most people would prefer to zonk out and wake up at their destination. 

How do you sleep on a plane? Are there any hacks to help you sleep better on an airplane if you’d rather skip as much of the in-flight experience as possible? What should you know if you’re new to travel? 

Various things work for different people. Here are five hacks to help you sleep on a plane. 

How Do You Sleep on a Plane?

Some fortunate souls need no instruction on how to sleep on a plane—they conk out like babies on a car ride. However, others need a little help. 

It helps to know why it’s so difficult to sleep while seated. During REM sleep—your dreaming stage—your body experiences temporary paralysis and loss of muscle tone that makes it challenging to maintain your position. While it’s typically safe to sleep sitting up and even preferable with some chronic pain conditions, it increases your risk of deep vein thrombosis. Wearing compression stockings can help, and many experts recommend doing so for long flights lasting five hours or more. 

Other factors can also contribute to why it’s hard to sleep on a plane. Who can drift off to dreamland when they have a screaming, wriggling baby occupying the seat next to them? The dry, indoor air can leave you with a cement nose, making it impossible to breathe comfortably enough to doze. Anxiety also plays a role, ramping up your brain’s production of excitatory neurotransmitters that make it more challenging to rest. 

5 Hacks to Sleep Better on Airplanes

What can you do if you want to fall asleep in New York and wake up in LA? Federal regulations forbid flight attendants from putting you in a Vulcan death grip to render you unconscious. Still, you can avail yourself of the following hacks to sleep better on airplanes. 

1. Get Mindful

What’s your biggest challenge preventing you from getting sleep on a plane? Finding the answer might be easy or require deeper thought. For example, people with arthritis that worsens in the cold might not readily recognize that a simple pair of gloves could ease the aching hands keeping them awake. 

Remember, this exercise is personal and nobody has to know. It might be wrong to publicly admit that wailing babies rattle you worse than nails on a chalkboard, but you can privately invest in a heavy-duty pair of noise-canceling headphones. 

2. Bring Supplies

You might have noticed that airlines no longer keep deep stashes of pillows and blankets since the pandemic, although some may have a few available by request. Nevertheless, you’re better off bringing comfort essentials from home. They’ll swaddle you in a familiar scent and prevent the spread of COVID-19, which can linger on microfiber pillows. 

A travel pillow and blanket aren’t your only essentials. A thick, fuzzy pair of socks can be a lifesaver if you have poor circulation and your feet tend to freeze. Noise-canceling headphones or earbuds are a must for shutting out the din if it disturbs your slumber, and a mask can dim the lights. What helps you sleep at home? If you typically dig into a novel before bed, keep that hobby while in flight. 

3. Tucker Yourself Out

If you’re a parent, you’ve no doubt noticed how your little ones go down for a nap more readily after a thorough romp on the playground. The same principle applies to adults. When you get tired, your body produces a neurotransmitter called adenosine that induces the sleep response. 

Therefore, tucker yourself out before you fly. Do you have an early morning departure? Instead of hitting the hay early the night before, stay up a little later than usual. Take an Uber to the airport and skip the high long-term parking fees, and you won’t have to worry about being drowsy on the road. 

4. Sip Relaxation 

This advice doesn’t mean you should hit the airport bar before your flight. Alcoholic beverages are problematic enough on land, let alone in the sky, where they dehydrate you faster and can increase your need to use that tiny airplane restroom. Caffeine has the same effect, so think twice before ordering that triple shot. 

However, herbal teas hydrate you and soothe your nerves. Consider varieties like chamomile, lavender and passionflower. 

5. Talk to Your Doctor 

Talk to your doctor if you have severe anxiety that makes every flight miserable. Many physicians are reluctant to prescribe long-term doses of certain medications because of their addictive nature. However, they will often help you with a temporary amount that eases your phobia while helping you sleep on the plane. For long flights, they may also recommend an over-the-counter sleep aid such as Dramamine, melatonin, an antihistamine or an insomnia medicine such as ZzzQuil. 

Hacks to Sleep Better on a Plane

You might be one of the many who wonders how some people can sleep on a plane with no problem. What can you do to fall under and peacefully awaken at your destination? 

Try the above hacks to sleep better on a plane. You’ll enjoy your vacation more if you arrive rested and not stressed.


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