11 Tips and Tricks for Sleeping Aboard Airplanes?

S leeping aboard an airplane is second nature to some people; but it ranges from mildly difficult to virtually impossible for many other people — and being unable to sleep either prior to or during a long flight can contribute to the phenomenon known as jet lag, for which I offer six tips on how to combat it.

No restful sleep prior to or during a long flight could be one of the factors towards why you may have trouble sleeping during your first night in a hotel room — and being overly tired can potentially further spiral your lack of sleep further out of control.

To help remedy airplane insomnia, the editors at Fodor’s Travel have compiled this list of 11 tips and tricks for sleeping aboard airplanes — and I have added my thoughts and comments in this article.

1. Reserve the Window Seat

My seat by the “window” — before the other two seats were also eventually occupied. Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

My seat by the “window” — before the other two seats were also eventually occupied. Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

I have espoused my preference for window seats in general in past articles; and that wall next to the seat is a major reason why I prefer window seats on long overnight flights. While it is not exactly the most comfortable way to sleep, the window seat is a place where you can prop a pillow to create a cushion between your head and either the window or the wall of the airplane itself.

Depending on the configuration of the airplane and exactly where the seat is located in relation to the window and the wall, sometimes you might encounter a gap which is too large for one paltry pillow. What I like to do is roll up a blanket and insert the pillow into the blanket to create a bulkier — and typically more comfortable — place to rest my weary head.

Even better is if you can politely request an extra pillow and blanket from a member of the flight crew. I typically like to sleep covered with a blanket; and the better you can emulate your sleeping conditions as best as possible to the one which you enjoy at home or in a hotel room, the better chance you have of grabbing a few winks of sleep — hopefully enough to get you through the day at your destination until bedtime.

An added bonus to a window seat is that you need not be concerned with having to get up when other passengers seated in your row need to use the lavatory — but that may not be of solace to you if you need to use the lavatory more frequently than other passengers.

2. Don’t Forget Your Rituals

I alluded to this tip when I wrote that “the better you can emulate your sleeping conditions as best as possible to the one which you enjoy at home or in a hotel room, the better chance you have of grabbing a few winks of sleep — hopefully enough to get you through the day at your destination until bedtime”…

…but for me, I would rather not brush my teeth aboard an airplane in a cramped lavatory during a flight — not to mention that I prefer not to tie up a valuable lavatory if someone else is waiting to use it. I have brushed my teeth in the washrooms of airports prior to a long flight or at home or a hotel after a long flight. I also do not change my clothes — but again, that is me.

Although staring at a computer or similar screen is not advised, some people can fall asleep at the drop of a hat despite that potential distraction.

Some people have rituals for falling asleep which differ than those in a real bed. Hey — whatever floats your pillow for you to catch that much-needed sleep.

“Whatever floats your pillow”? That did not make any sense, did it?

3. Visit the Health Food Store Before You Go

“Natural supplements like melatonin and sleepytime tea can help you relax, and it’s also worth a shot to try aromatherapy”, advised Teddy Minford, who is an associate editor at Fodor’s Travel. “Lavender essential oil (either dabbed on pulse points or used as a pillow spray) can help you mellow out.”

I do not take natural supplements, although they may or may not work — but there are people who prefer sleeping aids in the form of drugs. I personally am vehemently opposed to taking any form of medication for most reasons — let alone in an attempt to get some sleep — but that is solely my opinion and my belief.

4. Set the Mood

Audio Technica bulky noise canceling headphones

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

Jennifer DePrima — who is the editorial production manager at Fodor’s Travel — recommends that you download Music for Airports by Brian Eno “to help you relax before a flight.”

I cannot vouch for that recommendation, as I have not yet listened to that album; and I would have listen to it aboard an airplane while attempting to sleep during a flight in order to put that recommendation to the test.

In the meantime, why not download four hours of music — generously offered free of charge by Moby —specifically designed to help you relax or sleep?

Psst…if you have read this far into the article, I have a secret to impart to you: Free New Music Fridays with Marriott Rewards has been extended through Saturday, December 31, 2016; so you can download ten songs free of charge every week if you are a member of the Marriott Rewards frequent guest loyalty program — and you have a selection of literally thousands of songs from which to choose.

I enjoy putting these “Easter eggs” into my articles. As Bugs Bunny used to say, “Ain’t I a stinker?” — but I digress, as usual.

One song which I find incredibly calming and relaxing is Mr. Blue, a song released in 1959 by The Fleetwoods. It is such a quiet and mellow song that it practically qualifies as an adult lullaby. When that song goes through my head — or if I actually listen to it — I feel comfortable and can usually go right to sleep. No memory or familial connection is associated with the song, which was released years before I was born — I just happen to like it…

…but interestingly, that does not work for me aboard an airplane, as I prefer songs which I specifically chose for traveling as a passenger aboard an airplane. I suppose that — in some ways, anyway — I am one of those people who prefers some rituals aboard an airplane to be different than of similar ones at home or in a hotel room.

Go figure…

5. Skip the In-Flight Drinks

“Stay away from caffeine and alcohol — especially alcohol”, advises Margaret Kelly, who is a senior editor at Fodor’s Travel. “Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t help you sleep.”

I cannot agree more; but if there is a beverage which contains no alcohol and may help you go to sleep — such as a glass of milk, for example — there may be no harm in trying that if it typically works for you.

6. Use a Pillow and Blanket

Awaiting me in my seat is a blanket, headphones, an amenity kit, and a pillow which you are encouraged to tear up that middle slot so that you may wear the pillow around your neck. Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

Awaiting me in my seat is a blanket, headphones, an amenity kit, and a pillow which you are encouraged to tear up that middle slot so that you may wear the pillow around your neck. Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

The recommendations of with which pillow and blanket you should travel does not affect me, as they are not worth the valuable space they would take up in the bag which I carry aboard the airplane with me.

In fact, I consider neck pillows as one of the five most useless travel products — to a point, anyway.

Of course, that is solely my opinion. Please refer to the original article for recommendations if you believe that traveling with your own blanket and pillow will help you get some much-needed sleep aboard an airplane during a long flight…

…and a bonus with bringing your own pillow and blanket is that you can use them in the hotel room if you prefer them over the pillows and blankets supplied by the housekeeping staff of the hotel.

7. Cover Your Eyes

I am the type of person who likes to keep the window shades or curtains in a room open so that I can wake up to sunlight — or, at least, daylight — so I have never needed to cover my eyes with eyeshades or sleep masks.

In fact, I never use eyeshades or sleep masks at any time — even if they are offered to me free of charge. One reason is that even though they may cover my eyes — which I do not need — there is still the feeling of something foreign covering part of my face…

…not to mention the elastic band gripping through my hair around my head.

For me, eyeshades or masks are more of a problem than a solution — but again, that is just me.

8. Read Something Boring

Crossword puzzle

Photograph ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

Although the advice given is to bring a book, I prefer not to do so for the aforementioned reason of not wanting valuable space in my bag to be occupied.

Besides, the in-flight magazines usually offered during a flight are boring enough for me to fall asleep. No extra cost is involved; and no valuable space is needlessly consumed within the bag I carry aboard the airplane with me.

Speaking of the in-flight magazine, sometimes doing some brain work — such as completing a puzzle — can put me to sleep. Perhaps this can work for you, too?

9. Choose Your Seat Wisely

economy class seats Delta Air Lines

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

“Pick a quiet part of the plane” is the advice imparted by publicist Lauren Hanafin. “Stay away from galleys, restrooms, and anywhere crew or passengers might congregate.”

This is good advice — and if I may add, the same advice goes for the airport itself. If you are not going to access a lounge, there is always a quiet part of the public area of the airport — typically a gate currently not in use — which can potentially be excellent for catching up on some sleep, depending on the type of chairs which furnish the gate area — and that you are nowhere near a loudspeaker where announcements emanate.

10. Block Light and Noise

I am not sure why this is considered a separate tip of advice, as it was covered in both number 3 and number 7 of this article — so I am skipping it.

11. Bring Your Own Water Bottle and Snacks

Bottle of water

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

I have advocated bringing your own water bottle and snacks in multiple past articles; and — more often than not — the sources of my snacks are airplanes and hotels, where I typically get them free of charge. As a bonus, they are usually packaged for the perfect size for travel.

In fact, snacks are one of the twelve essential items at virtually no cost which I carry with me when I travel. The healthier and more appetizing the snacks, the better — but be sure that they are not too perishable so that they will last long enough to the point where you will need them. Opening a bag of pretzels after carrying them around for several months is not the most pleasant experience, as nothing lasts forever.

Due to the restrictions of bringing liquids aboard the aircraft with you, I recommend bringing an empty disposable plastic bottle aboard the airplane. A member of the flight crew will usually be more than happy to fill it with water for you; and you can have the bottle filled prior to leaving the aircraft with it in case you are thirsty on your way to your final destination…

…and if you happen to be on a long-haul flight, most airlines will have a station in the rear galley where you can serve yourself water, soda and juice with a snack or two.

I personally would not splurge seven dollars for a bottle of water at an airport concession, as was suggested in the original article.

Summary

This article is somewhat of a variation of this article pertaining to how I try to be more comfortable while seated as a passenger in the economy class cabin aboard an airplane. Making yourself at home is not an easy thing to accomplish when seated in a seat in the economy class cabin; but it is possible to do.

Although this photograph of me in a lie-flat seat on a flight from Paris to New York operated by OpenSkies back in June of 2008 was taken with my camera, I forgot who took the actual picture. I believe it might have been Ben Schlappig...

Although this photograph of me in a lie-flat seat on a flight from Paris to New York operated by OpenSkies back in June of 2008 was taken with my camera, I forgot who took the actual picture. I believe it might have been Ben Schlappig…

I find that the best way for me to sleep upright while seated abroad an airplane during a long flight is to already be tired when I board the aircraft — and then I allow my mind to drift off and think random thoughts. I have even used this strategy when sitting in a seat with limited legroom aboard a bus for a long trip — which has sitting in a seat in the economy class cabin aboard an airplane feel like a cakewalk.

This strategy will obviously not work for everyone; so take whatever you can out of this article and see which bits of advice work best for you.

Then again — aside from seats where you can truly lie flat — I have had difficulty sleeping in business class seats. I personally prefer to lay down completely — even if I lay down across several seats in the economy class cabin, which has become more and more difficult to do.

I hope that if you are reading this article while aboard an airplane, you find it so boring that it put you to sleep.

Hello? Hello?!?

All photographs ©2014, ©2015 and ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

2 thoughts on “11 Tips and Tricks for Sleeping Aboard Airplanes?”

  1. Nathan says:

    No alcohol and no sleeping pills. What kind of quackery is this?!

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Should I duck, Nathan?

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