Can you sleep on planes?

Airplane passenger

Flying hundreds of times never made me an expert on sleeping on planes. In fact, this is a serious problem that bothers me a lot on long haul flights, especially overnight. All I can do is take some naps of 5 minutes or so, and wake up scared thinking that the plane is falling down. Meanwhile, my husband W even manages to snore. Lucky him who won’t arrive in the final destination looking like a zombie and with a bad mood.

The longest flights I ever took were from São Paulo to Toronto in 2004 – 10hrs 50 minutes – and from Madrid to São Paulo a couple of weeks ago – 10 hours. Boy, were those flights long! It seemed like the last 3 hours would never pass. I watched 2 movies, 1 episode of a TV series, I read pages and pages of books, wrote an entire post and translated it to Portuguese (How it’s like to be a waiter at the Oktoberfest), chose and edited photos on Photoshop, played games, ate and drank, talked, went to the bathroom, and not even a 2-minute nap was taken.

Thinking of myself and other people who also have trouble sleeping on planes, I decided to ask some fellow travel bloggers around, how they manage to sleep on a plane. And this what I got:

I usually sleep on planes, especially if it’s an early morning or a late night flight. One time, I had a late flight and it was delayed a couple of hours so by the time I got to my tiny seat on the plane I was so sleepy I fell asleep before takeoff and woke up when they were announcing they would be landing soon.

My secret? I put on the headphones, turn on my travel iPod, carefully choose some songs, turn up the volume, close my eyes and imagine I’m somewhere else (preferably, the awesome place I just visited or I’m about to visit). It works every time and it makes me avoid annoying people that may or may not be on my flight.

However, it’s never fun to wake up during turbulence, look out the window and see lightning. On the other hand, if a flight is during the day, I can’t sleep at all because I’m glued to that window seat to be ready to take some pictures. 😉

Vlad from Eff it… I’m on Holiday

Airplane wing

I have to admit that I don’t often sleep for long on flights because I absolutely love flying and the expectation of visiting a new destination usually keeps me wide awake and excitable for the whole journey! I’m also a very light sleeper so I find it really hard to fall asleep on a noisy plane full of people. But I do try to make myself sleep for at least a couple of hours so that I’m not blurry-eyed and ready for bed as soon as we land.

My best tips to get some sleep would be to have a glass of wine or, my favourite, Baileys at the beginning of the flight as alcohol often leaves me feeling a little tired. I then make myself as comfortable as possible by changing into some baggy sweatpants or pyjama bottoms and covering myself with a warm fluffy cardigan or the blanket that the airline provides to keep me nicely snug and warm.

I always carry my amazing travel pillow – a super squishy Cushtie – which is much cosier than the usual travel pillows. Switching my overhead light off and watching a couple of films or reading a book usually makes me quite sleepy too. And, if all else fails, I always have my husband’s shoulder to rest my weary head on!

Ayla from Mrs Ayla’s Adventures


I love a long-haul flight for lots of reasons. First off it means the beginning of a new adventure but it’s also time to get off the grid, watch a film or two and get into a good book.  I also like to get some shut-eye during a flight so that I arrive feeling fresh and raring to go.  Here are some tips that help me get some in-flight rest and arrive at my destination ready to explore right from the off.

  • Choose your seat well – location is everything. I like a window seat because it means I can rest a pillow against the cabin wall. Also your fellow passengers won’t disturb you when they need to get out of their seat. I also try to make sure my seat row isn’t near the galley which can get really noisy or next to the toilets where people may queue.
  • Noise cancelling headphones are great not only for listening to music to drown out the noise of the flight or crying babies but also to deter over-friendly passengers from striking up unwanted conversations (that sounds mean doesn’t it!)
  • An eye mask blocks out any light from nearby screens or overhead lights.
  • Cabin temperatures tend to vary so I wear layers so I can peel off or layer on depending on temperature. A wrap or large scarf is a must for me on a flight.

Suzanne from The Travelbunny

Airplane flying

Unlike many fellow travellers, I often find it quite easy to fall asleep on planes and just a few months ago, in fact, I managed five solid hours, which was quite an achievement when you see my straightforward tricks of the trade. My methods don’t include colourful, inflatable neck pillows or serene panpipe music playing melodically through my earphones and they certainly don’t require any chemical enhancement in the form of alcohol or medication.

I use the good old-fashioned technique of lifting up the armrest and plonking my head down on the arm of a loved one (my usual choice is a spouse but siblings, parents and close friends could potentially work in equal measure.) If you are going to adopt this process, ensure you check with your human pillow whether or not they would tolerate the pool of dribble that might end up on their arm and of course, being little in height (like I am) helps as well because on those occasional flights with lots of free seats, you can scrunch up in the fetal position and your legs will still fit on the seats comfortably.

*Disclaimer* These tips are dependent upon having a travel companion, who is patient and kind enough to prioritise your sleep over theirs. I would not recommend trying out these suggestions with the stranger next to you if you are travelling alone or you might end up with harassment charges against you!

Shikha from Why Waste Annual Leave


I am really bad at sleeping when sitting up – so that is why I do not often manage to sleep on planes. Just a few times when the flight is a bit empty and I have an extra seat and can lie down, then I sleep very well. I have a few times, when the trip was very long and for days, taken a pill that makes me relax, and then I managed to sleep for some hours on the plane. But this is not something I do often. If I travel in the nights it also helps, as they turn off the light and there is not too much sound or things happening around. Then I might manage to sleep a bit if I am very tired, even when sitting up.

Hanne from Places People Stories


So, if you want to try, here is a list of things that might help:

  • Choose your seat carefully (avoid seating neat the toilets)
  • Use the airplane’s pillow/blanket or your own
  • Watch series/movies
  • Read a book
  • Use someone’s shoulder (be careful with that, as Shikha said)
  • Drink an alcoholic beverage
  • Listen to music
  • Wear confortable clothes
  • Medication (I never tried and don’t really support this method; if you choose to use it talk to your doctor first)
  • Count sheep on your head
  • Pray that the plane won’t be full so you can take an extra seat!

I have tried sleeping on W’s shoulder, with a pillow, with my head bend on the small table in front of my seat, listening to music, having wine and reading. Nothing works. It’s not that I can’t relax, as Hanne, I can’t seem to sleep when I’m in upright position, I simply need to lie down. Getting an extra seat would probably be the best solution for me.


What about you? Can you sleep on planes? Let me know on the poll below:

A special thanks to Vlad, Ayla, Shikha, Suzanne and Hanne for taking part and sharing their tips and experiences with us!

Ps: I’m already thinking of my upcoming 10-hour-overnight-flight from São Paulo to Madrid.