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How to sleep on a plane

Whether you are travelling for work or leisure, getting a good sleep on a long haul flight is never an easy feat. Regardless of where you are seated, you can be sure to expect constant interruptions and noise, people bumping into your chair, the odd trolley knocking your elbow – or all of the above.

What’s more, the last thing you want is to arrive at your destination feeling exhausted. You’ll probably want to enjoy the new scenery and start your holiday right away; or perhaps you might even have to hit the ground running with work or head to an international conference. For this to happen you need to be alert, which means limiting the chance of jetlag as much as possible and getting some much-needed rest.

Here are our top tips for how to sleep on a plane and feel rested after your next flight.

Get the timing right

  1. Book a night flight. Depending on where you’re going and how long you are travelling for, choosing the right time to fly is imperative to being well-rested upon arrival. Your best option is to try to book a flight at the time when you generally go to bed. That way, by the time you are on the plane and the first hour or two of flying time and first meal is over, you’re 100% exhausted and ready to hit the sack.
  2. Alternatively, arrive at night. If you want to limit the amount of jetlag you have, try booking your flight so that you arrive at night time, or late afternoon, in the local area; that way you can get your bags, check into your hotel, have some dinner and go straight to bed. Considering you’ve just been on a long-haul flight (and in many cases – you’ve had to change planes a couple of times along the way), you’re bound to need a sleep; and with any luck, you’ll sleep right through until morning.
  3. Transit hotels. If you do have to change planes and have time in transit, try booking into the local airport hotel for a few hours’ kip. Many larger airport hotels or lounges actually offer short-term sleep options.

plane taking off at night

Make yourself as comfortable as possible

  1. Get your seat right. Getting comfortable on the plane begins when you book your seat. Consider which side you sleep on when you’re in bed at home; and try to book a window seat on that side of the plane. For example, if you generally lie on your right side when you are in bed, choose a window seat on the right side of the plane (they will generally have the letter F if it’s a smaller plane, or K for a larger plane like an A380).
  2. Don’t dress to kill. One of the biggest discomforts you can make when travelling on a long flight is “dressing up”. No doubt you want to look good when you arrive at your destination, but when you’re squashed in between two plane seats fighting for leg room, the chances of falling asleep in your suit or heels are not very high. And remember, there are toilets and showers at almost every airport around the world, so you can always get changed and freshen up when you get there. This way you can still look refreshed without compromising your sleep.
  3. Eat. Going to sleep while you're hungry can be disruptive to your sleeping pattern, so try having at least a light snack on or before the flight, whether it’s an in-flight meal or snacks you’ve brought yourself to help you sleep on the plane.

woman sleeping on plane

Take the right sleep accessories

  1. A pillow. The best travel pillow for long haul flights is by far a memory foam travel pillow. The best thing about memory foam is that it contours with your own movements, and are designed to provide your neck and head with the ultimate support. If you have a window seat, why not take your regular size pillow and enjoy the extra comfort of being able to lean on the side of the plane? Or if you are relying on your pillow to take you to dream-land but you don’t have the option of leaning – a U shaped memory foam travel pillow will hold your neck and head in place so you don’t wake up drooling on the shoulder of the stranger sitting next to you.
  2. Ear plugs. These will block out all the noise in the cabin aside from the hum of the plane’s engine. (Bonus: as you can’t really see them; you can politely pretend you’re enjoying the conversation with the stranger next to you, when really you’re humming to your favourite song and enjoying the echo in your head.)
  3. Eye mask. When you’re flying long haul, there is one guarantee; the moment you fall asleep, the lights will come on and you will be served a 2am breakfast. If you want to sleep on a plane without being woken every time the lights come on, you need an eye mask. Even if you can’t get to sleep, an eye mask will help you to relax. It will help block out any light so you can feel more rested. If you don’t have one, use your cap or jumper.

Although we often prepare ourselves for as little sleep as possible when we’re travelling on a long haul flight, by following the above tips we hope you’ll have better luck sleeping when travelling on your next journey.

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