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!