The tricks to actually get some sleep on a plane (even on an international economy flight).

If you’ve ever tossed and turned through a long-haul flight you’re not alone. We asked travellers on Skyscanner Australia whether they struggle to sleep on a plane and more than three-quarters (79%) of Aussies said yes. To help you get some shut-eye on your next flight, we’ve compiled our top tips for sleeping on a plane, including the best positions, seats and techniques for falling asleep on economy flights.

The best positions for sleeping on economy flights.

The biggest problem for 65 per cent of passengers polled is that they struggle to find a good position to sleep. Here’s what the experts recommend.

1. Lean back

how to sleep on a flight
We're sorry to have to tell you this, but you're probably sleeping on planes wrong. Image: Getty.

Ever folded forward and slept with your head on the meal tray? Dr. Alan Hedge, a professor of ergonomics at Cornell University says this is the worst position for your lower back. Use a travel pillow to sleep resting back or nab the window seat to sleep against the side of the plane instead.

2. Use a travel pillow, correctly

Find your head always flops forward? Spin your travel pillow around so it supports your chin instead.

If you experience lower back pain, you can also use a travel pillow or rolled up jumper as a lumbar pillow. Leaning on the armrests can also alleviate pressure on the spine.

3. Uncross your legs.

Don’t doze with your legs crossed as not only is this bad for your back but can increase your chance of a blood clot on long-haul flights due to the restricted blood flow. Chiropractors recommend keeping your legs straight, with a slight bend to your knees instead.

4. Use an inflatable sleep aid.

Another travel accessory recommended by frequent flyers are inflatable footrests, which are especially popular with parents who are travelling with kids. Be aware that individual airlines have different rules on what you can and can’t use on board. Qantas announced last year that inflatable cubes, ‘bed boxes‘, and ‘leg hammocks’ are prohibited inflight but Virgin Australia has no such restriction.

Some aircraft have footrests and leg hammocks already installed in the seats so check your aircraft type before flying.

The basic rule of plane ettiquette: never ever recline your seat back on a plane. The Mamamia Out Loud team discuss. Post continues after audio.


The best economy seats for getting some sleep.

Where you sit on the airplane can also have a big impact on your sleep quality. Skyscanner recommends reserving your seat directly with the airline as soon as you make a booking. (Fees may apply depending on your airline and status.) Use SeatGuru to identify seats that will have minimum disturbance – avoiding seats near bathrooms or bassinets, if possible.

If you’re flying on an A380 some airlines have a small number of economy seats on the upper deck where you’ll have a much more peaceful experience, so book early to secure those rows.

For passengers who feel guilty about reclining their seats (14 per cent in our poll) book a seat just in front of the bulkhead and there’ll be nothing behind you but wall.

Don’t forget to buckle your belt over your blanket while sleeping so the crew don’t have to wake you during turbulence. On some flights, you can also let the crew know if you don’t want to be woken at meal times. Emirates, for example, have a do not disturb sticker you can pop on your chair to let crew know you want to sleep through the meal service.

Five top tips for getting to sleep on flights.

It seems our fellow passengers can be a big problem when it comes to sleeping on planes with 10 per cent of travellers admitting the noise on the plane keeps them awake and eight per cent finding that other passengers moving around or using the reading light disturbs them.

Here are five ways you can beat those sleep barriers:

1. Block out sound and light.


The first line of defence is to block out everything around you. Invest in noise-cancelling headphones, which many frequent flyers swear by, and pack a high-quality eye mask.

2. Calm your mind.

To help switch off your brain try some meditation techniques and deep breathing exercises. Download a meditation app such a Headspace or Calm before you fly.

3. Try natural supplements.

Avoid reaching for sleeping tablets and alcohol to help you drift off as they may have side-effects that will leave you feeling sluggish when you land. Instead try natural supplements like magnesium and melatonin for both muscle and mind relaxation.

4. Relaxing scents.

Lavender scented products are also known for their sleep-inducing benefits so pack a product such as a moisturiser or balm in your hand luggage and dab it on pulse points during the flight. You could also use a pillow spray to spritz your travel pillow with soothing scents.


5. White noise.

More than a third of passengers surveyed in our poll said they rely on movies or TV shows on the in-flight entertainment to help them snooze. (They didn’t say whether watching something boring was an advantage or not!) If movies are too distracting, though, try downloading a white noise playlist to help cancel out the sounds of the aircraft.

Preparing For A Long-Haul Flight

Our research shows that more Aussies are taking long-haul flights with travel to destinations including Beijing, Phuket, New Delhi, Tokyo and Honolulu on the rise. With an average flying time of 11 hours for these flights that’s a lot of hours Aussies will spend trying to sleep in the sky.

The secret to surviving a long-haul flight, however, really starts on the ground. If possible, search for and book a red eye flight so that you board the plane sleepy. Avoid coffee within six hours of your flight (it takes that long to flush out of your system) and stay off the alcohol both before and during the flight if you want some quality zzz’s.

Try not to eat a big fatty or spicy meal within two hours of your flight to avoid discomfort and stay hydrated by packing your own refillable water bottle and topping it up it just before you board the flight.

This post was originally published on Sky Scanner and has been republished with full permission.