How to get a good sleep in a seat

Because sleeping in a seat isn't exactly straightforward we’ve got six tips to help.

How to get a good sleep in a seat

SJ is a regular travel contributor to YourLifeChoices. If she had one superpower, it would be teleportation – the ultimate cure for her fear of flying.

While they say it's not about the destination but the journey, there are some parts of travel that can feel like a boring waste of precious time. In my experience, time on planes, trains, boats and buses can all fall into this category.

Without a decent view, book or other form of entertainment the best option is often to chip away at any accumulated sleep debt. But sleeping in a seat isn't exactly an easy task. Here are six simple ways to ensure you get a great sleep every time while travelling.

Watch what you eat and drink
While it's tempting and can be habit to reach for a coffee as soon as you hit the road, if you want to sleep, stop and consider the other options. Opt for herbal tea, water or a glass (not bottle) of your drink of choice. Same goes for food, our body clocks rely on our eating patterns to help ascertain when we are awake and asleep. Just like you shouldn't eat a huge meal straight before bed, try to have a light and easily digestible snack before sleeping so your stomach isn't churning and working overtime while you're trying to nod off.

Choose your seat strategically
Let's be honest, there's little to no chance of getting a good sleep when you're stuck in the middle seat between two other passengers. Choose a seat you're comfortable with, preferably a window one so you can hole up undisturbed and have something to lean on. Same goes for where your seat is located. Avoid thoroughfares like near doors and toilets and if there is any indication of where babies will be - sit as far away as possible! Even if it means paying a bit extra this will make the world of difference to your sleep success.

Come prepared
Sleeping in a seat is challenging enough without any additional factors getting in the way. Make sure you have a good eye mask and ear plugs or noise cancelling headphones to shut out any light or sound that may prevent you from falling asleep. As they say you're only as good as your tools!

attractive middle aged woman sleeping on a plane

Some extra support
We all need someone or thing to lean on at times and sadly with the state of many planes these days that may be the stranger next to you unless you come prepared. There is nothing worse than trying to sleep only to have your head lolling about constantly waking you up. While neck pillows may not be the most compact items to travel with they make all the difference when it comes to sleeping soundly. Plan B is to use a scarf or other soft item of clothing as a makeshift pillow - it's still a better option than a stranger’s shoulder.

Time your travel
If I want to sleep while travelling, I'll opt for very early or late flights so I'm naturally tired. Not only does this save you trying to force yourself to sleep but it's less likely to have a domino effect and impact on your sleep after travelling.

Dress for the occasion
Wearing the right clothes is crucial to being comfortable enough to get some quality rest. Choose items that aren't too restrictive, in soft and cosy materials. Make sure you have layers so you can put on a warm jumper if you get cold or remove it if you're too hot. Don't forget a scarf as well - this can double as a blanket to really make you feel as though you're in bed.

Do you usually sleep while travelling? What are your tricks for getting some upright shut eye in a seat? 



    To make a comment, please register or login
    27th May 2017
    Whilst you discuss how to help the situation a 14 flight is a 14 hour flight and you CANNOT get a comfortable sleep in a seat. All you can get is degrees of discomfort.
    The only way to alleviate the problem is to get a row of 4 seats which can be turned into quite a comfortable bed. no chance of that on heavily booked flights.
    27th May 2017
    typical answer of our masked blowfly mickey, the know-all of travel, most likely never been past his/her frontgate
    Tom Tank
    27th May 2017
    We flew Qantas from Melbourne to Christchurch recently. The flight left Melbourne just on midnight and was in Christchurch at 5.15am local time.
    We ended up going 36 hours without sleep. We forced ourselves into Christchurch and walked, took the tram, walked again trying to stay awake and eventually hit the sack about 6.30 pm local time. It was a real struggle and while Christchurch is an interesting city wee could not do it justice.
    The timing of some flights simply make sleep impossible and Qantas don't really help with their schedule.
    27th May 2017
    That flight is a 2.5 hour flight Tom.
    We can relate to the time awake and the best measure is the do a doorstep to doorstep count. Our trips overseas always range between 30 hours and 45 hours, the latter being a trip with Malaysian Airlines which was off the scale. It's a long time between proper sleeps.
    27th May 2017
    I like the earliest morning flights for these short trips TomT. I have not travelled from Melbourne but from Sydney you leave about 8am and are into Christchurch City comfortably in time for a late-ish lunch. Probably in line with the recommendation here, leaving Sydney about 6pm gets you right into the city before midnight local time which can be OK for pre-booked accommodation and good for sleeping. These flights don't really require a nap but if you have had a hard day before the evening one you may nod off. Melbourne would only add 10 or 15 minutes if you can get flights around this time there. Christchurch is a great city worth more trips.
    27th May 2017
    I can sleep if I can use the fold down tray to place my arms on and use them as a headrest. If the person in front has declined their seat back, forget it. There is not enough room to put ones head onto ones arms in that scenario & ones just makes do. The ones I just love are those that stay awake playing phone games AND put their seat back...Grrrr
    27th May 2017
    While I agree with the advice to carry a soft shawl/jumper etc which can be folded up as a pillow, there is one thing that has helped me sleep on a plane and that is a blow-up foot rest. They're about $20 and they put your feet up to a reasonable level under the seat in front of you instead of them getting heavier and more uncomfortable as the night wears on. It (almost ) feels like you're lying down and I never suffer from swollen feet after a flight.Loud people and the banging of the toilet door are the worst killers of on-flight sleep though.
    27th May 2017
    Long trips are pretty quiet apart from the regular feeding sessions.
    I maintain you cannot sleep well in a sitting position as the blood supply to the butt is cut off and even with contant wiggling it is a sore experience.
    We just returned from Europe. The flights in both direction between Sydney and Dubai were fairly full so sitting up sleeping for 14 hours. Dreadful! The leg between Dubai and Europe was almost half empty so got a bed of 4 seats in the middle row. The A380 seats made a wonderful 'bed' and it was bliss. Unfortunately we needed them on the longer leg but just has to grin and bear it.
    I wish Europe were not so far away.

    27th May 2017
    anybody ever tells the masked know-all mickey you don't have to fly for more then 8 hours at the time on your way to europe unless you want too, leave one or two days earlier and enjoy your stopover(s), same price if not cheaper, the snow be there a long time after you departed this world.
    27th May 2017
    The best cure for a 14 hr flight is to turn left at the end of the air bridge
    27th May 2017
    If only!
    fish head
    27th May 2017
    Don't cheer too loudly booking a window seat. I did on my last trip and got a seat configuration where NO window seat came anywhere near a bulkhead. How they managed it I don't know but there were a lot of very unhappy campers on that plane.Even pillow stuffing did not work and had to rely on the jolly old inflatable neck roll - reversed.

    Join YOURLifeChoices, it’s free

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