Book your seat strategically if you can
Not all seats are created equal. Did you know that some economy seats have more leg room or recline than others? Some airlines know this and charge you for those strategic seats, but if you are lucky or if you know where to look you can end up on those seats at no extra costs. Look up websites that analyze the plane you will be boarding and show you which seats to avoid or prioritize. Another thing you can do is look up airlines that offer more overall comfort.
Dress and equip yourself for the flight
Get as comfortable as you can for the flight. Avoid wearing tight, restrictive clothes and go for something looser instead. Don’t forget to bring a big towel! A towel is easy to remove when it is too hot and your best friend for when it is too cold. Airplane pillows are also good to take, as they can be slid around your neck to provide support to wherever it is most needed. Neck pillows are also a good option for support
Pay attention to what you eat
We have previously written about foods that help you sleep, and how certain drinks can interfere with your quality of sleep. Try prioritizing foods with high amounts of tryptophan, potassium or magnesium before boarding. Avoid coffee and alcohol. During the flight, you can ask for milk and bananas.
Adjust your expectations and make the best of it
Unless you booked 1st class, this is something important to keep in mind if you really want to sleep on a plane. No matter how you put it, at the end of the day you are stuck on a seat that may not be built with comfort in mind. You should avoid expecting quality sleep and getting off fresh like you would in a hotel, it is not good to pressure yourself into sleep as that is a recipe for stressing yourself awake. Use anything that might come in handy. If the seat is bad at supporting your back, first use a towel (or pillow if you have one) to correct the uncomfortable gaps, and use a second one to secure your neck.
What you could also try to do is to sit in either a lotus position or a “half lotus” with one leg crossed and your other leg resting on your ankle. This shifts your center of gravity and secures your posture, thereby reducing stress on your back. Finally, use your arms as a form of back support and use a towel to help you secure your neck if needed.
Isolate yourself from outside noise.
Despite the manufacturer's best efforts, airplane flights can still be quite noisy for some. It is, therefore, a good idea to come prepared.
The cheapest way to isolate yourself from outside interference is the trusty earplug. If this is too uncomfortable or just not enough, try investing in headphones. If you can afford them, go for one with a noise-canceling function (a godsend) or something solid with a nice padding. If you are on a budget, plug-in earphones are more than enough to do the job, but make sure to get something that is good enough to fit comfortably in your ear.
Find support for your head
Although some seats provide enough padding on the side, sometimes it just does not do the trick. In that case, try getting a seat near the window
If you do not have a seat near the window, however, you can create a space between the two seats which could help you support your head. If someone is next to you, politely ask the person for their consent, and do not take it personally if they refuse.
Create night conditions
Humans are, biologically speaking, day creatures. Light plays an important role in the regulation of our sleep, so if you intend to sleep on a plane it would be a good idea to isolate yourself from both sunlight, electric light from inside and light emitted from screens. Wear a sleep mask or cover your head with either a towel or blanket. Sunglasses also do a decent job.
Wonder how to make yourself sleepy? There is a breathing technique that acts like a natural sedative, calming the body and helping you to fall asleep. The 4-7-8 breathing technique, as it is currently known, has its origins in ancient India. This technique is among quite a few you can do when practicing “Pranayama”, which aims to manipulate breathing to your benefit.
First sit up straight and comfortably. Put your tongue against your gums, right behind the teeth and breathe with your belly.
Inhale for 4 seconds…
…Keep it for 7 seconds…
…And breathe out for 8.
Though this works immediately for some, for others more time is needed. Either way practicing this over time, just like muscle exercises, will strengthen its effects.
Aim for 90-minute cycles
We do not actually sleep in one straight set, but in cycles. When trying to sleep on a plane, aim for 90-minute naps if you cannot sleep in one sitting. A typical sleep cycle lasts 90 minutes. In stage 1 and 2 you are asleep, but only lightly so. Keeping to these stages is great for restful naps. Stage 3 and 4 represent deeper stages of sleep. Your body is still and you are restful. At stage 5 you enter REM sleep, short for Rapid Eye Movement. Here is where you dream and where you reap the most benefits. The fruits of a tree if you will.
And then you start over and repeat. It is, therefore, a good idea to plan your sleep in cycles of 90 minutes. According to Professor Richard Wiseman and author of night school, waking up after a sleep cycle will bring you closest to your normal waking state. Naturally, interruption of your sleep in its deeper stages will result in grogginess and a compromised cycle, which you would have to start over.
But whatever you do… Do NOT kick your feet up
Kicking your feet up is arguably a posture that helps you get comfortable and sleep, but it is also horrible behavior towards your fellow passengers. You would not want to manage to sleep on a plane only to be woken up by the unpleasant smell of moist socks. Please be respectful towards others to ensure a pleasant flight experience for everyone.