How to Sleep on a Plane

The secret to catching some zzz’s while you’re 40,000 feet above ground? Pick the right seat, pack comfy clothes and discourage the flight attendants from waking you up

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The seat in front of you has just reclined so that your knees are almost touching your nose. A few rows back, a baby is exercising her lungs, full throttle. You’re freezing and the flight attendants have run out of blankets. Is it possible to actually sleep on a plane? The answer is yes—if you plan ahead carefully. Here’s how.

 

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Bring good earplugs

“The foam ones airlines give out are not good for blocking noise,” says Shelby Harris, PhD, director of behavioral sleep medicine at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. “Try Mack’s silicone earplugs for swimmers—they cut sound better and don’t pop out of ears. They can take some getting used to, so some people practice sleeping with them on ahead of time.” Do you fly a lot? “The pricier noise-canceling headsets are a favorite among frequent travelers,” say the experts at Tripadvisor.com, a site that offers reviews and bookings. Eye masks may also improve your sleep. John E. DiScala, editor-in-chief of JohnnyJet.com, a comprehensive travel site that offers news, tips and deals, uses inexpensive ones from Lewis N. Clark.

 

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Book a window seat

“Window seats are preferable for sleeping because you can often lean your head against the wall and you won't have anyone climbing over you,” say the experts at tripadvisor.com. Another advantage of window seats: “You can close the shades and reduce your exposure to light,” says Harris. In addition, aim for a seat above the wings, which provides the smoothest ride, and avoid the rear, which is the bumpiest (and noisiest) section of the plane. You can check out which seats are where on which flights by consulting seatguru.com.

 

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Fly at night

“If you are flying eastward, try to get an overnight flight for when you would normally be sleeping. Then you’ll arrive awake in the morning,” suggests Harris.

 

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Create space for a couple

“If there are two of you, reserve the window and the aisle and let the middle seat stay open. Middle ones are the last to go. If someone does show up to claim that seat, he or she will be more than happy to switch so that you two can sit together,” advises DiScala.

 

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Get extra leg room

If you’re really bothered when people in front of you recline their seats, opt for a spot in the exit rows or bulkheads. “The seats in front of these positions can’t recline,” says DiScala. However, they are also narrower since tray tables are usually stowed in the armrests.

 

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Dress comfortably

“If it’s a long flight, I’ll bring a change of clothes,” DiScala says. “I have pajamas in my bag. Or you could bring sweat pants and a sweatshirt. Comfort makes a huge difference. An hour before landing, you can change back into your regular clothes. They’ll look good, won’t smell and won’t be wrinkled.” On short or long flights, “slippers or cozy socks can be helpful—some people’s feet swell up on the plane,” notes Harris. Prepare for cold temperatures, especially in exit rows, which get drafts from the doors. “People think they’re going to be warm because they’re heading to Hawaii, but the plane will be freezing,” says DiScala, who adds you might want to bring a wool cap.

 

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Pack a blanket

You can no longer count on airlines to provide you with a blanket or pillow. “Pack a blanket in the carry-on,” suggests Harris. Blow-up pillows and neck rests may also add to your comfort. 

 

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Make your seat belt visible

“One of my most important pieces of advice is to buckle up outside your outer garment or blanket so the flight attendant won’t wake you up to check if your seat belt is fastened,” says DiScala.

 

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Consider sleep aids

“If travel a lot and struggle to doze off, you can get a prescription sleep aid from your doctor for the plane,” Harris says. Alternatively, “melatonin, an over-the-counter medication, has not been proven an effective treatment for sleeping, yet some people do find that a low dose of 3 mgs. helps,” she adds.

 

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Next: End Your Insomnia: The New Shift In Sleep

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