Airplanes were not designed with the REM cycle in mind. Sure, there is a certain class of passenger who may enjoy a full-blown bed with private partitions on trans-oceanic flights, but the rest of us at the back of the 747 are sardine-d into submission.

How to sleep on a plane

Big-boned seat mates.

Limited reclining.

Engine noise.

Weird food smells.

Hyperactive kids who have to know what is in the seat pocket in front of them over and over and over again.

There is a lot going against your quest to catch 40 winks mid-flight, but it isn’t impossible. And if the splayed-out, snoring seatmate next to you is any proof, airplane sleep can be downright deep. Here’s how.

Book Early for Best Seating

Know the kind of sleeping you like to do. Do you require some recline? Make sure you avoid the very back rows and seats in front of exit rows. Those guys won’t be moving anywhere.

Like something to lean against? Book yourself a window seat and nestle in, or you’re going to get into some awkward personal-boundary conversations with the broad-shouldered guy sitting next to you.

If you like limited disturbance, choose a window seat so you won’t have to get up every time someone wants to get out of your aisle. Also avoid the areas around lavatories and galleys where people go to stretch their legs and chat with the flight attendants.

Want the expert opinion? Check out to pick out the best and the worst places to sit on every type of plane.

Carry On Some Creature Comforts

Create your own mini-bed on the plane. Carry on your puffy down pillow, a Snuggie, and a couple tea bags of chamomile. You may not be the picture of sleek and chic, but you sure are going to be comfy. Curl up, doze off, and become the envy of everyone in a four-row radius who forgot that most airlines no longer provide pillows.

Give Yourself Some Privacy

Noise, light, armrest hogs: these things all decrease your chances for some solid zzz’s. Stake out your territory, and don’t let anything disturb you. Claim that armrest. It is yours.

Invest in a luxurious face mask in dark sateen or silk that fully blocks out the light. These are cool (in both ways!) and won’t pinch your head.

Noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs will do a lot to cut down on chatter, update dings from the cockpit, and ambient engine noise.

To make sure no one is going to disturb you mid-slumber, keep your seat belt buckle visible and your tray table up and locked. Flight attendants won’t have to double check if you’re buckled in during turbulence, or won’t think you’re waiting for breakfast.

Keep Moving to Keep Sleeping

Your body needs to move when it is sleeping. When you’re in a bed, you have the opportunity to shift and roll over at whim; on an airplane you’re strapped in. Don’t let that stop you from giving your body the movement it craves.

Try different positions, like leaning against the window then lying down on your tray table. Do some pelvic thrusts, roll your neck, and bend and straighten your legs a few times. Before you nap, stand up and stretch for a bit to keep your blood flowing and your body limber.

Bring in the Big Guns

When it comes to sedatives, you should always consult with your physician before you start popping any pills. That being said, everyone needs a little help inducing drowsiness once in awhile (especially if you are required to get off the plane reading and raring to go).

Over the counter items like Benadryl and Nyquil can nudge you toward slumber. Not enough? Talk to your doc about Ambien, the recommended sleep aid for super long flights.

What to Avoid

There are a few classic airplane activities that work against your sleep efforts. Avoid them if you’re looking to saw a few logs.

  • Watching movies or working on your computer when you could be sleeping. These things stimulate the brain, not calm it.
  • Boozing to relax. Flying already dehydrates you; you don’t need to help it along (unless you actually enjoy hangovers).
  • Skipping sleep the night before. Exhausting yourself before you even get on the plane might help you fall asleep, but you’ll pay for it in the days to come. Depriving your body of sleep requires multiple days to bounce back.

Sweet dreams!

Emma T. the author of the “How to sleep soundly on an airplane” is a Seattle-based writer and very frequent flier. Once airlines stopped giving out pillows, she started travelling with her Pacific Coast ® down pillow from Pacific Coast Feather Company. She sleeps like a baby on every flight.