How to Sleep on a Plane

You’re going to board a plane soon. You’ll ride in a giant metal tube with a hundred or more other humans and land in a different part of the world. Sounds pretty awesome! Crying babies, turbulence, boredom, leg cramps… I’ll bet you can’t wait!

Other than reading a good book, entertaining yourself with a game or video, or getting a bit of work done, sleeping on a plane is probably one of the best uses of your time in the air. It will make the time pass quicker, you’ll be less anxious, you won’t have to consciously deal with annoying passengers, and best of all, you’ll be well-rested and have less jet lag when you arrive at your destination.

Have you ever tried sleeping on a plane, though? It sounds great in theory, but the distractions on the plane can keep you from getting some good zzzs. This article will offer a few good tips and product suggestions that can make sleep more likely when you travel.

Get a window seat

Unless you have a friendly seat-neighbor who doesn’t mind if you lean on his shoulder and snooze, the window seat is the only seat in the row that offers more than one place to rest your head. You also do not have to worry about being disturbed by passengers getting out of their seats, walking up and down the aisle, or by the flight attendants passing out snacks.

Wear comfortable clothes

You probably shouldn’t wear pajamas, but it would be tough to sleep in a business suit. Wear something less constrictive and more comfortable.

Drink the right beverages

Skip the caffeine in the airport or other food / beverages that will keep you awake. You should also avoid too much alcohol as it may have the opposite effect that you’re looking for. Have a cup of warm, herbal tea before your flight or something equally calming.

Take medication, if necessary

Talk to your doctor before you travel. If you have anxiety or motion sickness when you fly, ask for a prescription that will help you relax on the flight. You can also ask if an OTC medication such as an antihistamine or a sleeping pill, or a natural sleep aid that would be appropriate on your trip.

Announce your intentions

Let your flight attendant and passengers in the seats next to you know that you are going to try to sleep so you won’t be disturbed for drinks or other questions.

Pack these items

You’ll want to bring one or more of these products with you depending on your tolerance for light, noise and comfort:

  • Eye mask (sleep mask). This Dream Essentials® Silk Sleep Mask is one of the most highly rated masks on Amazon
  • Neck pillow
  • Your iPhone, with a free white noise app such as NiteFan loaded
  • Sleep headphones or comfortable earbuds
  • Small blanket
  • An extra battery to keep your phone charged, if necessary. Check to find out which types of batteries are allowed on US flights
  • If you cannot fit all of this in your carry-on, a soft jacket can be a substitute for a pillow or blanket and a scarf can be a great substitute for a pillow or eye mask.

  • The importance of white noise

    White noise is a constant sound that drowns out other sounds. When you’re awakened by a noise, it’s not the noise itself that causes you to wake up, but the CHANGE in the noise level that wakes you. On an airplane, you will hear many different sounds from the airplane engines, the other passengers, and the flight attendants. If you are a nervous flyer, the changing sounds of the engine and other equipment can make you anxious. If you are trying to sleep, changes in the volume of sound can wake you or keep you from falling asleep in the first place. When you have a constant sound playing in your ear, such as the sound of the fan that you hear in the NiteFan app, your mind will focus on this sound and the other sounds will register as abruptly in your sleeping brain.

    The NiteFan app will play the sound of a fan until you’re ready to turn it off. You can mix the sounds of 4 different fans together until you find the frequency that works best for you. In version 1.2, you can also add extra sound characteristics such as clicks or rain to the sound of the fan. In combination with a comfortable set of headphones (I recommend these), this app will help you fall asleep in the most distracting environments.


    In conclusion, the best way to sleep on a plane is to dress comfortably, let people know that you intend to sleep, take medication if recommended by your doctor, get a window seat, block out the light with a mask and fall asleep to the sound of a fan with the NiteFan app.

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