How to Sleep on a Plane

by  Paul Eisenberg | Mar 13, 2013
Female sleeping on plane
Female sleeping on plane / Anze_Bizjan/iStock

During most plane rides I twitchily drift in and out of consciousness, glancing with envy at any passenger who appears to be immersed in a controlled, replenishing nap.

If, like me, you've never gotten the hang of sleeping on a plane or would simply like to do it better, you’re in the right place. These tips from frequent travelers might be just the ticket to in-flight dreamland.

1. Pick the right window seat. In his travels through all 50 states and more than 44 countries, illusionist Wayne Hoffman habitually books a window seat to avoid the comings and goings of his seatmates

and finds "that choosing the correct window seat is even more important," going so far as to keep a log of different planes and the comfort level of their window seats. He notes that “although emergency exits have more leg room, they often lack an armrest on the wall side or even worse, are positioned far from the wall,” and "the seat you want to avoid at all costs are the seats that have a bulkhead directly behind them,” as they “often prevent you from fully reclining.”

One consideration in picking the perfect window seat is factoring in what side of your body you normally sleep on, says travel blogger Charlotte Beauvoisin, who normally sleeps on her “right hand side, so I always choose a window seat with the window to the right of me if I'm really in need of a good sleep."

2. Eat right before flight. Healthy, "nutrient-dense" snacks and foods like "soups, salmon, or other fatty fish, as well as greens such as kale, Swiss chard, or spinach" may help you settle in for a better sleep, suggests naturopathic doctor Stacey Mobley. Plus, "eating beforehand helps you pass up meals" on board, says Alicia Jao, vice president of; on top of that, "it’s hard to stay asleep when you're hungry."

3. If you do eat on board, go for the veggie meal. "Order the vegetarian gluten-free option if available," says Linden Schaffer, director of, as that kind of meal "doesn't leave you feeling bloated" and "as specials meals are delivered before the regular meals" you'll eat sooner and have that much more time to settle into your nap.

4. Try the slump method. Once while in a middle seat, author and fitness expert Janna Lowell found herself trapped between two passengers who promptly fell asleep after take-off. But she admired their technique, which involved "[bunching] up everything possible in [their laps] to mountain proportions and slumping over it," so she followed suit, bunching up her coat, the "top of my head resting against the middle seat in front of me."

5. Fasten your seatbelt…over your blanket. "The seatbelt sign can be turned on multiple times throughout a flight," points out Darcy McGilvery of BikeHike Adventures. So, if you're hoping to snooze on board for any length of time, "make sure your seatbelt is fastened over your blanket, or the attendants may wake you up to put it on."

6. Abide by the time in your destination. If you're traveling between time zones, show your body clock who’s boss. Author Cynthia Dial notes that she sets her "watch to the time of my destination and begins thinking within the bounds of that time frame. If at 4pm I board a plane in Los Angeles bound for Zurich, I set my watch to the Swiss time (1am) and behave accordingly. So, after a light meal and a glass of wine, I'm ready to sleep."

7. And smile. Once on board, buckled up, and hoping for sleep, you might try one more thing: smile. Smiling "triggers endorphins and decreases tension," Dr. Mobley says.

What are your sleeping secrets while traveling?

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