15 Tips for More Restful Sleep on a Plane

13 May 2024
Scoring solid sleep on a plane can feel like an impossible mission. The cramped seats, blaring noise, and dry cabin air create a trifecta of insomnia-inducing misery. By the time you stumble off the aircraft, you're more zombie than human. But it doesn't have to be this way! Just like how easy it is to book flights online these days, you can also sneak in some restful slumber amid the chaos on a plane with some simple scientifically-backed strategies. Your well-rested self will thank us later.
15 Tips for More Restful Sleep on a Plane © Unsplash

1. Regulate the Temperature

According to research, the ideal sleep temperature is between 60-67°F (15-19°C). Yet most planes are kept toasty 71-75°F (22-24°C). Oven, how much? Layer up with easily removable clothing so you can adjust as the cabin temps swing up to 50 degrees in different zones. Bonus tip: Try a cooling cap or jacket to maximize your chill factor.

2. Sport Those Silly Socks

Don't be that barefoot person on the plane. Slip on a cosy pair of socks or slippers instead. Multiple studies show that warming your feet increases sleep efficiency by 7.6% and reduces awakenings by a whopping 7.5 times! Your tootsies will be toasty, and you'll snooze more soundly.

3. Put Away the Gadgets

That pandemic doom scrolling habit? It's sabotaging your sleep. The blue light from devices suppresses your natural melatonin production and disrupts your circadian rhythms. Do your body a favour and unplug at least an hour before attempting to sleep. Your Instagram can wait.

4. Block Out the Light

While we're on the topic of light... Exposure to even small amounts can delay sleep by messing with melatonin levels. Break out the contoured eye mask to fully black out any light seeping through the cabin. Darkness is key for quality slumber.

5. Listen to Pink Noise

Tell your playlist to pipe down and tune into some pink noise instead. This ambient sound leads to sounder sleep by decreasing the time it takes to fall asleep by 38%. Not sure what it is? Think gentle raindrops, rustling leaves, or ocean waves. Let the soothing tones lull you into la-la land.

6. Muffle the Noise

With cruising planes emitting a vacuum-like 85 decibels of noise, it's no wonder sleep is difficult. Pop in some high-quality earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones to drown out the cabin commotion. A peaceful oasis of silence awaits.

7. Uncross and Unwind

While crossing your legs might feel relaxing, it actually puts you at greater risk for blood clots by restricting circulation. Keep those gams uncrossed and take advantage of the footrests to promote healthy blood flow. Your legs will thank you later.

8. Find the Right Recline

Flying in the Economy? You're probably familiar with the forward crunched position. However, experts say reclining at a 135-degree angle is optimal for plane sleeping as it reduces strain. Tilt that seat back about 40 degrees, prop it up with the armrests, and let your body fully relax.

9. Support That Lower Back

Our bodies just aren't designed for upright snoozing. Prevent back pain by fashioning a makeshift lumbar support. Roll up a jacket or blanket and position it in the natural curve of your lower spine. Suddenly, sleeping upright becomes way more comfortable.

10. Hug a Neck Pillow

Looking goofy is a small price for solid slumber. U-shaped neck pillows that support the chin reduce head movements and discomfort during sleep. Your neck muscles will stay properly aligned rather than straining at awkward angles.

11. Skip the Nightcap

As tempting as it sounds, avoid alcohol if you want quality rest. Sure, it might help you initially pass out, but you'll experience poor sleep quality with excessive waking and dehydration. And please, hold the caffeine too – it can linger in your system for up to 14 hours!

12. Inhale Some Lavender

This calming scent does more than make you smell amazing. According to studies, lavender increases your brain's slow-wave sleep – that marvellously deep stage where muscles fully relax. Consider packing a small vial of lavender oil to help you drift off.

13. Fuel Up with Potassium

What you eat impacts your sleep, with certain nutrients actually promoting better sleep. Case in point: the potassium and magnesium in bananas help regulate blood pressure for sound slumber. Pack one for a pre-flight snack or in-air nosh.

14. Stay Hydrated

With cabin humidity dipping below 20% - far drier than the recommended 30-50% - it's easy for travellers to get dehydrated. Dehydration means dry nasal passages that disrupt sleep. Counter it by sipping water frequently and using a humidifier attachment or nasal spray if needed.

15. Try Mindfulness

Travel can certainly raise stress levels, which then makes it difficult to relax into sleep mode. Take a few minutes to practice mindful breathing, meditation or yoga before your trip. Multiple studies show this simply calms the mind and body, reducing fatigue and insomnia.

There you have it – 15 expert tips to increase your odds of plane sleeping success. But a little pre-trip preparation can also go a long way in setting you up for quality sleep at 30,000 feet.

Adjust your sleep schedule in the days leading up to your travel so your body's clock is already synced with your destination's time zone. Book an optimal seat like a window or exit row for better sleeping positions. And try to time those long-haul flights during hours you'd typically be snoozing at home if possible.

With some simple strategies tailored to the in-flight environment, getting the high-quality sleep you need while travelling is 100% achievable. You'll arrive at your destination bright-eyed, bushy-tailed and ready to take on all your travel adventures. Pleasant dreams!


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