How to Sleep More Comfortably on a Plane
Here's what you should do before takeoff and pack in your carry-on bag.
Anyone who's ever flown before, even just for a few hours, understands how uncomfortable an airplane seat can be, and how impossible it can seem log quality Z's 30,000 feet above ground. But it's not just a hard, small, and straight-backed seat that makes sleeping on a plane so tough: "You have the person next to you talking, working on their laptop, reading a book, or getting up to go to the bathroom every two hours," describes Sara Quiriconi, a travel wellness agent. "The attendants whiz by with their carts, knocking your elbows—along with every other passenger who is walking by, going to use the bathroom."
But even with these obstacles in play, it's possible to sleep comfortably on a plane. Here's how, according to our experts.
Stretch before take-off.
To get into a sleepy and stress-free state of mind, Quiriconi recommends taking time to stretch before you board. "Find a quiet space near your gate, stretching your back, hips, elevating your legs, and forward folding," she instructs. If you're not sure where to start, check out a YouTube video, she suggests, or download the Sanctifly app, which offers pre-flight stretching videos.
Keep your eyes closed.
On a long or overnight flight, it's important to try to sleep—even if you're convinced you can't. Simply keeping your eyes closed can decrease your travel stress, get you to a more relaxed state, and ease you to sleep, explains Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D., author of The Magnesium Miracle.
Ask for a window seat.
If you intend to sleep on the flight, there's no better seat than the one next to the window, says Quiriconi. There, "you can perch up next to the window to lean on if you have nothing else," she says. "Plus, you'll avoid getting hit in the elbow with the cart every time it comes by your aisle."
Take a natural sleep aid, such as magnesium.
While OTC and prescription sleep aids might be too intense for your flight, Dean says a natural remedy—such as magnesium—might help you de-stress and catch a few hours of sleep. As she explains, "magnesium regulates melatonin—the sleep hormone—production, relieves the muscle tension that can prevent restful sleep, and activates GABA, the main inhibitory neurotransmitter of the central nervous system, [which] favors sleep," she explains. Dean recommends taking a liquid dose, which will act faster and "does not have the laxative effect other forms can have."
Invest in accessories to help you sleep better.
A neck pillow to keep your head from falling, blanket or scarf to keep you warm, an eye mask to shade you from bright lights, and noise-cancelling earbuds to fight chatter will improve your chances of sleeping on a plane, says Quiriconi. And if you're worried about the extra space these items might take up, don't be—especially when it comes to neck pillows. "There are stylish ones that take up little-to-no space in your bag to store until you're ready to snooze," Quiriconi says.