How to … sleep well on a plane

Getting enough sleep on a plane flight is both hard and essential. Here’s how to do it right.

How to … sleep well on a plane

If you’ve ever been on a long haul flight, you’ll understand just how hard it can be to get enough sleep. The fear that missed sleep with make you jet lagged and make your trip unpleasant only adds to the pressure.

Travel and Leisure have interviewed a sleep specialist to come up with the best ways to ensure a good night’s sleep while sky high. And the process begins before you even step onboard your flight.

Eat before you fly
Tricking your body into altering its circadian rhythm to match the time zone of your flight and destination can be one of the best ways to ensure you arrive refreshed. You’re probably used to eating dinner sometime before bed, so having a meal before you get on your flight will trick your body into thinking it’s time for bed. .

Reset your watch
It sounds inconsequential, but resetting your watch or adjusting the clock on your phone to match your destination will help to synch your body clock and allow you to wind down faster. 

Melatonin is the natural hormone your body produces to help you get to sleep. You can buy it at the chemist and, while doses are usually higher, you only need 1mg for the melatonin to take effect.  

Don’t drink alcohol
While a ‘night cap’ might help you feel drowsy for a while, once your body begins to process the sugar in the alcohol, it acts as a stimulant and can keep you awake.

Get comfy
Do yourself a favour and invest in a neck pillow. The extra support is much needed, especially if you’re in the middle seat where it can be harder to get comfortable.

Shut out to shut down
Never underestimate the power of a sleep mask and earbuds. Light is a stimulant and will keep you awake, so shutting it out altogether gives you the best chance of falling asleep. Even in the dead of night, a plane is filled with rustling and bumping sounds emanating from the mass of passengers and a busy cabin crew, so bringing along earbuds to block noise out could save you from missing out on a good night’s sleep.

If sleeping on a plane remains impossible, try to book a flight that arrives in the late afternoon. This will give you enough time to get your bags, have a meal and reach your accommodation before 10pm, which is the ideal time to go to sleep and readjust your body clock.

Do you struggle to sleep on flights? What are your secrets to getting a good night’s sleep on a plane?



    To make a comment, please register or login
    14th Apr 2019
    all good advice Liv but the real answer is to fly business class. I've only done it once (London to Melbourne) but sleeping flat solves all the problems. I will never fly economy again and if that means far fewer trips, so be it. Luckily I have traveled to just about everywhere that interests me so the number of long haul flights that I will take in future is for visiting family only and I can travel out of peak periods when the business class deals are on. The cost of an off peak business class fare today is only the equivalent of what we paid for economy flights 30 years ago, it is far more expensive though by comparison to the cheap economy deals on offer so it is hard to justify paying the extra.
    14th Apr 2019
    Thoroughly agree with ozirules re Business Class. If you couldn't afford it you wouldn't do it but once its happened its virtually impossible to go back to economy or premium economy for long haul flights. There are very few really good business class deals unless you dont mind where you go. Met a couple last year on a river trip in France. He said he was walking past the travel agent in Sydney and saw a deal for a 2 week river cruise at a discounted price which was about 10k and a business class flight with Qatar for $999 each so grabbed it. Dont blame him. Think we paid about 6k each for the flight.
    Big Kev
    14th Apr 2019
    Problem is most airlines don't give you enough space to fit in unless you are Grant Denyer's size. How the hell an a normal 6 footer get off to sleep when you have to be a contortionist to fit!
    18th Apr 2019
    I totally agree with both ozirules and chrissie. I've been doing the London to Australia run for over a decade and will never go back to traveling in anything less than Business Class, and I think that once anyone has had the experience they too will never go back. I've tried flights with a stopover in Singapore or Hong Kong to break up the journey which, whilst it was interesting to see these places, by the time I'd added the cost of staying there to the airfare I might just as well bought a ticket in a higher class.
    But Business Class is something else. I now fly Emirates A380. I did start this post by writing about my experiences with this airline but it was getting too long, so all I can say is check out the videos on YouTube or, if you can, ask anyone who has flown with them in Business Class. Then you'll know why - lol
    Yes, it's expensive, but like the saying goes 'You only get what you pay for'. Obviously I can afford it and my view quite simply is that I can't take the money with me and why should I leave it to others to enjoy when I can enjoy it myself.
    16th May 2019
    I flew Business Class for the first time recently with Singapore Airlines. In my opinion the best airline in the air for everything, but I still couldn't sleep well so I think this article is quite helpful. I now won't be able to go back to Economy ever, but I have also flown Premium Economy and still think it is pretty good as well. However you have to book early as it is becoming very popular and is only a small area of the plane.
    16th May 2019
    I think that most people would say that if they had managed to get 3-4 hours continuous sleep on a long haul flight then that's about the best they could expect.
    The seat has a major effect on the end result of the journey. Having one that converts into a bed with direct access to the aisle is clearly going to be far better than a seat in Economy where one is so jammed in that you could turn your head and easily kiss your neighbour(s) whilst wondering when you'll be disturbed, or you disturbing others, for them, or you, to get to the aisle. The seats in Premium Economy are marginally better being wider with more leg room and a steeper recline but the problem with coping with someone beside you is still a problem save for the seats at the front of the cabin class.
    Apart from the added 'luxuries' a Business Class seat affords what I have found is that the time it takes to recover from 'jet lag' reduces, sometimes significantly, the higher the class of travel.

    Tags: how to, sleep, plane,

    Join YOURLifeChoices, it’s free

    • Receive our daily enewsletter
    • Enter competitions
    • Comment on articles