Airplanes are one of the most uncomfortable places for someone to fall sleep. Never enough legroom, too many strangers. Maybe you’ll get an inconsiderate seatmate that leaves their overhead light on, or there might be a crying or screaming child on the plane.
You can choose to stay up and power through. That’s a good strategy for relatively short flights, and for people that enjoy in-flight entertainment. But what if your flight is longer than eight hours, and you need to be awake and alert from the moment you land?
Dress for comfort, first and foremost. That’s your first line of defense. The contents of your carry-on bag can take care of the fine-tuning that’s needed before you drift off.
Your carry-on can only hold so much. Prioritize travel essentials—an accessible wallet, a toiletry pouch, important documents, your handheld devices and their chargers, snacks, portable water bottle, etc.—and then pack some of all of our sleep-friendly suggestions below.
You can find the familiar U-shaped travel neck pillow everywhere—pharmacies, convenience stores, the airport gift shop—but that’s just scratching the surface. There are dozens of travel pillow designs out on the market, targeting different travelers’ needs. Below are two of our favorites.
Grand Trunk Hooded Travel Pillow
The Grand Trunk Hooded Travel Pillow ($25.45 on Amazon) provides the typical neck and head support you’re looking for, plus an oversize hood. Both the pillow and the hood feature drawstrings for adjustable comfort.
We know we recommended oversize hoodies for long flights—because it can help insulate you from unwanted sounds and lighting—but if you’ve got this pillow, you can opt for a more versatile sweater or cardigan, instead.
Looking for a space saver? Try the Trtl Pillow ($29.99 on Amazon). It folds up neatly and weighs less than a pound, while still providing you with ergonomic neck support. Unlike generic neck pillows, the Trtle is more like a fleece scarf—but with a support brace built into it.
You may already have a sleep mask lying around somewhere. Most hotels provide you with several, and most travel kits include them, too. If you’re not picky, those will suffice. You can put them in your carry-on but they will even fit into your pockets.
Bucky Luggage 40 Blinks Ultralight Sleep Mask
If you’re looking for something sturdier and able to block more light, there are many options online. One of our favorites is the Bucky Luggage 40 Blinks Ultralight Sleep Mask ($12.20 on Amazon).
It comes in five colors/styles, with an adjustable strap and sturdy contoured cups that effectively block out all light. This means that you can actually open and close your eyes comfortably while wearing this sleep mask, and see nothing but darkness.
Why would you need this feature? We would never recommend trying to get a full seven or eight hours of sleep with makeup on, but if you are the type to insist—or if the situation is unavoidable—this would be the mask to use. It won’t mess up your eye shadow or mascara, let alone any false eyelashes you may be wearing.
Two things: You can also wear or pack a scarf, shawl or wrap. Additionally, most airlines do provide you with a blanket on the plane. However, it’s worth bringing along your own travel blanket if you’re sensitive to temperature changes or you’re a bit of a clean freak.
World’s Best Microfleece Travel Blanket
Consider the World’s Best Microfleece Travel Blanket ($10.79 on Amazon). It’s affordable, soft, warm and comes in a variety of colors and prints.
Finding a travel blanket you like will also ensure that you don’t end up annoyed that an airline blanket is too small or otherwise uncomfortable. It can also double as a throw for when you arrive and settle into your hotel accommodations or your host’s guest bedroom.
Like sleep masks, you may already have some earplugs left over from the last time you went traveling. Many airlines also provide you with earplugs if you ask, and if all else fails, most drugstores carry them.
Earplugs are crucial if you want to fall asleep on the plane. The one thing that is completely out of your control is how noisy it is on board. The airplane engines will hum, children will cry, mandatory announcements will be blasted on the speakers on schedule.
EarJoy Noise Cancelling Ear Plugs
If you’re a frequent flyer or just tired of the disposable foam kind, you may want to look into reusable ones like the Noise Cancelling Ear Plugs by EarJoy ($9.99 on Amazon). For less than $10 you get four pairs to perfectly match your needs and ear size. Three of the pairs come with individual travel cases.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II Headphones
Still not enough? For some people, earplugs aren’t enough. It may be because noise isn’t the issue. If you’d rather listen to comforting music or meditations, you may try sleep headphones. If the issue is that earplugs don’t provide enough insulation, what we’ve found works best for us on long flights is a combination of earplugs and noise-canceling headphones.
The Bose QuietComfort 35 II Headphones ($299.00 on Amazon) are pricey, but worth it for what you get. They’re cozy, wireless, and Bluetooth compatible.
You know your body better than anyone, so anything goes here. Note that these should be the last resort, as you should never develop a dependence for sleep aids—especially if you don’t have a sleep disorder to begin with.
Sleep supplements are our top recommendation because they are non-habit forming and very lightweight, especially if you don’t bring the whole bottle with you.
You may also consider bringing along your sleep tea of choice or even a favored essential oil, though do limit the use of the latter so the people around you aren’t affected. Not everyone may enjoy aromatherapy.