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How to Sleep on a Plane

Try these tips to catch some shut-eye on your next flight.

By Julia Edelstein
Illustration of person sleeping on top of an airplaneSerge Bloch

John E. DiScala, the editor in chief of the travel-information site johnnyjet.com and a guy who knows a thing or two about getting shut-eye at 35,000 feet (he takes more than 100 flights a year on 30 different airlines) shares tips.

What’s the Best Seat in Coach for Catching Some Z’s?

The window seat of an exit row—as long as there isn’t an emergency. You won’t be disturbed when your seatmates get up, you can rest your head on the window, and with the extra legroom you can use your carry-on as a footrest. The worst place for sleeping is near the bathrooms or flight attendant stations, since people tend to hang out there. If you know in advance that you’ll want to sleep, go online the day of the flight to see if you can change your seat to an empty row. That’s the holy grail. You have a better shot if you’re flying at an unpopular time—say, on a Tuesday or Wednesday night.

Should People Hit Up the Airport Shop for Sleep Props, or Do They Not Really Work?

If you’re in for a middle or aisle seat, a travel pillow definitely helps. One option is the Travel Halo [$29, thetravelhalo.com]: It’s a compact headband and eye mask that goes around your forehead; and it has small side cushions that keep your head from rocking. But you might want to try out a couple of options at a store before you buy one. I always wear an eye mask (mine is made by Lewis N. Clark) and use earplugs. I also travel with noise-canceling headphones. If there’s a crying baby nearby, I’ll wear the earplugs and put my headphones on top and play spa music or a lecture. That combo drowns out everything and puts me right to sleep. One more thing: Bring your own blanket or a sweatshirt. Just thinking about what’s living on the airplane blanket might give you nightmares.

What Do You Wear on a Red-Eye?

I flew first class to Korea for my honeymoon, and the flight attendants gave out pajamas. Let me tell you—I saw the light. Now whenever I have a long flight, usually in coach, I bring pajama bottoms and change into them after takeoff. If you’re not up for that, try sweatpants. Also, bring a pair of cozy socks to slip on before bedtime.

How Do You Keep Your Sleep From Being Interrupted?

The key is to buckle your seat belt over your blanket or sweater, not under it. That way, the flight attendant can see that you’re buckled up and won’t bug you if there’s turbulence. And before you close your eyes, take care of the basics: Have a snack and some water (bring your own if you don’t want to wait for meal service), and visit the restroom.

Is There Any Way to Make Yourself Drowsy Without Medication or Alcohol?

I don’t use either on a flight. A few days before a red-eye, I start going to bed and waking up earlier than usual. I try to get into bed at 9 p.m., but even a half hour prior to your usual bedtime is good. And if working out helps you sleep, make an effort to exercise while you’re on vacation. It may help you enjoy a restful trip home.

For more ideas, see this list of foods that help you sleep.

Read More About:Travel

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