What would you say you need for a good night’s sleep? Darkness? Quiet? Not having your knees pressed up against a hard surface? Sounds about right. But what about when that isn’t an option – what about when you’re stuck in an economy plane seat for ten hours and desperately need some shut-eye? Not to worry. Here are some helpful tips to have you dozing off in no time.


Eyemasks, earplugs, socks and toothbrushes are often provided by the airline these days. If you are serious about getting to sleep, however, I would recommend bringing your own versions.

Although the lights are often dimmed during the flight, proper darkness is better for sleep. A fitted eyemask with a soft lining will often work much better than the airline’s products.

Quiet is also important. Shop around to find the best earplugs for you. You might also consider noise-canceling headphones, but if you lean your head to the side while sleeping these might become uncomfortable.

A portable travel blanket, perhaps a microfleece that can be rolled up, might also be a good idea. This depends on how light you intend to travel, however. One of my favorite options is to bring a big, comfy scarf or wrap that can double as an extra blanket.

Pillows are also important. So important, in fact, that I’ll be talking about them separately below.

Sleeping in economy class - easier than it sounds.

Picking a Seat

In order to take best advantage of this, you will need to do some research. There are many websites dedicated to helping you choose the best seat for the airplane you will be traveling on. You may be able to choose your seat by booking in online. You may need to wait until you check in at the airport to ask what’s available.

Some good seats to look out for are often those in the first row of economy, or by the bulkhead. These have the most legroom. However, this is not a well-kept secret, and you will not be the only person making the request, so don’t count on getting them.

If you are quite small, a window seat could be your best option, as you can lean your head against the wall. Very tall people (like myself) generally prefer the aisle, as there is a little more space to work with when arranging yourself.

If you can’t arrange the seat you want prior to boarding, look out for empty seats while on board. There might even be a full row available to stretch out on. Make sure to ask permission from the flight attendants first, in case they ask you to move back.

Sleeping aids

I am not going to recommend sleeping pills specifically. Some people find them useful. Other people find that the pills leave them fuzzy at the end of the flight. If you use sleeping aids regularly, you are likely to want to use them on the plane. If you are unused to them, it might not be a good idea to experiment. The rest of the tips I’ve got here for you are based on my experiences without sleeping pills. They can be useful, but they are not necessary for everyone.


Trying to sleep while hungry is not a good plan. However, timing is also something to be considered. If your flight leaves in the evening, the food service may be so late that it cuts into the time you should be sleeping. Eating can also act as a “wake up” signal to your body, so you may have trouble dropping off right after the meal. Try to find out when the food service will happen on your flight. If it is very late, maybe eat something at the airport and forgo the in-flight meal.


This is all about balance. You need to stay hydrated, so you won’t wake up coughing and parched. Too much water, however, and you’ll be jumping up every hour to go to the bathroom. You know your body best. Don’t let yourself get too thirsty, but also pay attention to when you may have had enough.

Balance should also be considered when it comes to alcohol. Drinking a lot will actually prevent you from resting well, and will leave you dehydrated. However, a small drink early on, perhaps even in the airport, can help you relax. Think about how alcohol normally affects your body when making these decisions.


So you’ve eaten, had a drink, the lights are out, you’re blindfolded and earplugged… time to sleep. What are we missing here?

Time to talk pillows. The pillows you get on the plane are perennially disappointing. They are shallow, slippery, and far too easy to flatten. There is a reason those neck-support pillows have gained such a following.

Yes, I do recommend getting a neck-support pillow. I do not, however, recommend wearing it the way it is normally worn. Even with the actual plane pillows, I have a rule here: you don’t want to push your head forward. Think about what wakes you up on a plane after you’ve already fallen asleep. It’s the drooping, right? Your head falls forward, and you wake up with a jolt…

This is what we want to avoid. And here’s how: put the pillow on backward. Leave the gap at the back of your neck, and have the support under your chin. This will stop your head rolling forward, leaving you un-jolted throughout the flight.

Getting Comfy

If you didn’t manage to score a seat with extra leg room, don’t fret. You can still make things more comfortable. First of all, leave as much leg room as you can. Don’t fill the space in front of you with bags and bundles. You might want to leave one thing under there to use as a foot rest, depending on the angles you’re working with. Otherwise, keep it clear.

The little airplane pillow? Don’t discard it, even though you have hopefully provided yourself with something better. That’s going to go behind the small of your back, giving you extra lumbar support. If you have sorted yourself out with your own blankets, you could also use the airplane blanket for extra seat cushioning.

Chill Out

No matter how well planned you are, no matter how many sleep-assisting gadgets you’ve brought, nothing will prevent you from dropping off quite so effectively as anxiety. You’re going to need to relax.

Your preparation will help with this, of course. Rushing to get to your gate or frantically trying to get everything you need out of your carry-on as you’re trying to stow it will leave you tense as the flight begins. This tension can prevent you from relaxing enough to sleep.

Give yourself a little more time than you think you need. Once you are on board, settle back and just think about enjoying the next few hours. Deep breaths.

Good night, sweet dreams, and happy travels.