These are my top tips for how to sleep on a plane in economy class that I have used successfully over many years of flying.
Even if you aren’t particularly tall, working out how to sleep on a plane in economy class can be very difficult. That is unless you are someone who can fall asleep on a clothesline (like a friend of mine can).
However there are ways of trying to sleep comfortably in economy class, and I have had at least some success in the past with these, even though I am 6 feet 2 inches tall, with particularly long legs.
1. Choose your seat
By this I don’t mean pay for Business or First Class, although that is a great option if you can afford it – unfortunately, I can’t. What I mean is that selecting a seat in a particular part of the aircraft will go some way to helping you get some sleep. The position is important.
Window seats are best
Window seats give two advantages when trying to get some sleep.
Firstly, you will not be disturbed if someone wants to go to the toilet in your row, which can happen if you are in a middle or aisle seat.
Secondly, you can put your travel pillow against the window/wall to enable you to get more comfortable. Give some thought here as to which side of the aircraft to choose your window seat.
If you generally sleep on your left side in bed then choose a window seat on the left hand side of the aircraft. If you sleep on your right side in bed then choose a seat on the right hand side of the aircraft.
Of course, if you sleep on your back then neither of these applies so it doesn’t really matter which side you sit on.
Extra legroom seats
Even if you have to pay extra for these they will generally go a long way to making you comfortable enough to get some sleep, particularly if you are tall. If you can’t pre-book these then try to get to the airport early and ask the check-in agent (nicely) when you check-in if you can have one of these seats.
It is always worth asking – “if you don’t ask, you don’t get” as they say.
If you haven’t managed to get an ideal seat then after take-off if you spot a better seat that is free ask the cabin crew if you can move.
Don’t sit near the toilets or galley
Ideally you want to choose a seat in a part of the aircraft where you are likely to be disturbed as little as possible. So if you sit near the toilets there is a good chance that you will be disturbed by people waiting for toilets to become free and probably talking while they wait.
The same goes for the galley where the cabin crew will be going in and out or congregate for a chat.
Make sure the seat reclines
Some rows of seats, particularly just in front of a bulkhead, and sometimes by emergency exits, do not recline. So make sure you don’t select one of these otherwise you have little chance of sleeping as you will be sitting bolt upright for the entire flight.
Read: Best seats on a plane
2. Bring a travel pillow
Make sure you buy a travel pillow before your flight as these are one of the best aids to getting some reasonable sleep on a plane and will prevent you from waking up with a stiff neck when you do.
There are a number of different types on the market. The one I have found to be the most comfortable is the BCOZZY Chin Supporting Travel Pillow but my wife prefers the J-Pillow Travel Pillow. Both are available on Amazon.
I have been recommended these Infinity pillows by a few friends who travel regularly which they say are very versatile as they can be used as a neck support, lumbar pillow, window pillow, desk pillow or even an eye mask. They even describe it as a noise canceling pillow so I will be interested to test that out.
I will write a review after I take my next long haul flight. but you may wish to check them out in the meantime on the manufacturer’s website where you can also purchase them directly. Infinity Pillows.
In the end it is just a matter of choice but you are unlikely to go wrong with any of these.
3. Fasten your seat belt
Before you try to sleep on a plane make sure you fasten your seat belt across your lap loosely. If you are using a blanket make sure the seat belt is over this too.
The reason for this is that the captain may switch on the fasten seat belt sign while you are asleep, perhaps due to some potential light turbulence.
When this happens the cabin crew will come around to check everyone has theirs on and they won’t have to wake you up to ask as they will be able to see you have it on.
4. Make sure you keep warm
Although you might feel warm before you fall asleep, it is easy for your body to lose heat with the aircraft’s air conditioning running etc, also you tend to lose heat while asleep due to inactivity. To ensure this doesn’t happen put on a light jacket or fleece or use a lightweight blanket.
Not all airlines supply blankets, or carry enough to go around if they do, so it is worth making sure by taking one with you such as the World’s Best Cozy-Soft Micro-fleece Travel Blanket available on Amazon.
It is also worth mentioning that, ideally, you should avoid wearing tight clothing, not only when trying to sleep but just to make you more comfortable when flying generally.
You may also wish to know can you wear pajamas on a plane?
5. Use a sleep mask
If you have problems sleeping when it is light then these can be a good idea. I have tried one and they don’t seem to help me.
I include it here though because my wife finds that a sleep mask works really well for her by blocking out the light. She uses this one to great effect – Dream Essentials Contoured Sleep Mask available on Amazon.
6. Take earplugs and noise cancelling headphones
One of the hardest things about trying to sleep on a flight, apart from getting comfortable, is the noise. Not just any noise made by other passengers but the constant sound of the engines and the air rushing past the aircraft. I find this particularly annoying and a major factor in preventing me from falling asleep.
You have two options to try and reduce the noise:
You either get on with earplugs or you don’t. Personally, I don’t like having things in my ears, be they earplugs or earbuds, as I find them uncomfortable. Many people don’t have such a problem.
I can’t, therefore, recommend one brand over another but there are many for sale ranging from simple foam to almost space-age-looking devices. Some also reduce the pressure too.
One of the most popular earplugs on Amazon are the Earplanes Aviation Earplugs which provide ear pain relief for air travel and also block out much of the noise to help you sleep.
Noise cancelling headphones/ear buds
I must say that I wouldn’t be without my noise cancelling headphones on a long flight, not just for trying to sleep on a plane but for making the journey much more relaxing and less tiring. They aren’t cheap though so if you are just reading this because you are going on a rare trip then you may be better off going for cheaper earplugs.
There are headphones that block out sounds and are therefore simply noise isolating. True noise cancelling headphones are “active” which means they electronically cancel out particular types of noise.
They can range in price from $35 to almost $1000, so quite a range. Some even have Alexa voice control – but who needs it? You get what you pay for to some extent but only up to a certain level I think.
I have been using a relatively cheap pair for the last few years after my expensive Sony headphones finally stopped working. I have to say that there is little to choose between them but then I haven’t tried the new Sony versions which may be even better.
The ones I currently use are the Paww WaveSound 3 Bluetooth Headphones. They are designed for air travel with a carry case and an aircraft in-flight entertainment adapter.
I have just bought a pair of COWIN E7 Active Noise Cancelling Bluetooth Headphones for my wife and says she likes them. She chose them as they have the most positive reviews on Amazon and she likes the color!
7. Try a travel foot rest
These can make sleeping more comfortable by raising your feet and have the added advantage of helping to prevent getting DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis).
To find out more read my best inflatable leg rests for flights review post.
8. Don’t forget your Toothbrush
Take a toothbrush and a small travel tube of toothpaste in your carry on bag which is something many people don’t think to take. It won’t help you sleep on a plane of course but, if you do manage to fall asleep for a reasonable period, then you can go to the bathroom and clean your teeth to make yourself feel more human after waking up.
Actually, just going to the bathroom will help you as you can have a bit of a stretch after your sleep which is going to be beneficial.
Don’t forget that you can only take toothpaste in a tube/container that is no larger than 3.4 ounces (100 ml).
What not to do to try and sleep on a plane
Don’t take pills
I wouldn’t recommend using pills to fall asleep on a flight unless you use them regularly so know how your body reacts to them. Many may help you sleep but can leave you feeling drowsy for hours after waking up. That isn’t something you want when you arrive at your destination, particularly if you will be driving.
Also, should an emergency situation occur, which is fortunately very unlikely, you will want to be in control of your full faculties to deal with whatever may happen. Feeling drowsy in that situation obviously won’t help.
I have used Melatonin but only to aid sleep after a flight to counter jet lag.
Don’t drink coffee or alcohol
Whether you are going to try to sleep on a plane or not I would never recommend either during a long flight.
The caffeine in coffee can obviously keep you awake, which is what you are trying to avoid.
Alcohol, whilst it might help you fall asleep, will most likely make you feel dehydrated and perhaps hungover, so any sleep you get won’t be of good quality. In all probability, you may also wake up because you need to use the bathroom too.
Don’t use a laptop
There is nothing wrong with catching up on some work or watching a film etc on a laptop during a flight. In fact it helps to pass the time.
However, if you want to sleep on a plane I would recommend not using one for at least 30 minutes prior to settling down. The blue light that most screens emit can trick your body into thinking it is daylight which will undoubtedly lessen the likelihood of falling asleep.
If you really want to be comfortable on a long flight then you may be interested in these gadgets which will help – Best gadgets to make flying more comfortable
Research: Economy class syndrome: rheology, fluid balance, and lower leg edema during a simulated 12-hour long-distance flight.
I hope you found this post on how to sleep on a plane in economy class useful.
Good luck with trying to sleep!
You may also be interested in these other articles:
How long does jet lag last from USA to UK
My 7 most memorable flights – good and bad
What are the best seats on a plane?
I have been traveling around the world by air since the early 70s and living overseas too. I worked for British Airways for a number of years and I am also a private pilot. About Me