How to Sleep on an Airplane

Get tips for grabbing some shut-eye.
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This week Roam offers up Travel Smart, with our writers' and editors' best tips, hacks and resources for ensuring smooth, successful travels. Tune in daily for new content and fresh ideas to save money and get the most out of your trip.

It’s not always easy to relax in the increasingly sardine-packed modern airplane where less leg room and more people exercising their right to recline into your lap can mean a very unpleasant trip. But there are things you can do to sleep when flying overseas or domestically. Here are some of our best Roam tips for a peaceful slumber.

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SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 21: A man sleeps in the new business class seat onboard the new Qantas A380 flagship the 'Nancy-Bird Walton' as she joins the Qantas fleet at Sydney Domestic Airport on September 21, 2008 in Sydney, Australia. The Qantas A380 will feature seating for 450 passengers across four cabins and will commence commercial services from Melbourne to Los Angeles on October 20, and from Sydney to Los Angeles on October 24. (Photo by Sergio Dionisio/Getty Images)

Photo by: Sergio Dionisio

Sergio Dionisio

Book a Window Seat

You can settle in without being disturbed by a seat mate who needs to get up to stretch or use the restroom. Seatguru.com will help you rate the comfort factor of your seat in terms of proximity to a bathroom (if sleep is critical, avoid) and a flight attendant station (again, avoid) and reclining seats or non-reclining. Just make sure you take care of all of your business before you settle down for a long mid-flight nap.

Earplugs and an Eye Mask

Shutting out the noisy, distracting world of your airplane community is paramount, so pack accordingly.

Choose Your Flight Time Wisely

An overnight international flight or a domestic red eye fits in with your natural sleeping schedule, making your body respond in the usual “it’s time to go night-night” way.

Noise-Canceling Headphones

If things are particularly raucous you might want to double up on earplugs and noise-canceling headphones.

Soothing Music

Create your own white-noise with a relaxing music playlist of your choice, whether it is classical, light jazz or the new Radiohead album, which proved a nicely soothing electronic segue to a nap on a recent international flight.

Ask for an Empty Row

With most airlines overbooking and getting as many warm bodies into seats as possible, the likelihood of a whole free row to stretch out in is unlikely, but it never hurts to ask.

All Hail the Neck Pillow

Nothing dignified here but when sleep is your main concern, dignity doesn’t always matter. Just don’t wear it on your neck around the airport. And put it on backwards in-flight with the gap in the back for maximum neck support.

One Cocktail or One Glass of Wine

I know, I know. Every travel pro warns of the dehydrating effects of alcohol on a flight. But you know what? One and only one cocktail or glass of white wine works the same at home as in the air for me: an instant ticket to Nap Town.

Cozy Scarf

My travel scarf is an adult version of a blankie. It can be wrapped around my neck when the in-flight air is frigid and provides a lovely, cozy sensation when you are ready to sleep. If it’s long enough, a soft scarf is also a great mini-wrap for your entire body. Guys often don’t know about the soothing capabilities of a good scarf, but fly with a lovely cashmere scarf around your neck and you’ll immediately see the benefits. In a pinch, it makes a great eye cover.

Headgear

Wear a hoodie under your blazer or jacket: the hoodie does wonders at blocking out light and other distractions and provides a nice sensory deprivation effect as well as privacy. It can also serve as a useful in-flight blankie to cover your legs. Equally good at blocking light and offering a modicum of privacy: a baseball cap or knit cap pulled down over your eyes when it’s time to go noddy-blinkums.

Aromatherapy

Never underestimate the power of scent. Some lavender oil on our neck pillow or under your nose can not only encourage a restful state of mind, it can cancel the smell of your next door neighbor’s dinner or cologne or other less-than-aromatic conditions.

Socks

Slipping into an extra comfy pair of socks or slippers before sleep can do wonders for your sense of comfort and relaxation, critical for getting in the mood for sleep. Just don’t wear them into the germ-minefield bathroom.

Leg Support

Many swear by using your carry-on as a foot rest. Rolling your blanket or using the in-flight pillow under your knees or for lumbar support can also offer a more comfortable sleeping posture.

Dress for Comfort, but Don’t Sacrifice Your Dignity

There’s something to be said for making yourself as comfortable as possible while traveling. But that shouldn’t mean showing up in sweats and flip flops or padding barefoot through the aisles. Wear loose layers to you can adjust to the ever-changing in-flight temperatures (boiling before takeoff, arctic in-flight) and wear cotton and natural fibers for breathability.

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