Air travel is an incredible feat of technology. In just over 100 years, humans have figured out how to make an enormous metal tube lift itself off the ground, maintain an altitude several miles high for hours at a time, and deliver hundreds of people from Point A to Point B in a fraction of the time it would take by any other means of transportation.
Isn’t it incredible, then, that we still haven’t figured out how to successfully catch some shuteye on a plane?
Between neighbors who chat, hog your space (how hard is it to share an armrest, people?!), scream for snacks (ahem, toddlers — we’re looking at you here), the company alone is enough to drive you mad. Throw in wild mid-flight temperature swings and time changes, and it can be nearly impossible to get a nap in while you’re high in the sky. Worst of all, unless you’re fabulously wealthy, you’re probably sitting straight up — not the ideal sleeping position for most of the population.
If you’re one of the few unicorn-people who have actually figured out how to doze off while flying, your next hurdle is to figure out when to sleep so that you don’t throw off your schedule — especially on long or overnight flights.
There are a plethora of products out there that claim to FINALLY get you the sleep you deserve while you fly. Neck pillows? There are literally thousands of them. Eye masks? Lots of those too. What about those bulky triangle-shaped pillows that go on your seat tray? No one wants to be that person, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Good news, people. You actually can become a person who gets good sleep on a plane. It simply requires a bit of planning, and some trial and error to find what works for you. And this isn’t just us being optimistic — research has shown that it truly is possible. If you use the information we outline in this article, it’s entirely possible to feel rested at the end of your next flight.
And when you’re not sleeping? Don’t forget to flap your wings!
One of the first things you’ll want to consider when preparing for air travel is whether or not it actually makes sense for you to try to catch some Zs on your flight. It’s not quite as simple as just dozing off for a few minutes and waking up refreshed — sleeping at the wrong time of day, or for too short or too long a time, can really throw your circadian rhythm for a loop. Have you ever woken up from a midday nap at the “wrong” time? You end up feeling groggy and awful for the rest of the day. Something similar happens when you sleep during air travel, except the effects are magnified. If you don’t have a plan for sleep going into your flight, you risk ruining the rest of your trip.
Traveling by air definitely has its perks — unbeatable travel times, amenities at your fingertips (in the airport, at least), and outrageous deals at the duty-free. But it also has its downsides.
Air travel requires precise planning; you want to arrive at your terminal with enough time to get through security and make it to your gate, but without spending half the day at the airport. Getting the timing just right is incredibly stress-inducing. Even the simplest of flights can add heaps of anxiety to your travel plans — and in turn, your sleeping pattern.
A 2004 study found that episodes of acute stress, like what you experience while trying to get to your terminal on time, produce “changes in heart rate variability [that lead to] disturbed sleep.”
This “disturbed sleep” is a lot more serious than just waking up grumpy. In fact, the consequences of poor sleep due to travel are a lot more significant than most people realize. In a 2013 study, researchers found that “sleep disturbances associated with air travel frequently result in cognitive and physiologic impairments that may be detrimental…[such as] reduced attention/vigilance, alteration in mood states, diminished memory processing, and alteration in executive function.”
And these issues aren’t just isolated to running late or long flight times, either. While shorter flight times and distances certainly alleviate some of the side effects of air travel, a 2014 study found that sleep quality, quantity, and mood states were affected after both domestic and international travel.
Sound grim? It doesn’t need to be. If you plan correctly, there’s plenty you can do to make sure your sleeping patterns (and your vacation) stay on track.
How long you plan to stay at your destination will determine whether or not you can “safely” sleep on your flight without screwing up your internal clock — and in turn, the rest of your trip — too much.
Generally speaking, if you plan to be at your destination for 24 hours or less AND you’re not taking a red-eye — you’re better off skipping the snooze-fest.
If you absolutely must take a nap during this kind of travel — say you had to catch a really early morning flight, or want to feel refreshed for a big business meeting — you have two choices, according to sleep.org. You can either power nap for no longer than 20 minutes, or, if you’re sure you can bank it, take a longer one for 90 minutes. Anything in between and you risk interrupting a sleep cycle, which will leave you groggier than when you started.
It’s also important to know yourself and how you typically react to naps — some people are great nappers, while others have a hard time bouncing back no matter how long their nap is. Nap-lovers, take note: a 2006 study on healthy adult nappers found that, for most adults, “longer naps are associated with loss of productivity and [prolonged] sleep inertia,” which is a state of impaired cognitive and motor performance after waking. The good news is that same study found that “napping for as short as 10 minutes improves performance. Naps of less than 30 minutes duration confer several benefits.”
The caveat to this short-or-no-nap-at-all rule is if you’re planning to take a red-eye. Now, if you’re crazy enough to take a red-eye flight and only stay at your destination for one day, all bets are probably off anyway. However, we do have some tips for sleeping on your flight to make the most of your trip.
If you’re staying at your destination for more than a day’s time, it’s probably worth it to plan for some sleep. How long you sleep, and during what part of the flight, will depend on the flight’s timing.
If you haven’t already booked your flight, try to do so with sleeping in mind. For example, a lot of people book the red-eye because it’s cheaper, or because it gives them a bit of extra time before they have to say goodbye to their beach vacation. But they don’t often think about the effects a red-eye will have on their sleeping patterns.
Keep the following information in mind when booking your next trip.
If you’re taking a short flight, follow the same sleeping rules as if you’re taking a quick turnaround trip — keep it to short naps, if anything. If your flight is 2 hours or less, try to skip the nap all together. You’re better off taking advantage of the flight time by listening to some new music, or catching up with your favorite book (or a trashy airport novel — we don’t judge!). If you must sleep, opt for the 20-minute power nap.
Truth be told, there isn’t really a set flight length that’s best for flying. In general, if you’re hoping for more than a power nap, longer flights are better, as are direct flights.
But there’s no reason you can’t plan for and optimize your sleep needs regardless of the length of your flight. The rule of thumb is pretty obvious: the longer the flight, the longer you can safely sleep. The tricky part is figuring out how and when to sleep to make the most of your trip.
If you’re taking a moderate-length flight but staying in the same time-zone — let’s say you’re ditching a brutal Maine winter for a long weekend in Palm Beach — you can safely catch a longer nap. Aim for about 90 minutes, or one full sleep cycle.
If you’re really short on sleep, you could try to nap for the majority of your flight, but keep in mind that sleeping for that long will likely make it harder to fall asleep that night — which could throw off the rest of your trip. You also risk waking up mid-sleep cycle, which will have the opposite effect of what you intended — you’ll be groggier and grumpier than before you hit the hay.
In general, the longer you sleep on daytime flights, the more you risk altering your nighttime sleeping patterns. Nighttime flights, however, are a different story.
Ah, the red-eye.
On paper, the red-eye always seems like a great idea. It’s significantly cheaper, there are typically better seat options, and you get some extra time at your destination.
However, when you’re in line for security at 9:30pm and wistfully daydreaming (night dreaming?) of your pillow back at home, the red-eye suddenly starts to sound awful. And by then, it’s way too late to turn back.
There’s no getting around it: being on a plane when you could be warm in bed getting a good night’s sleep just sucks.
There are, however, a few ways to get the best rest possible so you can hop off the plane feeling refreshed.
If you know in advance that you’ll be taking the red-eye, you can help yourself get ready by slowly changing your schedule to that of your destination ahead of time.
About a week before you get on the plane, start going to bed fifteen to thirty minutes earlier than normal each night (that is, if you’re traveling east to west; the opposite holds true for west-to-east flights). Ideally, this shift will help you wake up earlier, too. By the time you need to catch your flight, you’ll be pretty close to on-track for your new schedule.
As soon as you get on the plane, set your watch and your phone to your new time zone. It’s a minor trick, but it’s one more thing that will help your brain get into “sleep mode” at the (new) appropriate time.
Even if you manage to get some great sleep on your red-eye, it can be pretty disorienting to wake up in a new place, on a new day, and expect yourself to just “get up and go.” However, in order to keep your schedule on track, try your best to stay awake until bedtime at your new destination.
We know how tempting it is to dive into bed for “a quick nap,” but that quick nap almost always turns into sleeping the morning away — which nearly guarantees that your sleeping pattern will be askew for even longer.
Jordan Hamons, blogger at The Hungry Traveler, has a simple tip to help you fight the urge to hit the hay. “Never underestimate the power of a shower and a change of clothes,” she says. “When you’re feeling fatigued and miserable, a shower can help wake up and refresh you to get through the rest of the day.”
No option to go to your hotel for a shower right away? You’ll be tired, but you’re probably better off. Instead, make sure you pack some gentle wipes, a travel toothbrush, some deodorant, and even a change of clothes in your carry-on. Give yourself a nice, refreshing wipe-down on your face and neck, brush those teeth, and get some fresh threads. A spritz of perfume or cologne will help, too.
Another great tip from Hamons? Prepare to get busy on Day 1. “My foolproof method is to have a plan for the first day of the trip,” she says. “If you’ve already planned your day (and purchased tickets in advance) you will be motivated to get out and make the most of the day.”
One final piece of advice: don’t overdo it. Adjusting your sleep needs to a new time zone doesn’t always work out, and that’s okay. If you really, really need to nap, it’s not the end of the world. You’re better off doing so than getting sick and ruining your trip. Try to keep the nap short, and as early in the day as possible. You can also opt out of an afternoon activity in favor of some quiet time and a cup of tea.
Remember the tip we shared about setting your watch to your new time zone? This one comes in pretty handy if you’re going to be on a super long-haul flight.
When you’re juggling a change of several time zones and a super-long flight, changing your watch will help you determine when exactly to fall asleep. For example, let’s say you’re traveling from Sydney to Los Angeles. Your flight leaves Sydney at 12:00pm (Sydney time) and arrives in Los Angeles at 5:30am (PST). The flight is just over 13 hours long. Immediately upon boarding the plane, set your watch for L.A. time — that will help you know when to start trying to sleep (in this case, you’d want to stay up for the first third to half of the flight, and sleep for the remainder).
Once you know exactly when you’re planning to sleep on your red-eye, it helps to know what you’ll need to do to make that happen. Keep the following tips in mind so that you can doze off as soon as possible.
Not all flights are meant for sleeping. If you tried your darnedest to stay awake but paid a visit to The Land of Nod anyway, stick with the following plan. Your sleep (and your trip) shouldn’t be thrown too far off wack.
Traveling across times zones takes a significant toll on your body. A 2010 study found that multi-time zone travel “results in…reduced alertness, daytime fatigue, loss of appetite, [and] reduced cognitive skills.”
The most significant side effect, however, is the disruption of the body’s internal day/night clock, aka the circadian rhythm. Judith Davidson, clinical psychologist and sleep researcher, writes for The Globe and Mail: “by far the biggest adjustment for our bodies [when traveling across time zones] is the sudden shifting into a new time zone with new patterns of light and darkness. Light-dark patterns are used by…the brain…to keep our body clock in tune with our day-night cycle.”
Most research shows that it takes about one day to adjust for every time zone you cross. So if you cross three time zones, expect to feel a bit out of sorts sleep-wise for about three days. This is especially true when flying west to east; the effects will likely be somewhat minimized (expect the adjustment to be cut in half) if you travel east to west.
There is a way to combat this, though — and it doesn’t involve sleep aids, drugs, or drinking too much wine with dinner.
You can “trick” your body into getting great sleep in your new destination by changing your sleep-wake patterns before you even arrive. Take a look at the chart below to figure out how and when to shift your bed and wake times.
A couple of helpful hints for pattern shifting:
Shifting your sleeping arrangements isn’t for everyone, but it will nearly guarantee that you get the most out of your trip energy-wise. Sure, it may not be worth it for a quick business trip. But that once in a lifetime trip to Australia? Probably worth the bit of extra effort.
Nothing can ruin the first half of a great vacation quite like jet lag. Paul French, writer for AirHelp.com, puts it more eloquently than we can: “[with jet lag,] your body thinks it’s still in one time zone, but it’s physically somewhere else. So it gets confused, tired, and stupid.” Nobody wants to be confused, tired, and stupid on vacation. Or a business trip, for that matter.
Jet lag occurs because it messes with your body’s response to light cues. “Flying across time zones changes the principal time cue…for setting and resetting our 24-hour, natural day-night cycle,” says WebMD. “Our internal clock becomes out of sync…with our current day-night cycle.” Basically, once you’ve arrived at your new destination, your body starts naturally anticipating bed or wake time at its normal hour — but the lighting in your new destination tells your body otherwise. This throws everything out of sync. That’s right — jet lag affects far more than just your sleep. You’ll also suffer from reduced attention span, poor moods, loss of memory function, and reduced executive functioning skills.
Luckily, there are things you can do to minimize the effects of jet lag. The next time you’re traveling across time zones, try one (or a few) of the following tips to keep you in tip-top shape once you de-plane.
There is a bit of good news (for some of you, at least). If your travel plans have you moving from east to west, you’re in luck: the research is nearly unanimous that jet lag and sleep disturbances are worst when traveling eastward. In fact, some studies found little to no sleep disturbances when traveling westward. Keep in mind, however, that unless you bought a one-way ticket west, you’ll need to come back east at some point. Keep these tips in your back pocket to keep jet lag at bay when you prepare to make your way back.
Considering the fact that all airplane seats look the same (aside from first class and business class), there are actually a wide range of options to choose from. Some seats are definitely better for sleeping, some are certainly terrible, and there are some that come down to preference.
According to John E. DiScala, editor-in-chief of travel information site johnnyjet.com, there is definitely a superior seat when it comes to sleeping on a plane: the window seat of an exit row. Not only will you have a place to rest your head, but being in the exit row gives you some extra leg room, too.
DiScala takes it one step further and offers a secret tip for making the most of your seating selection. “Go online the day of the flight to see if you can change your seat to an empty row,” he says. According to him, “[t]hat’s the holy grail.”
That being said, everyone has their own preference. There are lots of people who prefer aisle over window. Let’s go over the pros and cons, some basic etiquette, and how to get your best sleep in each kind of seat.
(P.S. We have literally never met anyone who prefers the middle seat over window or aisle. If you’re one of those people, will you reach out to us? We have just so, so many questions.)
Though most people who know they’ll want to sleep on a plane prefer the window (hello, built-in headrest!), there are some diehard aisle fans out there, too. In fact, according to USA Today, over 70% of people prefer the aisle seat. There are benefits to each seat — the key is knowing your own travel style and needs, and planning accordingly.
The most obvious advantage to choosing a window seat is the fact that you can easily rest your head on the window when you want to sleep. Granted, a plane window is certainly no Tempurpedic pillow, but some would argue it’s better than nothing.
You also don’t have to worry about either of your row mates asking you to get up so they can stretch or use the restroom.
If you know you’ll be comfy enough by resting your head on the window, and are reasonably sure you won’t need to get up to use the restroom, the window seat is probably your best bet. Make sure to use the restroom before take-off, and try to avoid the service cart if you happen to be awake when it comes around. Pro tip — be sure to pack a blanket or sweatshirt, as the window seat can get chillier than others.
There is one last thing to think about if you choose the window seat: you’ll have to wait slightly longer to deboard the plane as you wait for your row-mates to do the same. This one’s not a huge deal, as long as you have a plan for the age-old question — do you sit while you wait for the middle and aisle travelers to get their bags, and risk missing your chance to strut down the aisle? Or attempt to stand with your head bent at an awkward angle because the overhead console is in your way? Mysteries of life, people.
Aisle seats are generally considered not ideal for sleeping because you’re blocking the only exit point for one or two other people. But if you have specific needs (like extra long legs, or an overactive bladder), it might be the right choice.
Luckily, there are plenty of products out there to give you a hand in falling and staying asleep. While there isn’t (yet) a product that can prevent your neighbors from needing to get up, you could get lucky and get two neighbors who share your need for sleep. But you should also be prepared for the worst-case scenario — depending on your seatmates, you may be asked to move as frequently as once an hour.
Aisle-lovers beware of one last thing: when you choose this seat, you also run the (small) risk of being bonked in the head by overhead luggage if you run into particularly severe turbulence.
Widely known as one of the absolute worst ways to get from Point A to Point B, the middle seat is also (un)affectionately known as “the bitch seat,” and people will literally fight over not having to sit in it.
We can’t say we disagree.
However, if you’re forced to sit in the middle, you are entitled (disclaimer: we’re using that word very loosely) to one unique perk: Total. Armrest. Domination.
According to Sherman’s Travel, “since both the aisle and the window seats guarantee one [arm]rest each, middle seaters deserve to broaden their shoulders an extra few inches. Think about it this way. Those seated against the window can lean their heads against the wall. Those seated along the aisle can comfortably sprawl. It’s only fair that those in the middle have the armrests.”
Sitting in the middle may make it hard to get quality sleep on your flight. But if it’s your only option, take consolation in the fact that your arms, at least, will be very well-rested.
Disclaimer: we take zero responsibility for any fights that may occur as a result of middle-seat-armrest-entitlement.
Up next on our list of “Things You Never Knew Could Start a Fist Fight” are reclining seats.
Now, this is apparently a very hot-button topic, so we’re not going to offer an opinion here. We will, however, share some tips for scoring the best reclining seats, and some basic etiquette on how to lounge politely.
(Psst…if you’re into reclining, book your next trip fast — British Airways just joined Allegiant, Ryanair, and Norwegian in phasing out reclining seats. It seems they may be a thing of the past sooner than later.)
The second exit row is your best bet if you like to recline. This is because all exit rows have a bit of extra leg room — this means you’ll get some extra leeway out in front and behind you — but the first exit row doesn’t recline at all. Make sure you book the correct row if this is the strategy you’re going for. The last row is non-reclining, as well.
According to LifeHacker, WestJet offers the best reclining seat option (meaning, your seat will tilt further back than on other airlines). United Airlines has some of the worst. Overall, though, airlines are cutting space corners wherever they can — even the most generous of reclines will buy you only an extra five to six inches. Don’t expect a La-Z-Boy experience.
If you choose to recline, it’s important to remember that you will be moving into someone else’s leg space.
We get it. Technically, you paid for your seat, and that seat came with a recline function — you’re well within your rights to use it. If you want to keep the peace, however, try to keep the following in mind before you sprawl out.
We’d like to take a minute to go over some of the absolute best seats you can find on a plane — and some of the absolute worst. After all, the better your seat, the better your sleep.
Before we dive into this section, remember this: nothing comes without a cost. The cream of the crop when it comes to airline seats will help you catch some serious Zs…and will also put a nice solid dent in your wallet. It’s up to you to decide what’s worth it. There are some middle ground options, too, but even those don’t come cheap.
On the flip side, if you know you’ll need to sleep on your flight, you’ll want to do everything you can to avoid the worst of the worst — even if it means shelling out a bit of extra cash when your options are limited.
Here’s the great conundrum of flying first class: there are so many freaking awesome amenities that, if you’re lucky enough to be seated up there, you’ll never want to fall asleep.
However, if you really need to guarantee sleep while you’re mid-flight (and you have a disposable income), there’s simply no beating first class. Many first class cabins have seats that lie completely flat. Even if they don’t, you’ll have extensive leg room, ample recline space, and plenty of privacy.
Take a look at some of the world’s most luxurious first-class offerings.
For peasants (like us) who can’t shell out $10,000 for a first-class seat, there are some middle-ground options in business class.
Keep in mind that business class will still cost more than coach, but there are times when the splurge is worth it. Traveling internationally on your honeymoon is a great excuse to pony up for business. So is a grueling, multi-day travel schedule (hint: book business class for your longest and/or nighttime flight).
Ben Schlappig (also known as Lucky), travel blogger and founder of One Mile at a Time, has flown more than his fair share of business classes (lucky, indeed!). He’s reviewed his favorites here. We take his opinion very seriously. After all, he says, “business class is about the bed, so a comfortable sleeping surface is the single most important factor.” Let’s take a look at his highlights.
While this seat is found in economy, it’s actually a pretty good option if you’re planning to sleep. It’s another one that’s hotly debated; it does come with perks, but also some drawbacks (including an extra cost).
The seats behind the main door are best known for their extra legroom. When it comes to sleep, that’s a pretty big deal. You’ll have more room to stretch out and get closer to horizontal.
Most people will offer an obvious drawback to the extra room to stretch your legs in this seat: you lose your under-seat storage because, well, there are no seats in front of you under which to store things. Instead, all of your belongings need to go in the overhead bin for the duration of the flight.
But think about it — if you’re planning to be asleep, stowing your belongings out of reach really isn’t that big of a deal. Just make sure you have your necessities at the ready (a blanket or sweatshirt, water, and perhaps your iPod), and you shouldn’t have an issue.
One potential drawback, though, is that these seats tend to be a good bit chillier than the rest of the plane. That’s because you’re up close and personal with the main cabin door, which isn’t insulated like the rest of the plane. If you plan carefully, though, this is easy to work around. All the more reason to snuggle up with your travel pillow and travel blanket!
(Psst, heads up. In case you couldn’t guess by the header, we’re venturing into the Worst of the Worst territory).
Everyone knows that there’s little worse than sitting near the bathroom on an airplane. At any given time, you might be subjected to the sounds of a passenger getting sick, someone’s knee in your face, or the constant sound of airplane flushing.
Avoid the bathroom adjacent seats at all costs, says Christine Sarkis of SmarterTravel.com. Unless, of course, you happen to be “an aficionado of discomfort” — in that case, they’re all yours!
Most people tend to congregate near the front and back of the plane. This is primarily because it’s where the bathrooms are, but it’s also the area with the most space — and the snacks.
All the more reason to avoid the last row, if you ask us.
There are few insider tips that will make it easier to get some shuteye on a plane than the ones we’re about to share with you. They aren’t foolproof, and sometimes you just get plain bad luck. But if you follow this advice, you’ll end up with an empty seat next to you — and sometimes an entire row to yourself.
One of the biggest reasons it’s so difficult to get good rest on a plane is how desperately crowded the seating arrangements feel. It’s nearly impossible to readjust or try to get comfortable without knocking elbows with your neighbor.
There is a way to make it better, though, and it doesn’t involve shelling out thousands for first class.
The guys over at Minaal have come up with a pretty awesome hack for scoring yourself a little extra space while you fly. “If you’re traveling alone and want to minimize your chances of a middle seat buddy,” they say, “choose a row with a single aisle seat already occupied near the back of the plane.” There are two reasons for this. First, people are more likely to choose a seat at the front of the plane than the back. Second, if someone’s already booked an aisle, and you book the window, no one is going to willingly book the middle seat between you unless there are no other options.
This can also work if you’re traveling in a pair. Your travel buddy books the window, you book the aisle, and hope for the best. Again, it’s very unlikely someone will choose that middle seat unless they’re out of other options. And if someone does end up booking the seat between you two, no biggie — it’s nearly guaranteed that they’ll jump at the chance to trade their middle for your aisle so you can sit next to your friend or partner. No harm, no foul.
Don’t get us wrong — having an empty seat next to you is a freaking awesome stroke of luck when you need to sleep on a plane. But having a row to yourself? That’s the airplane equivalent of a California king bed.
If you want the best chance of having three seats to yourself, there are two primary steps you need to follow.
First, when booking your flight, choose a middle seat in an empty row toward the back of the plane. As we mentioned, most people prefer to fill up the front of the plane before the back. Once the front of the plane fills up, people start looking toward the back — but they will almost certainly choose a seat in an empty row before they choose your window or aisle seat.
Now, if your plane does fill up, that means you’ll probably have seat mates and be stuck in the middle — which would really suck. This is where the next hack comes in.
God Save the Points blogger Gilbert Ott highly recommends that travelers use an app called ExpertFlyer. ExpertFlyer — which is free, by the way — has a Seat Alert feature that lets you set alerts for preferred seats, as well as change your seating assignment all the way up until final boarding. Ott recommends that you use the app to play “musical chairs,” constantly switching your seat to a slightly better one as the seat map gets updated in real time. In the final minutes, Ott says, “you can often stand in the boarding line with your app open seeing if final seating assignments have created any opportunities — like an entire row to yourself. It really does happen.”
At the very least, the app will likely help you upgrade out of the middle and into a window or an aisle.
There is nothing quite like the feeling of hustling to the airport, finding your gate, going to check in, and finding out you’ve been upgraded.
Getting a seat upgrade is the travel equivalent of hitting the lottery. It makes your food taste better, your chair feel softer (it probably is, to be honest), and the sky look just a little bit bluer.
It can also make it a lot easier to sleep on the plane.
Lots of times, getting upgraded is random, or reserved for elite members of airline rewards programs. There are, however, a few things you can do or say that may tip the odds in your favor.
Regardless of when you fly, how long your flight is, or how many time zones you cross, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to sleep if you’re not completely comfortable. But don’t worry — by choosing the right clothes, coming prepared with the right products, and knowing what to expect while you’re in-flight, you’re likely to feel perfectly at home while up in the sky.
Have you ever noticed that there seem to be two types of travelers? Those who dress to the nines, and those who dress to the…zeroes.
Gone are the days where everyone dresses up for air travel. While flying used to be a relatively novel experience and one worth getting decked out for, it’s just not that worth it anymore. Planes are more crowded and air travel is more common. Nowadays, you’re more likely to see people in their PJs than in cocktail attire.
In truth, it’s best to try to find some middle ground, suggests Refinery 29. After all, “there’s a whole world that exists between pajamas and formalwear, and plenty of clothes that not only help you get snuggly in your seat, but also make sense after landing.”
Though it may be tempting, we suggest not wearing your pajamas while flying. We get it — they’re your most comfortable items of clothing, and they’re specifically designed for sleeping. However, Joe Thomas, flight attendant and blogger, puts it pretty bluntly: “I know most passengers intend to sleep on a red-eye flight[,] but that still doesn’t make it alright to wear your stained sleepwear. Wear comfortable[,] casual daytime clothes, not pajamas, and act your age in public.” Wow. Tell us how you really feel, Joe.
Jokes aside, Joe is probably right. If you’re on a daytime flight, there really is no need for pajamas, period. And if you’re on a red-eye, hopping off the plane the next morning in your nightie probably won’t help you seize the day and start adjusting your schedule. Instead, says USA Today, “opt for items of clothing that are typically made from stretchy materials like sweatpants, shorts, and tee shirts.” Anything made from cotton is a sure bet, as well.
Another great tip? Layers, says Huffington Post. You can never quite tell if your plane will be overly hot or overly cold (or a maddeningly-alternating mix of the two), so it’s best to come prepared by dressing in loose, easily-removable layers. That way you can take off or put back on as your body temperature requires.
As far as footwear goes, there are varying opinions. In general, “clogs, loafers, or other shoes without ties or buckles” are all great choices, says USA Today. Flat sandals could work, too, as long as you’re comfortable walking (or possibly (hopefully not) running) in them for a potentially long trek to your gate.
There are probably very few blog posts out there that have an entire section dedicated to socks. But when it comes to air travel — especially when there’s sleep involved — your socks actually matter quite a bit.
Wearing or packing socks on your flight is always a great plan. Planes can get really chilly, and your extremities lose heat first. There’s a more serious reason to cover your toes, though, and it requires a special kind of sock to get the job done.
According to StopTheClot.org, “[p]rolonged periods of inactivity caused by space limitations [or in-flight sleeping] may slow circulation and produce edema (leg swelling). In addition, bent knees compress the popliteal vein (the deep vein behind the knee), creating a potential site for clot formation”. AirHealth.org reports that 3 – 5% of travelers will develop a clot like this, known as Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT).
While DVT itself isn’t terribly dangerous — though still worth getting checked out by your doctor (it’s marked by pain or cramping in the leg, redness at the site of the clot, and/or a warm feeling in the leg) — it can lead to a potentially fatal complication known as a pulmonary embolism. The symptoms of a pulmonary embolism are shortness of breath, lightheadedness, chest pain, rapid pulse, and/or coughing up blood.
Don’t panic if you get off the plane and notice that your feet or ankles are swollen. This is normal, and doesn’t mean that you’re experiencing DVT. However, if the swelling doesn’t go down in a couple of hours, call your doctor or visit an urgent care center to get checked out.
Luckily, there’s a pretty simple remedy that can prevent DVT and other complications: compression socks. That’s right — “your grandmother and marathon runners are onto something,” says The Travel Channel. According to WebMD, wearing compression stockings during air travel can reduce your risk of DVT by up to twelve times. Sure, they’re not the most stylish look, but who cares? You’ll be asleep (and — bonus! — not developing blood clots) anyway.
It doesn’t matter if you’re flying to a winter ski getaway or a tropical paradise — you’re likely to experience the full gamut of temperature extremes when you’re on your way there. “Travel can be many things,” according to traveller.com, “but too often it is either too hot or too cold.” Those extremes can make it pretty hard to get decent rest. No one likes sweating or shivering in their sleep.
In fact, most of the time, your plane ride will be both too hot and too cold. In a 2008 study, researchers measured the temperature on planes that transported research mice. They recorded the temperature of each plane (103 planes total) several times throughout the duration of the flight and found that a over 60% of them experienced temperature swings of 50 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s a huge differential, and certainly explains why you can go from way too hot to way too cold all in one flight.
However, if you’re smart, you can prepare for these temperature swings to ensure you remain comfortable (and asleep) for the duration of your trip.
The biggest temperature swings usually occur before, during, and after take-off and landing.
A plane’s heating and cooling mechanism is actually a remarkably complex system, so we’re not going to go too far down that rabbit hole in this article. For our purposes, all you need to know is that the user (you, the other passengers, and the flight attendants) is not the same person as the controller (the pilots). The pilots (and sometimes the flight attendants) control the heating and cooling system that flows through the entire plane.
During take-off and landing, the air conditioner is turned off. That’s because the heating and cooling system is a small part of a larger, many-part machine that gets the plane off the ground. The cooling feature needs to be turned off in order to get things up and running. If you feel too hot before take-off and after landing, sit tight — the air will probably start flowing pretty soon.
After that, everything get a bit more subjective — and that’s what makes things really tricky. The controllers have the ability to change temperature by “zone.” So, in theory, your row and the five around it could be cooler than ten rows in front of you. These changes are made upon request by passengers, or at the crew’s discretion.
Consider this: there are probably going to be at least 20 people in any given “zone,” all of whom likely have different temperature preferences. If you are too hot, someone else may be perfectly comfortable. In addition, flight attendants — who are on their feet and working for much of the flight — are more likely to feel warmer than passengers, who are seated and sedentary, and will adjust the temperature accordingly.
Can you tell why this is a nearly impossible issue to solve?
Generally speaking, apart from take-off and landing, you’re more likely to be too cold than too hot when you’re in the air. The reason for this is pretty simple: there are fewer health issues associated with overchilling than overheating. Because there are so many heat-producing bodies on planes, all in extremely cramped quarters, airlines would rather play it safe than sorry and make the temperature lower than what would normally feel comfortable.
The good news is that planning for this minor annoyance doesn’t require much effort. As we’ve mentioned before, your best bet is to wear or pack layers. Travel blogger Keryn, founder of Walking On Travels, has one item she never boards a plane without: her Pashmina shawl. Her Pashmina, she says “is the do-all, be-all of packing light. In one trip it can perform the following duties: (a) scarf…(b) plane blanket (c) bathing suit cover-up (d) make-shift umbrella.”
You should also remember to pack an extra pair of socks, a cozy sweatshirt with a hood, and a blanket. Having these items at the ready will ensure you maintain perfect sleeping temperature. There’s nothing better (and more sleep-inducing) than snuggling up with a cozy blanket when it’s a bit chilly!
Take one stroll through an airport and you’re likely to be bombarded with products aimed to help you get more comfortable while flying. Some of them work pretty well; many of them are awful. We’ll go over a few of the most popular ones here, and leave the rest up to you.
Neck pillows are the quintessential accessory for sleeping on a plane — which is actually pretty ironic, since many of them can actually make you more uncomfortable than using no pillow at all.
The other downfall to neck pillows? Looking like a clown. But with our picks sure to get you some quality sleep, it will be easy enough to put your embarrassment aside. We like Abi King’s attitude, who doesn’t worry about feeling silly. After all, “[o]nce you’re asleep, you won’t know or care who’s looking at you.”
The fatal flaw in most neck pillows is that they have a giant, gaping hole right smack in the middle of the front of them. Last we checked, the human head can tilt in all directions.
The BCOZZY pillow takes care of that. It wraps all the way around the head, overlapping at the chin, so that your head can safely and comfortably tilt forward. You can customize how tight you’d like it and, chances are, you’ll finally wake up without that tell-tale stiff neck.
One of the major complaints about neck pillows is how bulky they are. They take up quite a bit of carry-on space for something that you really only need for in-flight purposes.
The Trtl Travel Pillow is the perfect solution for those who are short on space.
The Trtl is half the size of a traditional neck pillow and can easily wrap around your luggage without fear of slipping off. It’s ergonomically-designed to hold your neck comfortably in place while you sleep, and is made with cozy, sleep-inducing microfleece.
The Cabeau takes the neck pillow up a notch with plush memory foam and a patented, ergonomic design. The back of the pillow is flat, so it won’t push your head forward, and the sides come up high enough so that your neck won’t tilt at an awkward angle. It also comes with a handy travel bag to keep it fresh and clean for your flight.
The Travel Rest Inflatable Pillow is perfect for those who wouldn’t be caught dead walking the terminal with a neck pillow, but still want some comfort in-flight.
The pillow attaches to the “wings” of the plane seat, or can be worn kind of like a messenger bag. At the end of the flight, simply deflate, fold, and pack away — saving you precious luggage space for swimsuits and sun hats.
An eye mask is a crucial component to getting sleep on a plane. As we mentioned, your body’s primary cue for when it should sleep and when it should be awake is light. Any source of light in your area — cabin lights, your neighbor’s reading light, or light from outside the plane — will prevent you from falling and staying asleep. We’ve researched the best and the brightest (err…darkest?) eye masks out there to make sure you’re fully blacked out when it’s time to snooze.
According to Tiki Touring Kiwi, “[t]he research from Purefly that’s gone into making a quality eye mask travel cover is incredible.” It has adjustable straps, so you can customize it to fit around your head. It’s also made from super lightweight mulberry silk, which is biocompatible with your body and hypoallergenic.
The TrekBible highly recommends the Simple Health eye mask because of its cooling properties. The mask has a gel insert that can be cooled (or heated, if you prefer) before your flight. The cooled insert could help offset some of the effects of a stuffy neck pillow. Alternatively, warming it up may help you deal with chilly temps on the plane.
The Bucky 40 Blinks eye mask is a great option for those who like to show their style, even when they’re asleep. According to Trip Savvy, the Bucky 40 Blinks comes in “more than 20 colors and patterns ranging from funky floral to polka dots, so you can easily identify your mask.” Take note, though — this one needs to be hand-washed. All in the name of fashion, we say.
The PQ Ear Plugs get a vote of confidence from Trip Savvy. The PQ Plugs (short for peace and quiet) completely block out noise around you, rather than simply reduce it, like other earplugs. They’re also designed to stay put, no matter your sleeping position or ear size.
The standard jar comes with 36 pairs, so one purchase will have you set for several flights to come.
The EarPlanes are ear plugs that do double duty. Not only do they block outside noise, letting you rest in silence, but they also work to combat the effects of changing pressure on your ears.
If you know you have ear pain during take-off and landing, these are the plugs for you. You can skip the pain and start snoozing as soon as you’re cruising. They’d also be a great investment if you need to sleep in-flight while you have a head cold!
These Bose headphones are Travel and Leisure editor-approved, and “take noise-cancelling to a whole new level.” They allow you to regulate how much noise you hear, and have a battery life of 20 hours — more than enough to get you a full night’s sleep.
They do come with a hefty price tag, but the investment is worth it. Not only will these headphones do an incredible job playing your tunes, but they also have a microphone, meaning you can use them with your smartphone to make phone calls.
These in-ear Linner headphones are also extremely effective at canceling noise, but at a fraction of the price of the Bose option. They also come with an “Increased Awareness Monitoring” button, which will allow you to hear important flight announcements without removing them from your ears.
The battery takes a quick two hours to fully charge and will last a respectable 13 hours.
Okay, so maybe this is a fledgling trend. But being at the forefront of the new ‘“it” thing is awesome, and so is taking care of your health.. And if you can do it while you sleep? Even better.
You certainly won’t catch grandma in our first pick — unless, of course, your grandma is outrageously cool. Happy Socks will get you from Point A to Point B in style. With lots of funky options to choose from, you can look good and feel good all at once.
These socks are also made from super comfortable cotton. Hard to beat!
Hapyceo socks are unlike most compression socks in that they’re ankle-length. These are perfect for travelers who can’t bear the thought of looking like a geriatric.
While technically made for runners, they’ll also work for traveling. You won’t get quite the same circulation benefits as you would with longer socks, but they’re a pretty decent happy medium.
Got stinky feet? We have the solution.
Vitalsox Italian Graduated Compression Socks are made with Silver Drystat. This material inhibits bacteria growth, which keeps the socks smelling fresh and feeling dry.
If you can’t sleep without kicking your shoes off, these socks are a safe bet.
Sleeping on a plane can be tough for even the weariest of travelers. It can certainly be tempting to bring along a little “help” to induce some sleep, but sleep medication can be a dangerous game.
Prescription sleep aids (Ambien, for example) are usually pretty heavy-duty, and their side effects often outweigh the benefits for in-flight use. They’re also usually designed to keep you asleep for much longer than the average flight — even a red-eye. So unless you’d be okay with arriving at your destination and sleeping through the de-plane process, skip the scrip.
There is, however, a more natural option that can usher you more gently into Dreamland: melatonin. Dr. James Maas, author of Sleep for Success!, suggests taking 1mg of melatonin about 45 minutes before your flight takes off. That should give the melatonin enough time to kick in so that you’ll be dozing off right as the plane starts cruising. Just be careful — most melatonin is sold in 5mg doses, so be sure not to accidentally take too much.
If you’ve tried melatonin with no success (it doesn’t work for everyone), you might consider asking your doctor to prescribe you something called Sonata. It has a shorter active period than Ambien, and is often prescribed to astronauts because of its effectiveness.
Regardless of the medication route you choose, do it safely. Dr. Orma, clinical psychologist, suggests to those planning to take a sleep aid that they “test it out at least once before you fly to see how it affects you. You want to avoid taking any type of sleep aid for the first time on a flight.”
Even if you have your own flight-sleeping plan nailed down to a T, there are some things that are outside of your control that will almost certainly throw a wrench in your plan to nap.
Ever sat next to Chatty Cathy on a plane? How about screaming two-year-old twins? Missing your flight is next-level awful and getting bumped can shave precious days off your vacation. There’s a never-ending list of nonsense that can raise your stress levels enough to prevent you from ever sleeping again, nevermind on the plane.
Don’t worry — we’ve got you covered. We’ve got a plan for (almost) anything that might come your way when you’re trying to get some hard-earned rest.
No matter how many social cues you may give off — reading the paper, one-word answers, and closing your eyes are usually effective — some people just don’t get the memo that you’re ready to nod off, and instead spend the flight gabbing away about their life story.
Anna Post, etiquette expert, offers the following suggestions to tune out your talkative seatmate.
If you’re a parent yourself, chances are good that you can skip this section — we know you know what’s up. While we’re certainly not trying to divide our readers, no one understands what it’s like to fly with a child until…well, until you have to fly with your own child.
However, we’ve all been there before we had our own kids. If you’re single or childless, there’s a unique feeling of dread and anxiety that comes with spotting a child in your boarding line. Even the most well-behaved children can lose their cool on a plane, and rightfully so. There’s no place to run around, they’re excited for vacation, and their ears probably hurt just as much as yours do.
Related: Parent’s sleep guide
Look, we get it. Crying babies can be really annoying, and make it really difficult to get some sleep. Unfortunately, though, there isn’t much to be done. Babies (and their parents) have just as much a right to air travel as you do, and their parents are doing the very best they can. The annoyance you feel is likely nothing compared to the embarrassment the parents feel. It sucks, but this is one situation where you need to plug your headphones in and suck it up.
Now, there are specific circumstances where you may be entitled to make a comment — but you’ll need to do so tactfully. If there’s a child repeatedly running up and down the aisle unaccompanied and screaming, for example, it may be time to speak up.
If you choose to do so, make sure you take it up with the flight attendant and not the parent. The attendant likely has a certain protocol or script that’s used for addressing the issue politely so that everyone stays happy.
There are lots of reasons you may have missed your flight. Whether you overslept, got caught in traffic, or ran into an unavoidable flight delay that caused you to miss your connection, there are ways to deal with it that won’t interrupt your sleep (too much, at least).
As soon as you can, figure out your new travel plans. Book a new flight, find a rental car, or arrange for an airport hotel stay. The sooner you have a plan, the more likely you are to catch some shut-eye sooner than later.
It can be tempting to want to hop on the very next flight available, but pause for a minute before you re-book. It may not be in the best interest of a great trip to take the next available flight. Instead, it might be more worth it to book a hotel for the night and take the opportunity to explore a new city for a half-day adventure. The other upside of this strategy is that you’ll get to sleep in a bed, rather than a plane. This way, you can get a fresh start the following day and arrive at your destination refreshed.
Whether it was your fault or the airline’s that you missed your flight, try to stay positive. You will get to your destination one way or another, no matter how hopeless you may feel in the moment.
“[W]e know this is easier said than done,” says Skyscanner, “but [if you’re nice], you’ll likely get staff who are much more willing to help you.” This is especially true if you missed your flight due to your own mistake, like booking connecting flights too close together or tardiness. In these cases, it’s usually up to the airline whether they charge you a fee to change your flight or book you a new one, so killing them with kindness is probably a good strategy.
Hopefully, the tips we’ve shared here will have you dozing off miles high in no time at all.
However, keep the following in mind: sometimes, sleeping on the plane just isn’t in the cards. If you’re under the weather, had one too many caffeinated beverages, or are simply too excited for your trip to wind down and turn it in, don’t stress. Sure, you may be tired for a few days, but a little sleepiness never hurt anyone. You can choose the pace of your vacation, or turbocharge with some extra caffeine for your business meeting. Stressing about sleeping will only make it harder to get some shuteye later on.