We estimate that about three per cent of the coach-flying population is good at sleeping on aeroplanes. That figure is completely, 100 per cent made up, but there’s simply no way that more than three per cent of passengers are able to doze comfortably on planes (without a little something), right? Regardless of our imaginary statistic, we know getting some decent in-flight rest is no easy feat. But on long flights, you have to try. We always do—and we’ve picked up a few creative tactics that actually work.
Scroll through for seven weird ways to sleep on a plane!
First and foremost, recline your seat as much as possible. (This will be the backbone of all the sleep positions—except one—to follow.) This is fairly obvious, as you’ve probably discovered sitting up straight is not very conducive to sleep. Lean back as far as your chair will allow to relieve lower back pain. Then try one of the suggestions below for added comfort.
If you’re traveling with another person, ask them to recline their seat back just not quite as far as yours. This will create a small opening between the two sets for you to wedge your head in. Sure your travel companion doesn’t get to enjoy the full recline, but it’s better than resting your head on their shoulder. Traveling alone? Pick a window seat on “your side.” If you sleep on your left side at home, pick a seat on the left side of the plane for optimum comfort. (Another bonus of the left side of the plane? The windows are usually off-center—compared to the right side, where they line up evenly—which makes cozying up against the side of the plane easier.)
We’re not sure how the U-shaped neck pillow came into popularity, because when used as directed it’s extremely uncomfortable. But if you flip it around, so that the opening is at the back of your neck, your neck remains properly aligned and your head gets support. Also, try directing the beads, stuffing, or whatever is inside the pillow to one side (again, to “your side”), and then slide a hair tie around the pillow to hold the stuffing in place. This gives you a little extra cushion to lean on when your head inevitable rolls to one side. We also suggest giving your pillow a spritz of calming lavender essential oil, because you never know what sort of non-comforting smells you’ll encounter on an airplane. Hugo Naturals’ Essential Mist ($3) in Calming French Lavender is TSA-friendly.
No neck pillow? If you’re on a plane with adjustable headrests, simply fold the flaps inward to keep your head from rolling back and forth, and eventually forward, jerking you awake. The real key to success with this one is securing an airplane pillow when you board (boarding early pays off). Take that pillow (or a scarf or sweater, if necessary), fold it in half, and place it on one of your shoulders. This functions much like the backwards U-shaped pillow, giving your head a place to rest comfortably.
Now that your top half is comfortable, focus on the lower half of your body. Part of the reason sleeping while not fully reclined is so difficult is because it puts pressure on your spine—and of course there’s the fact that economy class airplane seats are far from luxurious. Sitting on a cushion makes a world of difference (seriously). The U-shaped cutout of Magellan's Luxe Self-Inflating Seat Cushion ($41) suspends your tailbone, relieving pressure on your spinal cord, and makes airplane seats feel a lot less like airplane seats. It inflates automatically and folds up into a nice little pouch, too. In a pinch, sit on your U-shaped neck pillow. Trust us—you’ll feel the difference.
Figuring out what to do with your feet can be tricky. It’s a delicate balance of elevating them in order to bring your body as close to 180 degrees as humanly possible, and giving yourself enough legroom to stretch out. In the end, it comes down to personal preference. If you’re tall, keep the area under the seat in front of you free. If you legroom isn’t your top concern, use the airplane’s metal footrest (assuming it has one) or your carry on bag. However, your carry on bag can’t be so large that it takes up all of room; there needs to some space for your feet, so plan accordingly. Finally, kick off your shoes. Evenly the smallest stacked heel can get in the way of restful sleep. As will cold feet, so pack comfy socks, too.
Two words: sprawl out. This is the goal we strive to achieve on airplanes. Keep your eye out for empty rows. If there’s one available, stake your claim, raise the armrests, stretch out over all three seats, and pretend you’re in first class. Now, if there’s only an empty middle seat next you, there’s still plenty to work with. Short girls, you can curl up. You may get some weird looks from the person in the aisle seat, but it’ll be worth it. If you’re on the taller side, lift both armrests and flip your body so your back is against the side of the plane. Put your pillow, scarf, sweatshirt, and whatever you have that can serve as a cushion behind your back. Then, wedge your head into the window opening and cross your legs out on the open middle seat in front of you. (Again, wayward glances may be involved.) Sleeping cross-legged may not entirely appealing, but for whatever reason, this one works.
How do you get comfortable on an airplane? Any tips or tricks we should know? Share them below!