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How to Sleep on an Airplane: Tips and Strategies

Dr. Jing Zhang, Neuroscientist

Dr. Jing Zhang, Neuroscientist

Jing Zhang is a prominent figure in the realm of sleep research, specializing in the intricate connection between sleep and memory. With an extensive research tenure exceeding 7 years, she delves into the neural underpinnings of these processes. Currently, as a postdoctoral researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, she unravels the enigma of memory […]

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  • Sleep Position Matters: Sleeping in an upright position can help reduce snoring by keeping the airway open with the help of gravity, potentially leading to a quieter and more restful flight for both you and your fellow passengers.
  • Hydration is Key: Staying hydrated is essential for combating dry cabin air, which can make it challenging to sleep comfortably on a plane. However, it’s crucial to strike a balance and avoid excessive hydration to prevent frequent trips to the bathroom.
  • Window Seats Can Enhance Comfort: Choosing a window seat not only provides a surface to rest your head but also offers a bit more privacy and control over light exposure, contributing to a more conducive environment for sleep during your flight.

Flying can be an exciting adventure, but it often comes with the challenge of getting a good night’s sleep. The upright position, noise, light, and turbulence can all make it difficult to relax and rest on a plane. However, with the right strategies and preparation, you can improve your chances of sleeping comfortably during your flight. This comprehensive article will explore tips and tricks to help you maximize your sleep quality while flying.

Understanding the Challenges of Sleeping on a Plane

While traveling by plane can be exciting and convenient, it is important to acknowledge the challenges that come with sleeping on a plane. The upright position of an airplane seat, combined with the noise, light, turbulence, and dry cabin air, can make it challenging to fall asleep and maintain a restful sleep throughout the flight. However, by implementing a few strategies, you can significantly improve your sleep quality and arrive at your destination feeling well-rested.

Tips for Sleeping on a Plane

When it comes to sleeping on a plane, there are several tips and techniques that can help you create a more comfortable sleep environment. By implementing these strategies, By putting these strategies into practice, you can block out noise, eliminate light, and reduce distractions, enabling your body to relax and drift off to sleep more effortlessly.

Wearing an Eye Mask

Excess light can disrupt your sleep and make it difficult to relax on a plane. Wearing an eye mask can block light from windows or overhead lights, creating a darker environment that promotes better sleep.

“There are various types of eye masks on the market,” says Dr. Jing Zhang, sleep scientist. “A 2021 study has compared the effectiveness of regular eye masks, heated eye masks, and aroma-scented heated eye masks, and they found that aroma-scented heated eye masks are the most beneficial in helping people relax and inducing better mood.”

“Next time you’re on an airplane, give eye masks a try. If you have those self-heated eye masks with your favorite scent, that would be even better!”

Using Headphones or Earplugs

The ambient noise on a plane, including the sound of engines, passengers, and crew, can be disruptive to sleep. Even though some people may find airplane noise to be a kind of white noise that helps them fall asleep, most people find it disruptive. A 2012 study showed that airplane noises prevent people from staying asleep and going to deeper sleep stages.

Dr. Jing Zhang recommends blocking out these noises with earplugs or headphones, allowing you to create a more peaceful and quiet sleep environment. Noise-canceling headphones are particularly effective in reducing external sounds.

Bringing a Pillow and Extra Layers

Comfort is crucial for sleeping well on a plane. Bringing a travel pillow can provide additional support for your neck and head, allowing for a more comfortable sleep position. Additionally, airplanes can often be chilly, so having an extra sweater or blanket can help keep you warm throughout the flight.

Staying Hydrated

The dry, circulated air on planes can dehydrate you, making it hard to sleep comfortably. Staying hydrated by drinking water before and during your flight is essential to avoid this discomfort. However, be mindful not to overdo it, as excessive hydration may result in frequent trips to the bathroom.

Avoiding Heavy Foods and Alcohol

Digesting a heavy meal can make it difficult for your body to relax and fall asleep. Instead of consuming heavy foods, opt for lighter snacks before and during the flight. Additionally, alcohol can disrupt sleep and affect your breathing patterns, so it is best to avoid alcoholic beverages before attempting to sleep on a plane.

Reclining Your Chair

Research has shown that reclining your chair can increase comfort and improve sleep quality on a plane. To the extent possible, try to recline your chair to a position that feels comfortable for you. However, be mindful of other passengers’ space and comfort.

Trying Meditation

Meditation can be a helpful technique to relax your mind and body during a flight. By focusing on your breathing or visualizing calming scenes, you can reduce stress and promote a more restful sleep. There are various meditation apps and guided meditation resources available that you can utilize during your flight.

Sleeping on a Plane if You Snore

Snoring can be a common issue during sleep, and it can become even more noticeable and potentially embarrassing on a crowded plane. If you are prone to snoring, there are several steps you can take to minimize snoring and ensure a more peaceful sleep experience for yourself and those around you.

The Impact of Snoring on Sleep

Snoring happens when throat muscles relax during sleep, narrowing the airway. This narrowing causes throat tissues to vibrate, creating the snoring sound. Snoring can disrupt your sleep and potentially affect the sleep quality of those around you.

Sleep Positions to Reduce Snoring

Sleeping in an upright position can help alleviate snoring. When you are in an upright position, gravity helps keep the airway open, reducing the likelihood of snoring. Therefore, sleeping in an upright airplane seat may be beneficial in minimizing snoring compared to lying flat.

Lifestyle Changes to Minimize Snoring

Specific lifestyle adjustments can also aid in diminishing snoring. Cutting back on alcohol and nicotine before and during your flight can decrease the chances of snoring. These substances can potentially relax throat muscles, resulting in heightened snoring. Moreover, maintaining a healthy weight and engaging in regular exercise can aid in enhancing sleep quality and possibly diminish snoring.

Using Preventative Oral Appliances

Specialized mouthpieces or mouthguards can effectively open the airway and reduce snoring. These devices are created to reposition the jaw and tongue, enabling better airflow during sleep. If you snore regularly, consult a dentist for recommendations or custom-fitted devices.

Addressing Nasal Congestion

Nasal congestion or sinus inflammation can contribute to snoring. Using nasal strips or decongestants before and during your flight can help alleviate nasal congestion and reduce snoring. However, consulting with a healthcare professional before using any medication or nasal sprays is important.

Preparing for Your Flight

Proper preparation before your flight can significantly impact your sleep quality during the journey. Here are some tips to consider when planning your trip and setting yourself up for a comfortable sleep on the plane.

Considering Your Sleep Schedule

When booking your flight, try to take your sleep schedule into account. Avoid booking flights that will disrupt your normal sleeping hours as much as possible. By aligning your travel plans with your natural sleep patterns, you can minimize the need to sleep on the plane.

Choosing the Right Seat

The choice of seat can greatly influence your comfort and sleep quality on a plane. Window seats provide a surface to rest your head, which can be more comfortable for sleeping. Seats located near the wings, in the middle of the plane, might also encounter reduced turbulence, which can help provide a more tranquil sleeping experience.

Reducing Stress and Anxiety

Stress and anxiety can negatively affect sleep quality. To reduce travel-related stress, ensure your travel plans are well-organized and confirmed before heading to the airport. Preparing in advance by packing early, verifying travel documents, and arriving on time can help reduce stress and facilitate a more relaxed and restful sleep on the plane.

Exercising Before Your Flight

Participating in physical activity before your flight can help exhaust your body and promote improved sleep. Research indicates that exercise can boost sleep quality, so think about including a workout or going for a brisk walk before getting on your flight.

Sunlight also helps with your circadian rhythm, according to Dr. Jing Zhang, so try exercising outside so you can get both the benefits of sunlight exposure and physical activity.

However, avoid intense exercise too close to your departure time, as it may leave you feeling too energized to sleep.

Consultation with a Doctor for Sleep Aids

If you are having difficulty falling asleep on planes or adjusting to time changes, it may be worth consulting with a doctor. They can offer advice on utilizing sleep aids like melatonin, which can assist in regulating your sleep patterns and enhancing sleep quality. It’s important to always consult with a healthcare professional before beginning any new supplements or medications.


How can I ensure a comfortable sleep on an airplane?

To ensure a comfortable sleep on an airplane, consider choosing a window seat for added head support and privacy. Additionally, invest in a quality neck pillow and an eye mask to block out light and support your neck during rest.

What are some effective strategies for overcoming sleep disorders while flying?

Overcoming sleep disorders while flying can be challenging, but adopting healthy sleep habits such as avoiding caffeine and alcohol, adjusting to your destination’s time zone, and using sleep aids like eye masks and neck pillows can help promote better sleep.

What measures can I take to combat jet lag and adjust to a new time zone during long-haul flights?

Combatting jet lag during long-haul flights requires proactive planning. Try to sync your sleep schedule with your destination’s time zone a few days before your flight. Once onboard, adjust your sleeping habits according to the local time at your destination and make use of sleep aids like eye masks and shut-eye strategies.

Are there any specific seat preferences that can enhance sleep quality during flights?

Opting for a window seat can provide added comfort and support for sleep on airplanes. This allows you to lean against the cabin wall for better rest. Conversely, aisle seats may offer easier access but can result in disruptions from passing passengers and crew.

How can frequent fliers improve their sleep quality during overnight flights?

Frequent flier can enhance their sleep quality during overnight flights by creating a sleep-friendly environment. This involves utilizing sleep aids such as eye masks and neck pillows, choosing suitable seating, and employing relaxation techniques like meditation or deep breathing to promote peaceful sleep.


Getting restful sleep on a plane can be difficult, but with the appropriate strategies and preparation, you can increase your chances of getting a restful sleep during your flight. By wearing an eye mask, using headphones or earplugs, bringing a pillow and extra layers, staying hydrated, avoiding heavy foods and alcohol, reclining your chair, and trying meditation, you can create a more comfortable sleep environment on a plane. If you snore, sleeping upright, making lifestyle changes, using preventative oral appliances, and addressing nasal congestion can help minimize snoring.

Additionally, considering your sleep schedule, choosing the right seat, reducing stress and anxiety, exercising before your flight, and consulting with a doctor for sleep aids can all contribute to a more restful sleep experience. By following these tips and techniques, you can reach your destination feeling revitalized and ready to relish your journey fully.

Harrison Wall is Sleep Junkie’s business strategist and sleep analyst. He also authors posts on bedding and mattress accessories. Harrison regularly coordinates with new mattress companies and tests their products to determine what really helps you get better rest and have brighter mornings.

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