Believe me, I know how important sleep is.  When I am tired, I am grouchy, impatient, and sometimes can’t even think straight.  I don’t want to be that person, so I always try to make sure I get enough sleep.  When your bed for the night is an airplane seat in economy, that is easier said than done.  After many sleepless flights, I now use a neck support pillow and have found a few other long-haul flight essentials that have helped me sleep better on a red eye flight.  It is possible to sleep on the plane, even in economy class!

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How to Sleep Better on Your Flight

For many years, I would try to avoid overnight flights if possible because I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep.  Sometimes you just don’t have a choice.  In many cases, the only flight option is an overnight one like many routes from the US to Europe.  I actually don’t mind redeye flights because that way I don’t waste valuable daytime hours traveling. When you get good sleep on the plane, you will arrive ready to make the most of your trip.  After countless long flights, I thought I should share some of the tips for long-haul flights I have learned that help me get better sleep on the plane.

Anisa using her neck support pillow to help get some sleep on a flight. - "Neck Support Pillow and Other Travel Sleeping Tips" - Two Traveling Texans

Anisa using her neck support pillow to help get some sleep on a flight.

Bring a Neck Support Pillow and Eye Mask:

I know it may not be the best look, but if it helps you sleep do bring a pillow with you.  For me, I use a neck pillow and it makes a difference. Since your neck is supported you won’t wake up because your head jerked.  You can spin your neck pillow so that it supports the direction you like to have your head when you sleep.  When you are more comfortable, you will sleep better.  I chose a simple Texas Longhorn neck support pillow so that I could show off my school pride, but there are a wide range of other options, even unicorns (check out the latest prices for the best travel pillows for airplanes on Amazon here).   It’s been a really worthwhile investment for me.

Some people find that having an eye mask helps them sleep better.  For me, I don’t bother with it because light doesn’t really bother me. The Sleep Master Sleep Mask is very popular because it is easy to adjust, light-weight, and made of breathable cool satin.  Again, you know what will work for you, so if light bothers you should consider packing an eye mask. (check out the latest prices for the best sleep masks here).

Chose a window seat

There has long been a debate over whether the window or aisle seat on the plane is best.  I always try to get a window seat for all flights.  I prefer the window to the aisle for a few reasons:

a) No one wakes you up when they have to go to the bathroom.  I would rather be the person waking up my neighbor than the other way around.

b) You can lean on the wall of the plane to get more space.  If you lean into the aisle, you will get hit by the beverage cart or a person walking by.  

c) It is nice to be able to look out the window. I have taken some great photos from my window seat.

If a window seat is not available when you book your flight, check back closer to your departure date.  New seats may come available even a few hours before the flight is scheduled to leave.

I was able to get some great aerial shots of London thanks to my window seat and a clear day! - "Neck Support Pillow and Other Travel Sleeping Tips" - Two Traveling Texans

I was able to get some great aerial shots of London thanks to my window seat and a clear day!

Wear comfortable clothes and dress in layers

It is important that you think about what you are going to wear the day that you travel because you need to be comfortable.  I like to travel in a casual dress with leggings.  Please don’t wear something that is too tight, it will just make it more difficult to sleep.  (Check out these other suggestions to improve your comfort on a long flight.)

When the plane is in flight, you can pretty much guarantee it is going to be cold!  I don’t like to use the blankets they give you on the plane in economy class, they are just so thin.  I prefer to use a jacket, sweater or scarf instead of the blankets on airplanes.  I love this scarf with a hood and pockets!

If you’re traveling on a long haul flight, also consider wearing compression socks to reduce your risk of blood clots and swelling.

Recline your seat

If only there were beds on airplanes! I know some people may think it’s rude, but I do recline my seat on long haul flights.  Even if it is just a little bit, I think it does make it easier to sleep.  Sleep is the priority here.  However, If you are not sleeping during the meal times, your fellow passengers will appreciate it if your seat is in the upright position.

Bring headphones

I would recommend either bringing headphones or earplugs.  I prefer headphones because then I can play music without bothering anyone (air travel etiquette 101!), which also helps me sleep.  The headphones are also perfect for watching movies on the plane.  I tend to also fall asleep during movies!  Below are some of my recommendations for the best headphones for airplanes.

Bring Drinks

One of the most important rules of air travel is to make sure you stay hydrated, so the day of your flight drink as much water as you can.  I also always carry a bottle of water with me on the plane.  If you want to be environmentally responsible, you should pack a refillable water bottle. 

(Click here to see the different refillable water bottle options available on Amazon)

Bring snacks

It is hard to sleep if you are hungry.  Airplane food has improved in recent years, but still, you can’t count on them having something you will like – especially if you are flying with food allergies or have dietary restrictions.  Also, check out these ideas for airplane snacks for kids.

Sunset at Heathrow Airport in London before the long flight back to New York City. - "Neck Support Pillow and Other Travel Sleeping Tips" - Two Traveling Texans

Sunset at Heathrow Airport in London before the long flight back to New York City.

Don’t take a sleeping pill

I know it may sound like the easiest way to sleep, but I don’t recommend it.  You really need to be getting up to stretch about every 4 hours, and if you take a sleeping pill you may not be able to do that.  If you don’t stretch every so often then you risk getting a blood clot (DVT), which can even be life-threatening.  Also, if you are “knocked out” you could miss important safety instructions!

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Are you able to sleep on planes? I would love to hear about your travel essentials for long-haul flights and other tips that have helped you.


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Expert Tips to Sleep Better When Traveling

  • Be prepared for your flight by bringing a neck support pillow, earphones, a sweater, and whatever else will help you sleep.
  • Know how alcohol and caffeine affect you and adjust accordingly so you will be able to sleep.
  • Don’t take medicine to sleep while on the plane. 
  • If you are considering taking a prescription sleep medicine to help you deal with jet lag, you should check out my post about my experience taking Ambien.

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Last Updated on August 17, 2020