Tips for Sleeping on a Plane: A NO BS Guide
Looking for tips for sleeping on a plane and beating jetlag? Let’s chat, friend. After 2 years of full-time travel and digital nomad life, you can imagine we’ve taken lots of flights…over 100 flights, to be specific. These flights have included short flights like Miami to Cuba and several long-haul flights like our glorious (dripping with sarcasm here) 17 and a half hours from Sydney to Houston. Since we are YouTubers and are on a tight production schedule, we simply don’t have the time to get to a destination and spend the first two days miserable because our bodies are jetlagged. We’ve had no choice but to figure out how to sleep on airplanes and land in our destination ready to go. By now, you can definitely call us experts on sleeping on a plane and beating jetlag. This is why, for my travel challenged folks out there anticipating a long journey, I bring you our top 15 tips for sleeping on a plane and beating jetlag.
Tips for Sleeping on a Plane and Beating Jetlag #1: Get the Right Gear
Sleeping on a plane is difficult. Getting good sleep on a plane is even harder. Think about it, you’re stuck in the sky with hundreds of strangers, with less oxygen than you’re used to, and likely chillaxin’ in economy with the rest of us peasants. We don’t exactly have the stacks in our favor. But there are some things you can get that will help you get comfortable, fall asleep, and stay asleep.
A lot of people cross this off their list thinking it’s a waste of space. As a full-time traveler and digital nomad, I can confidently tell you that outside of travel days, I want to chuck my travel pillow in the garbage. But the moment I need to sleep on a plane, bus, or train journey, I’m thanking my lucky stars that I still have my travel pillow. Here’s the issue for a lot of people: They get the cheapest, crappiest travel pillow they can get their hands on because at the end of the day, “are you really going to use it”. If it sucks, I’m going to tell you right now… You won’t and it’s not going to help you sleep on a plane better.
Those crappy travel pillows filled with beans on the inside are going to do nothing but frustrate you, friend. And friends don’t let friends spend money on useless crapola. This travel pillow is the exact one we use and it’s handy for a zillion reasons. For one, it’s memory foam. This makes the pillow soft, compressible, and convertible. I never use my travel pillow in the shape it’s intended for. I stretch it out long ways, put one half on my shoulder, and the other part I hug like a body pillow. This travel pillow also has straps that let you tack it on to the outside of the bag, instead of having it take up precious space inside of your bag.
If you’re on a budget or travel pillows are against your religion, and comfy down jacket or blanket will do, too.
Long haul flights that cross many time zones, occasionally require you to fall asleep while the sun is still out in your departing city. Furthermore, the people you are sitting next to might like to do any one of the following things:
- Turn on the Reading Light On
- Open the window with the sun beaming outside
- Call the flight attendant over for a series of seemingly useless requests
Pro-tip for sleeping on a plane, get an eye mask that is comfortable and blocks out light. If you are a very light sleeper, you can opt for one of these heavy-duty ones made out of memory foam. But if you are just the average Joe that wants to refrain from killing Sally when she decides to read her book at 3 AM, you can get one of these.
One issue you’ll face when trying to sleep on a plane is lots of noise. For one, airplanes by nature are very loud. After 17 hours you might not notice the noises as much, but when you’re trying to fall asleep, things like:
- The seatbelt sign turning on and off
- Flight attendants and pilots making announcements
- Babies crying
- People trying to go to the bathroom
- Toilets flushing
- People getting stuff from the overhead bins
And an assortment of other random noises will keep you from catching those ever-important Z’s if you’re trying to beat jetlag. If you bring nothing else I recommend on the plane, let the one thing you do be a solid pair of earplugs or headphones.
Personally, I use these noise-canceling headphones because I have a specific playlist that helps me go to sleep on a plane. Also, if there is ever a baby or something being particularly loud, I can just raise the volume on my headphones and block it all out.
Things to Keep You Warm
Airplanes and long haul flights, in particular, can be absolutely frigid. You’d think they keep corpses on the plane with you. Furthermore, scientists have found that temperature is one of the biggest impeders of good sleep on a plane. If you’re like me and get cold super easily, here are some things I ALWAYS bring on a plane, despite my husbands best efforts to pack light:
You know the ones I’m talking about. The tacky ones that often have candy canes, dinosaurs, or a mixture of the two that your grandparents always get you for Christmas? This is the prime time to use them! Mine have pink, white, and red stripes #sorrynotsorry.
Although my husband, Daniel, has tried getting me to part with my Snuggie for the last 2 years, it’s just not going to happen. On long travel journeys, I love having my own blanket that I know is clean and can keep me warm. Our Snuggie has multiple uses as well:
- I’ve used it as a travel pillow when Daniel steals mine
- It’s long enough in the top portion to cover my face on planes
- I sit on packed flights in a fetal position, tucking the ends of my Snuggie under my butt so it cocoons me. Think adult swaddling blanket.
- Its makes great birth control
Tips for Sleeping on a Plane and Beating Jetlag #2: Prepare an Airplane Comforts Bag
When you are going on long haul flight, you are going to need some things you wouldn’t usually need on a shorter flight. Things like toothpaste and a toothbrush, lip balm, and headphones are all things you’re going to want easily accessible during your flight. This is why Daniel and I always pack an “airplane comforts” bag. In this bag, you’ll find all of the things I could need on a long haul flight like:
- Ibuprofen in the event of a headache
- My sleep aid
- My toothbrush and toothpaste
- Lavender oil
- A Multi-vitamin
- Chamomile tea
- Fuzzy socks
- In-flight entertainment (like a book)
- My laptop
- A portable charger with a charging cable
- My snuggie
- A water bottle
- An eye mask and travel pillow
- My phone
- A pen (to fill out immigration paperwork)
- My passport
- Hand Sanitizer
If you have all of these things in a designated bag that stays at your feet during your flight, you won’t have to stress about getting up during hour 10 of your flight, fighting your luggage out of the overhead bin, just to find one item you needed. “But Annette, how is this a tip for sleeping on a plane and beating jetlag?” Because if you left your sleep aid in the overhead bin and there’s turbulence during your flight, there is no telling when you’re going to be able to get it. Furthermore, if you wake up in the middle of the night because your lips are chapped from the dry plane air and your lip balm is inaccessible in an overhead bin, you’re going to have trouble getting back to sleep. Speaking from experience over here!
Tips for Sleeping on a Plane and Beating Jetlag #3: Change Seats after Boarding Ends
On flights that aren’t fully booked, you may find that there are full rows of empty seats in front and behind you. This is a great opportunity because if you snag a full row to yourself, you can lie down across those 3 seats and use them like a bed. But what happens if you aren’t one of the lucky ones that gets no seatmates? Well, as long as the seats aren’t located in the premium or first-class section, you are able to snag those seats as soon as boarding ends. So listen up for the “boarding completed” announcement, stand up immediately and scout out the seating options. You may find a whole row to yourself, and a new bed for the next few hours.
Tips for Sleeping on a Plane and Beating Jetlag #4: Skip the Budget Airlines
For my friends out there who can afford it, skip budget airlines whenever possible. Airlines like Air Asia, United, and Norwegian are notorious for skimping out on amenities, seat space, and seat comfort. Daniel and I have gotten lucky a few times and were able to score flights on Emirates economy class, and Qatar Airways economy class. Both of those flights offered the comfiest seats in the industry, ample leg space, and even provided us with comforts like eye masks, blankets, pillows, toothpaste, and even lotion! Though I know that this isn’t possible for everyone, you can occasionally find amazing deals on Emirates flights!
Tips for Sleeping on a Plane and Beating Jetlag #5: Whatever You Do, Don’t Pick the Middle Seat
“But Annette, why are you ragging on the middle seat?” Listen, friend. I’ve taken enough flights to know that there is no benefit to being squished between two, potentially smelly, strangers on a plane you’re trying to sleep on. In the middle, you have no nook to yourself that you can snuggle in, nor do you have the extra leg space the aisle seat provides.
And here’s something else to think about. For flights 10 hours or more, I don’t even recommend the window seat. Sure, you get to have a nook to yourself, and you can rest your head on the window, I won’t argue with you there. But on hour 7, when you need to potty and your seatmates are sound asleep, you’re going to regret your decision 1000 times over. Also, the aisle seat:
- Allows you easy access to the toilet
- Makes it easy for you to stand up and stretch which is essential on long haul flights
- Gives you extra legroom
- Lets you sit in a fetal position toward the aisle, which allows your seatmates to slide past you in the event they need to use the bathroom
If by unfortunate circumstance you’re the poor sucker in the middle seat, I’ve got you champ. We’ve all been there. You can place your travel pillow on the tray table in front of you, or place it in the nook between the seat next to you.
Tips for Sleeping on a Plane and Beating Jetlag #6: Have a Sleepy-time Routine
Great! You have your comforts bag at your feet, you have all of the gear to keep you comfy and snuggled up on your flight, and you’ve nailed the perfect seat choice. Now it’s time to get ready for bed. Just like you have a nighttime routine at home, it’s important to get your mind and body ready to sleep on a plane, too. Because I love you, here’s my personal airplane sleep routine:
- Take my sleep aid
- Head to the bathroom with my comforts bag
- Wash my face and apply my nighttime lotion, lip balm, and hand lotion
- Brush my teeth, and put on my retainers
- Come back to my seat and order hot water for my chamomile tea
- Rub lavender oil on my temples, behind my ears, and on the nape of my neck
- Drink my chamomile tea and take my multivitamin
- Put on my fuzzy socks
- Pull out my travel pillow, eye mask, Hoodie/ Jumper, and snuggie
- Put on my headphones and turn on my sleepy-time playlist (almost always Maluma)
- Tuck myself in with my snuggie, put my eye mask on, and pass out!
Your routine might look totally different than mine, but if you have a sleepy-time plan that you can get excited about, your body and mind will be primed for sleep. Good sleep!
Tips for Sleeping on a Plane and Beating Jetlag #7: Prepare a Sleepy-Time Music Playlist
Like I mentioned earlier, there is a lot of noise on airplanes that can keep you from getting good sleep. Though earplugs are a great option, and even better option is having music that you enjoy going to sleep to. Every single time I need to sleep on a plane, I put on my Maluma playlist. It could be that after so many flights I’ve trained my brain to associate his music with sleep, or that I just love his music and it helps me tune out the noise around me. But no matter what the reason, having a designated sleepy time playlist will prime your mind for sleep. Another effective method is downloading a mindfulness meditation or 8-hour classical music compilation.
Tips for Sleeping on a Plane and Beating Jetlag #8: Use Lavender Oil
Lavender oil has been long touted as a natural anxiety reliever, sleep aid, and full-body relaxer. Before every single flight, I use lavender oil to prime my brain and body for sleeping on the plane. I rub it on my temples, under my nose, behind my ears, and on the nape of my neck. The smell is not only relaxing and great for aromatherapy, but more importantly, it masks any other gross smells you experience on a plane. Like:
- People farting
- The bathroom door opening and wafting the sweet smell of urine through the plane
- Body odor from people who didn’t adequately take care of themselves before boarding the plane
- And baby poop
Tips for Sleeping on a Plane and Beating Jetlag #9: Take a Sleep Aid
*Mandatory Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, nor do I know your specific health situation. The things I mention in this section are just the things we’ve used to fall asleep on planes. Ask your doctor before you put anything into your body*
This is by far one of the most effective tips for sleeping on a plane and beating jetlag. Take the sleep aid 9 hours before you are meant to be awake according to the time zone of your final destination. For example: If you are on a 17-hour flight from Houston to Sydney, and your flight lands at 7:05 AM Sydney time, you will want to take the sleep aid at 10:05 PM Sydney time. An easy way to do this is to save your final destination’s time zone on your phone. As for sleep aid options, we’ve taken all of the following before with success (NOT AT THE SAME TIME): Children’s liquid Benadryl, Rotundin (Vietnamese Herbal Medicine), Valium, Hydroxyzine, ZzQuil, and Melatonin.
Tips for Sleeping on a Plane and Beating Jetlag #10: Pack Some Chamomile Tea
If traditional sleep aids aren’t up your alley, rest assured there are some natural alternatives. Whenever I travel, I carry a few packets of chamomile tea on me to help soothe anxiety, induce sleep, and just help me relax. Most airlines, even budget airlines, will provide you with hot water for free if you ask! Drinking chamomile tea is also part of my sleeping on a plane routine, and helps me get mentally prepared for sleep.
Tips for Sleeping on a Plane and Beating Jetlag #11: Rehydrate, but After You Wake Up
Airplanes are notorious for having extremely dry air. This can chap your lips, dry out your hands, and give you some major cottonmouth when you wake up. To beat jetlag, make sure that you rehydrate during your flight so you land in your destination ready to go. But, it’s important to mention that you rehydrate after you wake up from sleeping on the plane. Drinking a lot of water before going to sleep can cause you to wake up in the middle of the night. Though usually, this isn’t a big deal, let me paint a picture for you. You wake up in the middle of the night wearing your fuzzy socks. Stumbling to the airplane bathroom, trying to not wake yourself up too much, you push through the door and sit on the toilet. Except for the moment you sit, you realize the floor is soaking wet with a mixture of pee and water, and now your fuzzy socks that were keeping you warm are cold and wet. Peaceful slumber is now over.
Tips for Sleeping on a Plane and Beating Jetlag #12: Take a Multi-Vitamin
It’s no secret that airplanes are a cesspool of germs. You’re stuck in a tin can in the sky with hundreds of strangers all over the world. Although the air coming out of the vents in the plane is perfectly filtered and clean, the seats, tray tables, and armrests are not. Taking a multivitamin before going to sleep can help your body fight off the new germs it encounters on a flight. It will also keep you healthy and help you beat jetlag when you land.
Tips for Sleeping on a Plane and Beating Jetlag #13: Pick a Flight that Lands in your Final Destination in the Morning
When you land in the airport in a new country, it’s not as simple as getting off of the plane, and going to sleep. You have to make it through immigration, collect your luggage, find a taxi, check into your hotel, and unpack. Landing in the morning of your final destination after a long haul flight is by far one of the best ways to beat jetlag. Why? Because it’s much easier to get yourself to fall asleep on a long haul flight and wake up semi-refreshed than it is to force yourself to stay awake and be utterly exhausted when you land in the airport. Also, you’re able to get yourself accustomed to the time zone with my next tip.
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Tips for Sleeping on a Plane and Beating Jetlag #14: Have Strong Coffee as Soon as you Land in Your Destination
Whether you got phenomenal sleep on your flight or not, if your flight lands in the morning, you can help yourself stay awake and acclimate to the time zone with coffee. Airports around the world, yes, even the tiniest ones, have coffee shops right after you land. Coincidence? I don’t think so. To beat jetlag once you land, get some coffee, tea, red bull, or energy booster of choice.
And there you have it! As you can see, there are tons of tips for sleeping on a plane and beating jetlag. From someone who’s taken over a hundred flights, and has tried everything in the book, these tried and tested tips will make your next flight easier and help you get better sleep!
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