How to Sleep on an Overnight Flight

People asleep on airplaneThe red-eye flight.

For some people, the idea of flying through the night conjures up images of cramped necks, uncomfortable seats and sleepless nights … not to mention a bit of crankiness once they reach their final destinations. But I have found that the red-eye flight—one that leaves in the evening and arrives in the morning—can be comfortable and convenient, if you know how to make it work to your advantage.

I particularly appreciate the ability to take overnight flights when I’m headed to an international destination. I have to sleep anyway, and I’d rather not waste a whole day traveling, so it’s the perfect solution. If you’re willing to entertain the option of an overnight flight—or it’s your only flight choice—here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way.

Consider splurging for business or first class.

If you’ve ever wanted to luxuriate in a bigger, roomier and more comfortable seat on an airplane, an overnight flight may be a good time to do so. If you sit somewhere other than economy, you’ll be able to recline your seat further back and you may even have a foot rest. In general, sitting in business or first class will give you more space to spread out and move around as your sleeping needs require.

Request the perfect seat.

If business and first class are out of the financial picture, request the seat that’s going to be most comfortable for you. A lot of people prefer the window seat at night so that they can lean their heads against the window when they sleep. Others prefer the aisle so they can stretch their legs out as much as possible. When you check in for your flight, either online or in person, request the type of seat that will help you rest. Also, take note that the row in front of the exit row does not recline nor does it offer extra legroom. Avoid this row if you’d like to sleep.

Dress for comfort.

I don’t care what people say about how some people who fly dress like slobs. I say dress for comfort. You obviously shouldn’t be decked out in your favorite piece of lingerie, but if you’re on an overnight flight, wear sweatpants and a comfortable shirt. Airplanes are often cold, so make sure you have a pair of socks to put on, and you might also want to keep a scarf or sweatshirt handy.

Keep it calm.

Don’t overstimulate your mind with raucous movies or loud music in the hour or so leading up to bedtime. Instead, start to slow your mind down by listening to quiet, calming music (many airlines have online radio stations if you don’t own this kind of music yourself), or follow your nightly habits if possible, such as reading a chapter in a book before calling it a night.

Pop a pill.

I don’t take pills to help me sleep at home or when I travel, but some people swear by this method. Rumor has it that cold medications like Benadryl help people sleep on flights, and they wake up without feeling drowsy. I am not a doctor and do not claim to have any solid advice about whether you should take meds and, if so, what kind. I recommend you check in with your doc for suggestions on whether this is a good option for you.

Pack night with you.

Simulate your most comfortable nighttime situation by packing a sleep mask and earplugs in your carry-on bag. Though most airlines dim the cabin lights at night, having a sleep mask allows you extend your nighttime sleeping hours if you want to hit the sack earlier or continue sleeping through breakfast service. Having earplugs allows you to block any unwanted noise—other people moving around, fussing children, attendant calls, etc.

Observe the nighttime hours.

In order to get up and go when you land at your final destination, avoid jet lag by actually doing what you should be doing in the middle of the night: Sleeping. It might seem like the perfect time to finish that book you’ve been reading or catch up on some work on your laptop, but when the flight attendant turns the lights down, take that as a sign that it’s time to snooze.

Photo credit: joshzam

5 Responses to “How to Sleep on an Overnight Flight”

  1. Bluegreen Kirk

    Yeah picking the perfect seat and doing what should be done at night is key for me. Of course business or first class would be wonderful with the extra leg room or even seats that lay flat but price is simply out of the range.

  2. jade

    I always-always use sleeping pills. That is the only way I wake up feeling refreshed on long flights.

  3. Gray

    I can drowse a bit on an overnight flight using earplugs and eye mask, but have never been able to really sleep. I haven’t tried pills (though I do use them at home), because I’m afraid I’ll be too drowsy upon arrival.

  4. Abbie

    Such great timing for me reading this post – I set a new personal record for consecutive hours slept on a plane last night. 3.5! The window seat, neck pillow, and eye mask are key for me 🙂

  5. dtravelsround

    Hell yes. Great tips. I am a big fan of the Tylenol PM when traveling through time zones. And dressing comfortable? A MUST.


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