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Health & Lifestyle

Uncovered: 12 Unique Hacks To Sleep Better On A Plane

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If you’ve ever tried to sleep on a plane and failed, you are not alone. A plane is not, typically, what you associate with sleeping well. With the loud noises - from both the sound of the plane and the people - the tight spaces and even the lighting, sleep can be hard to come by. But it’s certainly not impossible. 

In fact, our experts are providing unique tips for how YOU can hack your sleep schedule and get some shut-eye on the plane before your holiday starts.

Two women on a plane, one sleeping with a memory foam travel pillow around her neck.

1. Get to the airport early for a 30-minute walk around duty-free

You should always head to the airport early to account for any delays. But, there’s also another reason you should do it, and that’s your sleep. Before you board, spend 30 minutes walking around the airport, duty-free or the lounge.

Studies have shown that just 30 minutes of moderate exercise can boost sleep quality. A further study found that women who spent more time being active and took more steps reported improved sleep and more time spent asleep, which is essential before the start of your holiday. 

2. Book THIS seat if you want to sleep on a plane 

If you are able to book your seat, it’s recommended that you place yourself in the seats before the engines. The front section tends to be the quietest area of the plane as you can’t hear the engines. However, do try and make sure you are not near the toilets, which is where people tend to gather and chat. 

The front of the plane also has its benefits in that you are served first when it comes to food and are more likely to disembark first, which is why attendants recommend those seats for people looking to sleep. 

But be careful if you book a window as, while it means you won’t be disturbed by passengers needing to get up, it is louder compared to the aisle seat due to the noise of the engines. 
Woman sleeping in window seat on a plane with empty seats beside her.

3. Or board last to bag the empty seats 

If the flight isn’t fully booked, an option could be to board the plane last. This way, you can see where the empty seats are when you get on board and, potentially, pick a seat that has two or three empty seats next to it so you can spread out. 

4. Wear these socks to stop you from snoring 

For those who snore - or sleep next to someone who snores - you know how disruptive to your sleep it can be. But, there could be a solution and that is flight socks. 

A study found that flight socks worn during the day - such as a daytime flight - can prevent fluid from building up in your legs which can travel up the body when you are lying down and cause snoring. In fact, this study found that sleep disruptions were cut in half when people wore flight socks. So if that isn’t a reason to pop them on under your clothes, we don’t know what is! 

However, we do recommend that you wash these socks at 60 degrees when not using them due to the bacteria that we discovered that can live on your socks

Woman sat on plane stretches out with socks on.

5. Change your clocks as soon as you sit on the plane 

Clock changes can significantly affect your sleep due to the changes in daylight hours. As there is more light, we don’t produce as much melatonin which is a hormone that helps you sleep. But, by changing your watch as soon as you board the plane, you can sleep and act according to that time zone. 

If you are flying long-haul, we recommend adjusting to the new time zone around two to three days before you fly to regulate your new sleep routine.

Both of these tips will help your internal body clock (known as your circadian rhythm) adjust, making you less susceptible to jetlag. 

6. Download a white noise app for your journey 

White noise - which is noise you can listen to that can drown out external sounds such as the noise of a jet - has long been tipped as a help for those who struggle to sleep or suffer with insomnia. In fact, a 2021 study found that white noise helped improved sleep for those who experience difficulty sleeping due to environmental noise. 

You can find specific white noise playlists on Spotify, or you can download sleep stories and even meditation guides on Headspace and Calm. You can also read more on coloured noises and how they can help you sleep

7. Prepare a sleep kit which includes an eye mask, travel pillow and flight socks 

We’ve discussed the benefits of flight socks. But if you don’t feel comfortable wearing them, we recommend bringing a pair of cotton socks. The aircon on a plane can get cold and wearing socks can actually stop you from waking up if you are a light sleeper. A study recently found that for those wearing socks, the number of awakenings was 7.5 times lower than the group without socks. 

If you are flying late or through the night, an eye mask is also essential to block out the lights from people reading and or watching TVs. However, we suggest purchasing one that moulds to your face as opposed to the standard ones that the airline gives out, as those are less likely to block out all light. 

A travel pillow will also help you support your neck and sleep upright. The best are those that made of soft memory foam as they can mould around the shape of your neck. However, if you don’t have one or have limited carry-on space, wrapping a blanket or scarf around your neck can help with sleep support. Additionally, we also recommend earplugs to help drown out noise.

8. But leave your wireless earphones in your carry on 

To listen to white noise or sleep stories, you’ll need headphones, however, you shouldn’t bring just any headphones. As flying can be extremely noisy, with the noise of some cabins being more than 85 decibels which is louder than a vacuum, you should ideally bring noise-cancelling headphones.

85 decibels
is how loud a plane cabin can be

Do not bring your wireless headphones on the plane as you may wake and find one has fallen out of your ear. Due to the tight spaces in the aeroplane, you might not be able to find them again! 

9. Skip the alcohol on the aeroplane

If you are looking to sleep on a plane, always opt for water instead of alcohol. While it may make it easier for you to drift off, alcohol actually disrupts your sleep and lowers the quality – making you more tired in the morning. And, if you’ve ever had a scratchy throat on a plane, that’s because the air is notoriously dry on a plane. This can make it harder to fall asleep, therefore, drinking water before and throughout your flight will not only alleviate these problems but make it easier for you to fall asleep.

Glass of water on the tray table of a passenger's seat on a plane.

10. Opt for loose clothes 

If you are travelling on a plane, you should always opt for loose garments. This allows you to move more freely around the plane and, of course, get into a comfortable position when sleeping. Loose clothing also ensures your blood circulation isn’t restricted which can disturb your sleep. But make sure to pair with your flight socks to get the best out of your kip on the plane. 

11. Ask what time the food will be served 

There’s nothing worse than settling down to sleep to be interrupted by those sitting next to you eating their food and turning on their lights. So, when the plane has taken off and the seatbelt sign is off, ask the flight attendants when the food will be served. This way, you can time your sleep around the food and ensure you are not disturbed by the service. 

If you have the window seat and are confident you won’t be disrupted by those beside you, you could let the attendants know that you will be skipping the meal and you can use your sleep kit to sleep through the food service. 

12. Follow your child’s bedtime routine

If you are travelling with children, stick to their bedtime routine. So, if that involves changing into pyjamas, brushing teeth and reading them a book, then do that. You can go to the bathroom to brush their teeth and change them into their pyjamas, so they know that it is time to sleep. 

If possible, you could also travel at night when people on planes are more likely to sleep so, therefore, there are fewer things to distract them.

Young girl yawning into her hand in the window seat of a plane.

If you are looking for even more tips, we’ve created the ultimate sleeping routine as recommended by our experts, as well as a guide on how to take the perfect nap, which will help if you only want to get a small amount of shut-eye on your journey.

An image of the author, Martin Seeley, Senior Sleep Expert Martin Seeley, Senior Sleep Expert Bio & articles

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