Travel Tip – How to Sleep on Flights

Sleep?  On a flight?

Surely you jest.

Let’s face it – spending hours strapped in a tiny seat is no picnic.  Sleeping on it – nearly impossible.

WITHOUT the help of wine or pharmaceuticals.

I wish I could promise these tips will work for you – but I can’t.  They definitely have helped me in countless red-eyes from hell I’ve traveled in (middle seats, snoring neighbors, screaming babies).  I hope they help provide you some peace and a few hours of rest.

Exhaust yourself.  I’ve noticed that I sleep more soundly on the plane if I’ve exhausted myself, both physically and mentally, before the flight.  If my schedule permits, I prefer to exercise and shower right before I leave, or at least plan for a strenuous workout that day.  For mental exhaustion, I reach for poetry or complicated classic novels (I recommend Russian authors for this) to read while I’m waiting to board the flight.  Pick what works for you – a newspaper, scientific journal articles, etc.  If all else fails, I count up prime numbers in my head until I nod off.

Fuel up.  Everyone has their favorite comfort food.  And while I can’t find my mother’s excellent Indian cooking in ANY airport, a large cup of vegetable soup and an herbal tea is equally satisfying and healthful right before a flight.  Just say no to airplane food.  I also pack a small breakfast (steel-cut oatmeal packet, a small pouch of almond butter, a highly caffeinated teabag) that I can prepare in-flight with hot water and a styrofoam cup.  Having your go-to morning meal at your fingertips will help wake you up after an overnight flight – whether you slept well or not.

Keep your routine.  Before I board the airplane, I hit the bathroom to quickly brush my teeth, wash my face, and go through the rest of my nightly routine.  Maintaining your typical nighttime rituals helps signal your brain that it’s time to sleep – even under the harsh glare of the bathroom’s fluorescent lights.

Sensory deprivation.  I do my best to block out the world when I need to sleep on flights – eyemask, a comfortable pair of headphones and soothing music, essential oil towelettes (I rub a lavender one on my chest and then use it to wipe down EVERYTHING near me).  I also bring along my own neck pillow and large scarf to use as a blanket, as I do NOT trust the cleanliness of airline blankets and pillows.

And the million dollar question – what about a glass of wine or sleep medication?

You’re a smart one.  Talk to your doctor before taking any kind of sleep medication (prescription or over-the-counter) on a flight.  As far as wine goes, I’ve relied on a glass of red before a dreaded red-eye – coupled with several glasses of water.  You know what’s best for you, and use good judgement before self-medicating before any flight.

image via // photography by joshua bouman


Your turn – got any tips for getting some much-needed sleep on a dreaded flight?  COMMENT below and let me know!


  • Another thing I’d add, is pay attention to where you’re seated and how it affects your sleep. I always get a window seat (can’t sleep on an aisle seat) AND have found that I sleep better when I sit on the left side of the plane (with window on my left) , because at home I typically sleep on my left side, so this allows me to lean in that direction (rather than on the stranger in the middle). If I end up on the right side, I find that I’m much more restless and uncomfortable. Just another thing to think about!

    • hithaonthego

      Such a great tip, Alejandra! Thank you for sharing it!

  • Leslie

    I wish this had been published a day earlier! Just got home from the most brutal red eye. I love these suggestions. Will save for the next one (even though I swore never again, these flights are always inevitable).

    • hithaonthego

      Famous last words. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said that, only to be seated on one a few weeks later. I’m so glad you found these tips helpful! Go splurge on a massage or a blowout and get some rest from your flight.

  • Emily

    Can you recommend more scarves to use as blankest? The ones you linked to look very thin and flimsy. I’m always cold and travel for work so it’s tough to pack mega layers when I don’t even know if my client site will be cold or not.

    • hithaonthego

      While both of these are thin, my Julie Vos scarves are the WARMEST I own. Even warmer than my wool Burberry scarf!

      If you want something with a little more weight, I swear by my Encirlced Chrysalis Cardi >> ($15 OFF with code HITHAONTHEGO2).

      Look for scarves with a high wool content (like this Vince one >> You can find some great deals at Zara, Nordstrom, and other shops. Hope this helps!

  • Ashley

    I have a red eye flight this Sunday so I can give these tips a try! Thank you for such a helpful post.

    • hithaonthego

      Safe travels Ashley!

  • Perfect timing! I have a long flight tomorrow where I really want to catch up on some sleep. I need to remember to pack the eye mask!

    • hithaonthego

      The eye mask is everything! I can’t sleep without mine – at sea level or in the air.

  • This is the best advise for those who travels a lot! I visit my family in Russia very often and it’s no fun at all to spend more than 10 hours in a tiny seat, will definitely use your tips!
    Thank you for sharing!!!

    • hithaonthego

      I’m so glad you found it helpful, Elena! Russia is one of my favorite countries I’ve ever visited, but that flight is LOOOOONG.

  • Love this post! Definitely some good suggestions. :)

    I’ve flown about 400,000 miles in the past 5 years, and NEVER EVER slept even a minute on a flight. Even on a 40 hour, 3 leg journey to Bali… I was up for the whole time. And in business class. It was so annoying because everyone around me was sleeping in their lay flat beds. :-/ (first world problem!)

    I’ve tried everything… exhaustion, copious amounts of wine, essential oils, breathing techniques, relaxation mp3s, meditation, counting sheep… LOL. Nothing seems to work with me.

    I’ve decided for my next ’round the world journey, I’m going next level and getting a script for Ambien. And definitely no vino for that flight!

    • hithaonthego

      Sometimes pharmaceuticals are the way to go! Just consult your doctor :) And DEFINITELY don’t mix medication and alcohol – never a good combination. I hope you finally get some sleep on your next long-haul flight!

      • Yes! Good tip :) Thanks for all of your fabulous content!

  • I’ve been flying all my life and have had my own bouts with insomnia, still I find that the best method is to just block out all distractions. It’s a combination of a few points you mentioned. My routine: Eat food I know makes me feel good (nothing greasy) like fruits or sushi, drink a lot of water and stay away from coffee or alcohol, then I do some reading before slapping on an eye mask and earplugs. It’s important to stay warm, so a blanket is a must. I usually double up with a blanket scarf.

    Marina from

  • Molly

    I love your site, and so much of your information is spot on, but I would like to point out that you should exercise caution when recommending essential oils on planes. I’m extremely allergic to lavender, and when I flew across the country for the holidays two weeks ago, the woman in front of me applied it liberally several times. It made me incredibly sick (I’m pregnant and can’t take my usual allergy medicine, but even when I do, the scent gives me a terrible migraine in addition to my other more serious symptoms). I’m sure that for her, it was very soothing, but for me, it made the next five hours agony. It would be great to mention that oils should be applied in the airplane restroom (if at all) and preferably with a rollerball instead of a spray to minimize problems for other passengers. Again, thanks for all the wonderful tips you put together for those of us with a traveling lifestyle!