How to sleep on a plane: Six tips for travelers

Travel expert Johnny Jet shares his tips on how to get some quality shut-eye while flying.

The window seat and having noise-canceling headphones can help you get to sleep. Image credit: SDI Productions/iStock
Getting a window seat and having noise-canceling headphones can help you get to sleep. Image credit: SDI Productions/iStock

I’m not sure if I’m getting bigger or planes are getting smaller but it’s probably a little bit of both. In fact, my own research has proven both indeed to be true, making traveling comfortably almost an oxymoron.

Fortunately, I’ve been traveling extensively (more than 100,000 miles a year) for more than two decades, so I’ve got a few (or a thousand) tricks up my sleeve to help you get some sleep while on a plane.

Pre-book your seat

When you book your flight, choose your favorite seat, even if it means spending extra. If you’re not sure how to find the best seats, check out Seat Guru for guidance. If I’m on a redeye (which I try at all costs to avoid), I book a window seat so I can prop my big head up against the window and sleep on the plane, but everyone is different so figure out what’s best for you.

To really be comfortable, splurge for first class or ask at check-in or at the gate if they are selling discounted upgrades.

Dress comfortably

No matter which seat you choose, dress comfortably. I’m certainly not suggesting you wear your pajamas to the airport, but if you’re on a long flight or an overnight one, you should definitely bring them to get a good night’s sleep on the plane.

I know many business travelers who will wear a suit on and off the plane but will slip into pjs or sweatpants after takeoff. I’m one of them. The trick is to use the bathroom right when the seatbelt sign goes off the first time so it’s the cleanest and then change.

Falling asleep on a plane can be difficult if you don't do some prep work beforehand. Image credit: SeventyFour/iStock
Changing into more comfortable clothes can help with getting to sleep on longer flights. Image credit: SeventyFour/iStock

If you’d rather fall asleep before takeoff or need more space, then change in the airport bathroom. Comfort is so important to me that even on short flights, I wear clothes that aren’t tight and I always bring a sweater and socks since planes tend to be freezing. 

Bring gadgets

I know neck pillows look ridiculous, especially when travelers have them around their necks walking through airports but if they help you get better sleep, absolutely bring one. There are a lot of different types so figure out which is best for you. I like the Ostrich and the Evolution Pillows since they’re unique.

FYI: My wife and I bring an inflatable airplane cushion from Fly-Tot for our two-year-old because it turns a standard coach seat into a flatbed for a toddler. Check it out!

Don't skimp on a pillow. Image credit: urbazon/iStock
Don’t skimp on a pillow. Image credit: urbazon/iStock

Create a leg rest

If you’re lucky enough to secure the bulkhead or exit row and have extra legroom, create a makeshift leg rest. Just after takeoff, use a gadget like the Fly-Tot or a small suitcase to prop up your legs. I use my rolling briefcase and put a blanket or sweatshirt on top which creates a much more comfortable seat.

Bring a mask and earplugs 

Unless you’re flying on a private jet, you can’t control the plane’s atmosphere. That’s why I always pack a comfortable blackout eye mask and earplugs to ensure I won’t be woken by my seatmates. Just in case there’s a crying baby or a loud talker, load up your phone with music and bring headphones.

Obviously, if you plan on sleeping, book a window seat and buckle your seatbelt over your outermost garment so the flight attendants won’t wake you when the seatbelt sign goes on.

Bring food and water

When it comes to food and drinks, you don’t want to be at the mercy of the flight attendants or catering or if there’s a long delay. Always bring food (nothing that is too smelly like tuna fish or that can cause allergic reactions like peanuts) and water so you won’t go hungry and can stay hydrated.


Johnny Jet

Johnny Jet has traveled over 100,000 miles a year since starting his newsletter in 1995 and has visited close to 100 countries. On his website, he writes about how to maximize your credit card points, how to find travel deals, cheap flights, and how to benefit from insightful travel tips. He has hosted a television special on The Travel Channel and was named one of Forbes’ Top 10 Travel Influencers.