Top tips list: How to sleep on a long haul flight

February 17, 2020

Are you looking for tips on how to sleep on a long haul flight?


If you have a long-haul flight coming up, you’re probably dreading the lack of sleep, the impending jet lag or just the general un-comfort of spending 10+ hours on a plane. I’ve found that one of the best ways to get through a long haul flight, is to sleep. I’m not the best plane sleeper (I suffered from sever anxiety for many year because of my fear of flying) and I’m certainly not one of the those people who can nod-off before the plane even takes off. Learning how to sleep on a long haul flight is one of the best skills to have – so here are my tips.

But over the year, I’ve overcome my fear, and I’ve found that a few tricks and tips have really helped me be able to sleep on long haul flights. I may not always sleep for hours and hours, but sometimes a solid hour nap can be all you need!

how to sleep on long haul flights


Anyway, here are some of my tips for sleeping on long haul flights…


Tip 1: Book a window seat

First on my list of how to sleep on a long haul flight, make sure you’ve booked yourself a decent seat. Of course, the ideal seat is one in business or first class, but that’s also mega expensive and not always attainable.

If you’re flying economy, then there are three kinds of seats. You have the window seat, the middle seat and the aisle seat. If I want to spend the flight sleeping, then I always try and book myself the window seat. This is for the following reasons:

  • I find it’s easy to get into a comfy sleep position if I can nestle myself against the window / wall
  • You don’t get other passengers waking you up because they need the toilet
  • You don’t get bumped and shoved by trolleys or passengers walking past (like you sometimes do on the aisle seat)
  • You get to control the window blind, meaning you can pull it down for darkness

One word of warning though: I would avoid seats near the bulkhead at all costs – these are often reserved for families with babies or young children – and can be a little noisy if the baby is crying. Another tip for choosing your seat, is to check SeatGuru (I do this every time I fly, just to make sure I’ve picked a good one!).

tips for how to sleep on a long haul flight


Tip 2: Bring a neck pillow AND your own blanket

My next tip for how to sleep on a long haul flight is to bring your own equipment! This is my main key to success.

I bring a super high quality neck pillow (this is the exact one I use) – I like ones that clip together, so that the end aren’t constantly moving of slipping away. I also bring a spare hoody OR a spare blanket too. I use the hoody / blanket to prop between my arm and the seat, or between my head and the wall, or just as an extra buffer to make things a bit more cosy. I then use the plane cushion on my lower back, and the plane blanket over my legs.

how to sleep on a plane


Tip 3: Use lavender scented products

Scents can be a big part of how to sleep on a long haul flight, and using essential oils correctly can be a really powerful sleeping trigger for many people.

Lavender is one of those scents that is supposed to help encourage your body to sleep. But be smart about this – don’t just randomly take some lavender oil / lavender spray with you on the plane for the first time. Use it at bed time for the weeks leading up to your flight, so your body starts associating that smell with relaxation and bedtime and sleep. By the time your flight comes, your body will recognise the smell, and the effects will be even more powerful. I usually dab some on my wrist, my neck and spray a little on my neck pillow too. The This Works Sleep set contains both a spray and an oil – so I definitely recommend it.

how to sleep on a long flight


Tip 4: Buy an eye mask

Sound obvious, but buying an eye mask will really help you zone out the plane distractions and can be crucial for learning how to sleep on a long haul flight. I don’t really like the eye masks provided by the plane (I usually find them a bit tight and itchy) so I’ve started carrying a silk eye mask on flights with me. First of all, it blocks the light out so much better, but it’s also so much more comfortable and soothing too.

how to sleep on a plane


Tip 5: Keep your seat belt visible

There’s nothing worse than nodding off to sleep and then being woke up by the cabin crew because they couldn’t see your seatbelt. I’ve learnt my lesson! If you don’t want disturbed sleep, then make sure your belt is always fastened above your blanket where cabin crew can clearly see it at all times. Also – if you’d rather sleep than have food, tell your neighbour! That’ll stop any unwanted meal turning up an hour into your nap!


Tip 6: Book an evening / redeye flight

My next tip for how to sleep on a long haul flight, is booking a flight at the right time of day (or more precisely… night!).

If you can choose what time you flight leaves, then opt for an evening flight or a redeye flight, as you’ll stand the best chance of sleeping during evening hours. Booking daytime flights mean that you’ll be trying to make your body sleep when it wouldn’t normally be sleeping – which can make it incredible difficult to drift off. If you book a flight at 6pm or later (known as the redeye flight), your body will naturally be expecting sleep anyway, so drifting off will likely be much easier.

how to sleep on a long haul flight


Tip 7: Avoid caffeine the day before your flight

If you’re usually the kind of person who grabs a cup of coffee on the way to the airport and then another cup in the terminal – it’s time to cut this habit! Having caffeine in your system will really limit your chances of getting a decent sleep. If you can, try having fruit juice instead of coffee, so that your body is free from any stimulants during the flight.


Tip 8: Medicate

For me, I’m never fully comfortable taking sleeping medication on a plane, but for many it’ll be the miracle solution to your sleeping issues. You can get over-the-counter sleeping pills in most pharmacies (and airport pharmacies) but if you need something a bit stronger, then it’s best to speak to your doctor or GP. Most sleeping tablets will work for about 8 hours (I’ve found when having them at home) so I’d probably take a tablet about 30 before I’m due to board the plane, and then aim to sleep once we’ve taken off. That way, you’re not waiting for the tablet to kick in, and hopefully you’ll drift right off.

You might also want to look into using melatonin (read more about it here) as it can help you sleep, and help reduce jet lag too.

how to sleep on a long haul flight


Tip 9: Invest in some noise cancelling headphones

Next on my list of how to sleep on a long haul flight, noise cancelling headphones.

My husband bought me a pair of Bose noise cancelling headphones for my birthday a few years ago, and I honestly couldn’t believe how much it helped me fall asleep on the plane, it made a huge difference. I used to get really paranoid about noises I could hear, and I was like a meerkat constantly jumping to attention every time I heard a sound I didn’t recognise. Part of stopping that was blocking those noises out and allowing myself to actually relax. Even with nothing playing into the headphones, the noise cancelling feature allows any background noise to ben muted out, like turning on a ‘silence’ button. Sometimes the silence and calm is enough to relax me into sleep.

I have the Bose in-ear noise cancelling headphones as I find they’re slightly better for flights as they’re more portable. But my husband has the over ear noise cancelling headphones, and they’re just as good!


Tip 10: Find your TV or audio “happy place”

OK, I’ll need to explain this a little bit first. What I mean by a TV or audio ‘happy place’ is that one TV shows you rewatch again and again, or the audio book you’ve listened to a million times. For me, my TV or audio happy places are any of the following:

  • Friends
  • Frasier
  • The Office (US)
  • Harry Potter audio books

I’ve listened to these and watched these so much, that I can put them on and not really need to actively listen. They make me happy, but I don’t need to be actively listening. Because of that, they work as a great ‘white noise’ for when I need to fall asleep on a plane. I don’t need to watch them, even with the TV shows, I just press play, close my eyes and listen to them. But because I know them so well, they don’t keep me awake or distract me, they just let me drift off into a nice nap.


Tip 12: Look out for any free seats

Next on my list of tips for how to sleep on a long haul flight, if your plane isn’t looking too busy when you board, there’s a chance that there might be empty rows free. One of the BEST ways to sleep on a plane in economy, is by grabbing an entire free row to yourself. Have a look before take-off and scan the plane for any free rows. Once the seatbelt sign is turned off, and you’re up in the air, grab a member of the cabin crew and ask if they’d mind you moving to the free row. Most will be more than happy for you to move, they’ll just request that you return to your designated seat once you begin the decent.

flying how to sleep on a long haul flight


Tip 12: Try propping your feet up

And last on my list of how to sleep on a long haul flight, one for the shorter people reading!

This is a weird tip, and it won’t apply to everyone (which is why I’ve left it for the bottom of the list). If you’re small like me (I’m 5 foot 2) I usually find it uncomfortable in economy, because there’s nothing to rest my feet on. My feet will usually only just touch the floor, but it can pull a little on my back, and back pain is the number one thing that usually stops me from sleeping on planes. Some planes do have footrests you can pull down, but I’m finding more and more now that airlines are getting rid of these. I’ve found that bringing a bulky bag to put under the chair in front of me (one that I don’t mind resting my feet on top of) is the perfect footrest and lets me get so much more comfortable.


I hope this list of how to sleep on a long haul flight is useful! If you have any more tips, please let me know in the comments below!

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