Smart Tips for Sleeping on a Plane

Got a big trip coming up and concerned about jet lag? There’s an art and science to sleeping on a plane, and while no single solution is ideal for everyone, you can customize a plan to get those in-flight zzz’s.

Shift your sleep rhythm

First, try altering your schedule the week before your departure. After a long flight, it’s no fun spending the first day of a vacation or work trip napping in a hotel room or sleepwalking through meetings. If you can book an overnight flight, so much the better: let’s maximize your chances of rest with a few simple maneuvers.

Three to five days before your flight, start going to bed a little earlier each evening until you’re mimicking your ideal schedule while you’re away. Take your destination’s time change into account and check your math in order to plan ahead and arrive well-rested. Then, eight hours before you depart, say no to caffeine, which can sabotage you when it’s time to sleep in your seat.

Make yourself comfortable

Comfort is key when you’re sleeping in a strange place, and a cramped plane seat can be as uncomfortable as it gets, but a few small hacks can ease the awkwardness of relaxing in tight quarters. For starters, consider supporting your neck with a TRTL cushion or classic travel pillow and using the airline’s mini-pillow for lumbar support.

Putting on a soft pair of socks and well-fitting sleep mask can send your body signals that it’s time for bed, and a pair of noise cancelling headphones is rarely a bad investment. If your brain needs extra coaxing, download a sleep podcast to your phone in advance or build a calm, wordless playlist to listen to as you drift off.

Use an OTC enhancement

If you’re nervous about the idea of prescription sleep aids, plenty of over-the-counter options await. A diphenhydramine tablet or two (i.e., Benadryl or Zzzquil) is enough to make most people drowsy, as is a single dose of cough medicine containing diphenhydramine and doxylamine succinate (a.k.a. Nyquil).

Alternatively, a small dose of melatonin – between one-half and one milligram for a first-time user – can improve the quality of your sleep if taken 30 to 60 minutes before closing your eyes, per the National Sleep Foundation. The trick with melatonin is not to take too much, since overdoing it can deprive you of sleep. So, never disregard the label’s usage instructions, and if you’re unsure which remedy or dosage is right for you, consult your doctor beforehand.

Finally, some scents and culinary ingredients may help our bodies shift gently into a state of rest. A drop of lavender oil on the corner of your pillow or a cup of chamomile herbal tea can lull your senses into a calmer frame of mind, so tuck one or both into your carry-on for good measure.

With the right combination of sleep-inducing sensory prompts, you’ll be well on your way to dreamland, and what better place is there for dreaming than up above the clouds?

By Amy Wilde