Sleeping on a plane comes easily for some and others never master the art. I can’t fall asleep on my back and am usually relegated to misery on long flights. Years of trial and error, however, has given me a tolerable routine. Now I’m able to at least zone out in a comfortable haze. Progress… Right? Others who can fall asleep on their backs, but with prior struggles on planes, put my tips to much better use.
Even for the supposed experts, seating preferences are all over the place. Some cite engine noise location and others simply want more leg room in the aisle. I don’t think there’s a perfect choice here, but my choice of a window seat equal distance from two sets of lavatories makes sense for a number two big reasons:
#1 – Nothing is worse than getting poked awake—or jarred from a relaxing daze—to get up so seat mates can use the restroom multiple times. A more consistent problem I’ve found are carts nipping at toes or other passengers unintentionally jabbing an elbow into a shoulder as they pass. Even people rummaging through an overhead bin is much more distracting for those sitting in an aisle seat. The added bonus of a window seat is the use of the wall to lean against—especially helpful for those unable to make use of the minimal reclining action to sleep sitting straight back. I’m 6’2″ and don’t really have a leg room issue on the window seats of most airlines (ahem, Spirit Airlines).
#2 – Loud and consistent airplane noises (i.e. engines) help enable sleep—it’s really like white noise. Lavatory doors slamming, however, are not consistent. People congregating to chat amongst themselves (technically not allowed on US flights) or with a stewardess also typically occur around the lavatory areas. Picking a seat in the middle of lavatories cuts down on foot traffic and maximizes the distance between areas prone to sporadic and often jarring noises.
Headphones and Earplugs
Speaking of random noises, who doesn’t love the constant dings preceding an announcement from the pilot or orders to fasten seat belts? Some people manage to sleep through these mini-alarms without assistance, yet the rest of us need additional help in this department. Those owning the admittedly close-to-perfect Bose QuietComfort 25 Headphones or similar high-end product might want to skip ahead, but I do have a few gripes about bigger headphones and also know a lot of people don’t want to budget hundreds of dollars for tunes.
Best Headphones for Travel
Most over-the-head style headphone are bulky and take up a lot of packing space for anyone wanting to travel light. Even foldable headphones are only realistic for those who have a separate carryon bag or just really want to prioritize the item. I prefer a good set of ear buds capable of blocking out noise like ear plugs. Also consider the fact bulkier headphones also make it difficult for those wanting to rest on the side of their head—either using a travel pillow of the side of the plane.
Wanderlust TipDownload a white noise app to better drown out background noises. Most of the better apps include a lot of sound options such as fan noises, thunderstorms, and ocean waves. The White Noise app is highly recommended for iPhone users.
I personally use the Klipsch R6m In Ear Headphone. Well under $100, the earbuds provide above average sound, a comfortable fit, and controls for volume and answering calls, the latter of which makes them a solid option for day-to-day use as well. Most earbuds and virtually any headphone option under $100 doesn’t provide true noise cancelation, but the oval ear tips are pretty unique and create an earplug-like effect.
Best Earplugs for Travel
Most travel pillows fail to recognize the problem plaguing a number of travelers. Everyone has witnessed a person starting to fall asleep in their chair, only to snap wide awake after their head begins to fall forward. I’m a victim nearly every time I manage to think I can sleep sitting up. Common u-shaped pillows simply don’t account for anything but neck support in the sides and rear.
The award-winning J Pillow, however, includes an extension to the popular u-shaped design meant to tuck under a traveler’s chin. While I still haven’t been able to sleep sitting straight back in a chair, the pillow gives me enough frontal support when I lean against the side of a plane in the window seat to groggily pass away hours without snapping to attention every 10 minutes. Others who are better sleepers in general report great results and the pillow is inflatable as an added bonus—taking up little room.
After buying a travel pillow with an oddly-shaped extension, I saw no reason to avoid going all-in to make my travel time as peaceful as possible. Some people might give funny looks at the concerted effort, but who cares? A sleep mask helps for times when the lights come on for understandable or even random occurrences like a flight deciding to serve pizza at 4am. The added darkness also provides a comfort factor and, along with a white noise app (or music) and travel pillow, tend to create as good of a cocoon-like environment as one might experience 30,000 feet above ground.
Sleep masks are notoriously flimsy and prone to wearing down or breaking in short order. I recommend the Lewis N. Clark Comfort Eye Mask with a disclaimer anyone should expect to replace these cheap items after a year or so of heavy use.
Drugs: Alcohol and Otherwise
A lot of people solve travel anxiety or trouble sleeping by a combination of drugs. My method here is no more than a single stiff drink and perhaps dramamine to induce a little more drowsiness. Drinking a lot tends to have adverse effects at high altitude and studies show alcohol-induced sleep at any locale—high above the ground or otherwise—isn’t so great. More potent sleeping aids also tend to leave a lot of travelers disoriented or generally feeling lousy upon landing. Much like seating choice, personal preference and common sense prevails here. One last word of advice: the effects of jet lag and terrible sleep is often mitigated by taking a mild pain killer like Advil a couple hours before landing.
Sleeping on a Plane Recap
- I prefer a window seat equal distance from two sets of lavatories.
- The Klipsch R6m In Ear Headphone is my favorite pair of earbuds under $100.
- Download a white noise app.
- Grab a package of Hearos Foam Earplugs.
- The award-winning J Pillow is pure magic for resting on a plane and deflates to minimal packing volume.
- The Lewis N. Clark Comfort Eye Mask is a serviceable option for blocking out light.
- Drugs and alcohol? Consider something like Advil a few hours before landing to mitigate headaches. Dramamine also helps to initiate drowsiness in-flight.