How To Sleep On A Plane Even When You’re In Economy

Close up of seats on a plane indicating how it can be difficult to sleep on a plane

We all know how difficult it is to get good sleep on a plane, actually scrap that, we all know how difficult it is to get any sleep on a plane. It’s hard enough when you’re trying to grab yourself fifty winks in the luxury of business or first class, but the odds are really stacked against you when you’re flying economy class, which let’s face it, most of us are.

There’s barely enough legroom to cross your legs. You’ve got a kid sat behind you kicking the back of your chair. There’s someone clambering over you to get out to use the loo. And let’s not even get started on the screaming baby. Pretty much everything the experts say to avoid if you want a decent sleep is playing out around you.

The sleep quality you get on a plane is never going to be as good as the sleep you get when you’re tucked up in the comfort of your own bed. However, there are things you can do to increase your chances of better sleep, which will mean you’ll feel a lot more rested when you reach your destination, and you should be able to cope with any potential jet lag better too.

So, if you’re someone who struggles to sleep on a plane, read on for some useful advice for when you next travel.


You might not think it, but where you sit on a plane can have a huge impact on how well you sleep during your journey.

These days, most airlines will allow you to check in online a few days before your flight and it is during this process that you can select your seat. There are some perks to be had from sitting in a bulkhead or exit row seat; there’s more legroom for one and this also means that you won’t have to get up to let people out if they need to go to the toilet. On the flipside however, these seats don’t always recline and sometimes the arm rests can’t be raised, making for a poor sleeping position. Plus, these seats are often snapped up by families with babies or young children, as the extra space allows for bassinet usage, which could of course make your trip way nosier and more disruptive than you were hoping for.

One of the best seats you can pick is a window seat near the front of the plane. This will give you something to lean against, means you aren’t the person having to get up to let other people out, and you are also the one in control of the window shade.

Seats at the back of the plane are often noisier because they’re closer to the planes’ engines and they are also located right next to the toilets, which means both noise and smells could be a problem. If you’re willing to overlook this and if luck is on your side, choosing a seat at the back isn’t necessarily a bad idea. As these are generally considered to be the least popular seats, often they aren’t always occupied, meaning you could potentially get the whole row to yourself to spread out on.

Leg Position

Economy seats are renowned for not having much leg room and this can make it more difficult to get in a comfortable enough position to sleep on a plane. There’s nothing you can do about the amount of leg room you have, other than bagging yourself a seat by the exit or upgrading to first class of course, but what you can do is work with the space you have and get your legs in as comfy a position as possible.

The ideal position is for your legs to be straight with a slight bend at the knees. This helps to prevent blood from pooling in the lower part of the leg and therefore reduces the risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Check whether the seat in front of you has a footrest as it is also a good idea to slightly raise your legs. And ideally, try to keep the footwell as free of your belongings as possible so that you have room to stretch. Store any essentials you may need in the seat pocket in front of you and put the rest of your things in the overhead locker.

Temperature Control

Aircraft cabins are generally kept at a temperature of between 22 and 24 degrees Celsius. Sounds nice, right? But the thing is, the optimum temperature for sleep is actually between 16 and 18 degrees Celsius, which is enough of a difference for it to make an impact on our ability to fall asleep on a plane.

Whilst we can fiddle about with the fan above our head to get a blast of cooler air, we can’t change the overall temperature around us. And so the best thing we can do is wear light, easily removable layers of clothing to self-regulate our own temperature.

On long haul flights you may be offered a blanket, which can be really nice to snuggle up under when you’re trying to get to sleep. Just remember to ensure your seat belt is buckled up over the top of it, so that should the seatbelt sign flash on when you’re fast asleep, it will be visible to the air steward and they won’t need to disturb you.


One of the biggest problems when it comes to trying to sleep on a plane is the noise. Aside from the noise of the aircraft itself, you’ve got people talking, the clatter of the hostess trolley, babies crying, and the worse thing of all… people snoring. I mean talk about rubbing your face in it!

A pair of noise cancelling headphones is a wise investment or failing that, a cheap pair of ear plugs will help drown out the noise too. Some airlines even give you a pair of ear plugs as part of their onboard service.

If you do have a set of headphones with you, you should consider listening to pink noise to help you drift off. Pink noise is sounds such as waves lapping gently on the shore, or steady rainfall in a forest; relaxing, soothing sounds that help us reach a state of calm. Or why not download a meditation or mindfulness app before your flight. This will work in a similar way to pink noise, whilst also helping to relax your entire body and mind.

Stay Hydrated

If you’re a regular flier, you’ll know how dry it can leave your skin feeling. The reason for this is down to the circulated air in the air cabin which results in low humidity levels. Pack a refreshing facial spritz in your hand luggage (make sure it’s under 100ml if you want to get it through security) to help hydrate your face throughout the flight. Travel sized bottles of hand cream and face moisturiser are also good to have on you and if you can get lavender scented ones that will also aid sleep.

But it’s not just our skin that’s affected, we can also feel more dehydrated during and after a flight so it’s really important that we aim to drink more than we usually would. And by drinking I don’t mean taking advantage of the in-flight drinks service! Stick to water or fruit juice if you can, as whilst alcohol may help you fall asleep more easily it certainly won’t be good quality sleep and you’ll likely feel worse when you wake up. Likewise, if you want to sleep on a plane, avoid drinking coffee or tea as the caffeine will play havoc with your sleep system and this could also worsen the effects of jet lag.

Wear Socks

We don’t wear shoes in bed, so why wear them when we want to sleep on a plane? Once you’re settled into your seat and you know you’re not going anywhere for a few hours, kick off your shoes and let your feet breathe more easily.

To make shoe removal easier, wear shoes that can slip off and that will tuck neatly under the seat in front of you. You may also want to change your socks for a comfier pair of bed socks for example, or you may prefer to swap them over to a pair of compression socks that will encourage blood circulation.

Use An Eye Mask

Although the lights will be dimmed during overnight flights, there may also still be the glow of screens or overhead reading lights from other passengers around you. Some airlines provide eye masks, but you can’t always rely on this, so pack an eye mask in your hand luggage. Then when you’re ready to go to sleep, you can simply slip it on over your eyes and immediately block out any other light source.

Bring A Neck Pillow

And finally, one of the best things you can bring with you if you want to sleep on a plane is a neck pillow. You can get them online, on the high street, or you can buy them at the airport if you’re short on time. There are a wide range of different styles out there so try a few out before buying one.

Inflatable neck pillows are good if you have limited packing space, but you may find the support is not quite right for you and therefore may be best opting for a memory foam pillow instead. Some clip together under the neck, some are aromatherapy scented to aid sleep, and some allow you to bend into a position that more closely matches how your head would lie if you were in bed at home. It’s all a question of finding one that works for you.

You’re never going to sleep as well on a plane as you do in your own bed, however if you take all of this advice on board (no pun intended!) you are much more likely to catch a few zzz’s on your next flight.

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