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Sleeping Comfortably on a Flight Is Possible — Here’s How

Tips for enjoying sweet dreams in the sky.

Napping on a long flight can help you feel refreshed when you land. But it’s not always easy to doze off in the air. External disturbances — like your neighbor watching a movie at full volume or bright cabin lights — can make it hard to truly relax. Plus, the narrow seats leave no room for stretching out. Still, with a little guidance, you can sleep like a baby on your next flight (but not one of those babies who cries the entire flight). Follow these tips to comfortably sleep on a plane.

How to Sleep Comfortably on a Plane

A plane isn’t the kind of peaceful environment that supports rest. A 2022 survey conducted by asked 1,500 air travelers to rank the disruptions they disliked when flying; respondents ranked their seat being kicked at number one (a kick in the back will definitely keep you awake). Further disruptions included passengers talking loudly, noisy kids, snoring, and exposure to other people’s bright digital screens. Making things worse, of course, is the fact that economy class seats provide little leg room for an hours-long journey.

The good news is, none of these factors have to ruin your in-flight napping experience. Use the below tips to get comfortable, unwind, and achieve uninterrupted rest while in the air:

  • A sleep mask blocks out bright light. Research indicates that moderate amounts of light during rest-time can increase your heart rate and alertness by activating the autonomic nervous system. The flight-friendly fix? Michael J. Breus, PhD, (also known as The Sleep Doctor) tells FIRST for Women that wearing a sleep mask when sleeping limits light exposure — creating that much-needed dark environment for catching Zzz’s.
  • Noise-canceling headphones tune out harsh sounds. Put an end to being kept awake by crying children and nearby conversations with noise-canceling headphones. According to tech company Philips, these types of headphones utilize active and/or passive noise cancellation techniques to cancel out sounds. (Active noise cancellation involves using mics and algorithms to block out sounds before you even hear them. Passive noise cancellation uses physical design features like the size, shape, and material of the headphones to accomplish noise proofing.) The popular saying “silence is golden” applies, even when you’re thousands of miles in the air.
  • A repositioned carry-on bag acts as a foot rest. Long-distance travel can cause blood clots to form in your legs, since you’re sitting in a confined space for a prolonged period of time. Seat upgrades offer more room for stretching and extending legs, but they’re often pricey. Instead, use a clever trick from FIRST Executive Editor Amanda Cargill: create a DIY foot rest. All you need to do is lay your carry-on (like a compact backpack or laptop bag) horizontally underneath the seat in front of you. Then, place your feet up on the bag. Healthline notes that leg elevation improves blood flow, reduces swelling, and lowers the pressure in your legs’ veins. 
  • Loosened shoelaces ease pain. Don’t you hate it when your foot falls asleep midway through a flight? Your too-tight shoelaces may be the culprit. The experts at Pivotal Motion Physiotherapy warn that the tightness of shoelaces (or the small width of a shoe) can compress nerves and blood vessels in the feet. It also stops fresh, oxygenated blood from flowing — hindering the foot’s normal function. Loosening or untying your shoelaces on a flight will help you avoid this issue. Just remember to retie them before getting up to walk!
  • A neck pillow and blanket boost coziness. Flight cabins are usually kept cold to prevent flyers from fainting as a result of hypoxia; this medical condition occurs when there’s decreased amounts of oxygen in the body tissues. That’s why it’s especially important to pack a blanket for warmth and comfort as you fall asleep. A neck pillow is another cozy-making item to bring, as it provides support for your head while napping and prevents it from rolling around. Ensuring your neck doesn’t lean to one side will help you wake up without aches or discomfort. To properly wear a neck pillow, position the “U” so it’s front-facing. This allows your head to rest on the thickest part of the pillow.

Sweet Dreams in the Sky

Sneaking in some shut-eye during a flight makes the journey go by quicker. Thanks to these tips, your days of uncomfortable sleeping on a plane will be long gone. You’ll wake up recharged and ready to hit the ground running. Now go forth and explore your destination!

This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.

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