Better Sleep on Long-Haul Flights

I always struggle to get any quality sleep during long-haul flight. Now I know that many of you will suggest using sedatives or sleeping pills but in my experience when I see people that have taken those pills and the positions they get themselves into for extended periods of time, all I can think to myself is, this guy is going to need a week in traction and a few hundred hours of chiropractic therapy to put his neck and spine back together.

I have identified some of the key things that you as a traveller can implement or refrain from doing to improve the quality of the sleep you get on a long-haul flight.


Check-in and Reserved Seating:


Gone are the days when you arrive at the airport hours before your flight to make sure you can reserve the best seat on the plane. Even if you do log-on 24 hours in advance, which is when airlines usually open their online check-in service for those who have bought standard tickets, I have always struggled to reserve good seating.

Seating on an aircraft is a premium with the best seats in coach or economy being either the bulkhead seating (those at the divisions between sections) and the emergency exit seats. These seats are most likely to be reserved first and airlines know this which is why they offer to pre-book these seats for a little extra money.

There is a new class available call Economy Plus and yes you guessed it, it does cost more. Everything that makes life a little more comfortable will be costing you more and this is no exception in that you get more space for your money. So if additional space is a priority for you, you will need to review your own budget to decide if these luxuries are within range or if toughing it out for a few hours will be better.


Celebrate but Don’t Over Do IT:


By why not; you are on holiday; its been a long time coming; the booze is included in the price of the ticket, so why not have Drinking Celebrationa few drinks to relax. Well you would be right to think all these things however the problem is, alcohol negatively affects our circadian rhythm and impacts the quality of our sleep by preventing our brains from entering REM(Rapid Eye Moment sleep phase used to recharge the brain). This is backed up by research that the National Sleep Foundation performed and not only applies to travel but to our normal routines.

So while there is nothing wrong with having a glass of wine or two I would not suggest smashing 8 shots of tequila to celebrate going to Cancún before you are actually there, not such a great idea. You will be regretting it and there is nothing worse than flying while drunk or hung over.


Lay Off the Caffeine:


CoffeeCaffeine is another one of those beverages that affects people in different ways. Some people have no problem hitting 2 shots of espresso before going to bed while others need to adhere to the no caffeine after 16H00.

Caffeine is a stimulant and is designed to keep us awake. If one drinks coffee and tries to go to sleep straight afterwards, these chemicals in our brain being released to make us sleep are being counteracted by the caffeine from the coffee. As a rule of thumb though, to enjoy a better nights rest, try to lay off the caffeine before turning the lights out as you have a better chance of getting quality sleep.


Wear Loose Fitting Comfortable Clothing:


This is a well documented issue where sitting for extended periods of time, immobilized to a large extent, can be detrimental to your health. It is recommended that you travel in comfortable, loose fitting clothing to reduce the restriction on the blood-flow throughout the body. It is also recommended that you try and move around every hour to keep the blood circulating however I know that this is not always possible when you are trying to sleep.

The movement that is recommended could be walking around the aircraft, stretching and so on. The main goal is to prevent yourself from being immobilized for extended periods which not only adversely affect blood circulation but also can lead to stiffness of the body when you have arrived at your destination.


Kitted up to Sleep:


There are a couple of essential items that I have found indispensable in my sleep kit:

Sleep Mask:

Sleep MaskYes these do not make one look the most stylish but let’s face it, nobody looks their best on these long-haul flights.

A good sleep mask will stop the light from other peoples screens from disturbing your sleep and will prevent you getting a very rude awakening when the flight crew turns the lights on a 3 am for a 4 am breakfast. Those few extra moments to adjust will prevent your mood from souring or your eyes feeling like they are being burnt out with molten lead.

Ear Phones:

Earphones come in a range of types and sizes but a good fitting pair will assist in isolating excess noise from the engines or people around you. The larger headsets I have personally found to be great for isolating the noise but have some trouble when using a pillow together the headset as the pillow tends to come up quite high.

Travel Pillow:

Travel PillowThere are so many designs on the market but the single best feature that I can emphasize to invest in is a memory foam pillow. Yes they are more expensive but rest assured they are worth every penny.

The main purpose of these pillows is to keep your head upright and to prevent neck spasms or injury. The memory foam pillow is able to keep its shape where the others that use a bead design tend to collapse over time.



Our skins tend to dry out on long-haul flights so moisturising your skin is a must. This is not only good for your skin, this also helps your feel fresh and ready for a good nights sleep.

Wet Wipes:

I cannot travel without these. I feel that the surfaces of the aircraft are not always properly sanitized and even though I am no germaphobe, I like to know that when I go to sleep my hands and neck are clean.


Snacks & Water:


Taking some snacks on the plane add to the enjoyment of the flight. Not everything is provided for on the flight and if you are someone who likes to snack, this is a better alternative to wanting to eat junk food that can possibly ruin that perfect beach body that you have been working so hard on.

The humidity levels on a flight can drop to as low as 20% during long-haul flights which can result in dehydration if you do not Nalgene Water Bottlemonitor this. It is recommended to drink between 250ml and 500ml of water per hour during the flight. These values may differ from person to person but this is a basic guideline to assist with gauging the requirements.

A Pro Tip, while airport security will require you to dispose of all liquids before passing through the check point, there is nothing stating that you cannot bring an empty water bottle through security. I do this as standard procedure and when I board the flight, I politely ask the Stewardess to fill my bottle with water. That way I have enough water to last the flight and do not need to constantly ask for my plastic cup to be filled or die of dehydration when everyone has gone to sleep.


~~Click Here to Read a Review of The Nalgene Wide Mouthed Bottle~~




A really great feature that most airlines offer during their long haul flights is the music option on their entertainment systems. Yes the latest action blockbusters are also available but these will stimulate your mind and will do nothing to aid you in a good nights rest.

White-noise channels(sounds of rain or the ocean) are available on most entertainment systems to assist in further dampening the noise from the engines or others around you. White-noise or peaceful classical music have been proven to improve sleep and these types of music are often listed as Sleep Channels on your console.


Final Word:


This is by no means an exhaustive list on improving your travel experience but what is clear is that with a little planning, the experience of long-haul flights does not need to be as painful as a papercut to the eye. By just being practical about what we take with us, can improve the overall experience and assist in gaining the most benefit from our travels.





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12 Responses

  1. joseph webster says:

    A really good topic, and one I think you don’t find much talk about on the internet. The other day I did a course on “patient and manual handling” teaching the best practices for moving older clients, and how you can get hurt easy by doing it the wrong way. I bring this up because you mention people taking sleeping pills on flights who are positioned badly and needed chiropractors. This is very true during and the course I did, this was actually brought up. Really good work on bringing value to some one who might think other wise on using sleeping tablets on long haul flights. You might just have save them from future medical expenses

    • Richard says:

      Hello Joseph,

      While we often think that we are indestructible when we are younger, the older we get, the more we realize that if we do sill things with our bodies, we can easily become injured. Knowing some people in the medical fraternity, I have heard the stories of how quickly one can be injured while moving patients around.

      Thanks for you personal input into your comment. 


  2. Darren says:

    You’ve discussed some really good practical remedies to enjoy a relaxing flight. I struggle to get sleep when I fly but I’ve never used a travel pillow which I think is something I definetlely have to invest in. I always take water on a flight but normally I buy a bottle in duty free.

    These are the two main remedies I need to try for sure!

    • Richard says:

      Hello Darren,

      I think to expect that we will get the quality of sleep that we do at home on a flight with a few hundred people on board is a little unrealistic, but taking one of those memory foam pillows with sure does go a long way to getting you there.

      I have found that the water sold in duty free exorbitantly expensive and have therefore opted for the reusable bottle. If you don’t mind paying the prices they charge then it isn’t really a problem but in my opinion, reusable bottles are better for the environment and a cheaper alternative.

      Thanks for leaving your personal experience. 


  3. Linda says:

    I recently read a book about sleep (Sleep Smarter by Shawn Stevenson), where it states that you shouldn’t drink caffeine within 6-8 hours before bed. Alcohol should indeed be limited as much as possible. While both will allow you to fall asleep it does mess with your sleep quality. Because alcohol and coffee dehydrate as well it’s another reason to avoid it before a flight.

    As a frequent traveler I totally agree with all your tips. I still sadly have trouble sleeping, because I am never comfortable in the seats (even economy plus) and there is too much noise even when most people are sleeping. The most I have ever slept on a plane is 2,5 hours (of a 9 hour flight) while I was in business class. While I couldn’t sleep more, at least I was comfortable lying down. If you can afford to, I highly recommend it.

    • Richard says:

      Hello Linda,

      I would love to meet the person that the airlines modeled their seats after as I also have yet to find a comfortable seat yet. Many people do not know the difference between the quality and quantity of sleep and the way caffeine and alcohol mess with the REM sleep.

      I still have trouble sleeping but after implementing the strategies above, I can tell you now that the quality is substantially better than it was.

      Thanks for your personalized comment. 


  4. Dale says:

    It seems you have left no stone upturned.  Personally I could sleep through a war.  However that is not the case when it comes to my wife.  On a plane it seems like every little thing disturbs her.  You do have a lot of great ideas here that I am going to get her to read.  Thank you for taking the time to right this in such detail.

    • Richard says:

      Hi Dale,

      I was commuting on a weekly basis a few years ago for work and I must admit, you do eventually get used to sleeping and flying but only after time. I would fall asleep before take off and only surface when the wheel hit the tarmac. 

      I guess people are all affected on different levels and it about creating and environment where people have the best chances of getting a decent amount of rest.

      Thanks for leaving a comment about yourself on my page.


  5. Laura says:

    Cool tips! I often take long flights for my business relations and I remember the first year I was always tired, because I could’t sleep. Mostly because the noise and visual distractions.

    Since a few years I won’t go on any flight without my essential kit, which exists out of a sleepmask, my Bose qc35 noise cancelling earphones and a neck pillow. 🙂

    • Richard says:

      Hello Laura,

      I sometimes wonder to myself how any of us survived before noise cancelling headphones or at least noise dampening headphones cam on the market. I like you never travel without them because with them, the entire aircraft could be screaming kids and it wouldn’t bother me at all. 

      Thanks for your suggestions for long distance flying and leaving a comment on my page.


  6. Chas says:

    Hi Richard,

    I don’t fly often, but I can relate to the long haul flights. I traveled coast to coast last year, and experienced the ear pop when we got to cruising altitude. I am grateful I did not have a hangover, that would be awful!

    Now they also have seats so close together, getting comfortable is reserved for first class! We poor souls in economy have to rough it!

    Fortunately, I was told about having a travel pillow, and I must say don’t fly without it! That pillow you display looks more comfortable than the one I have! I may have to pick that one up for future flights!

    I didn’t bring the lotion, but I had the wet wipes, and it feels great to be able to clean up a bit right in your seat. Do they make a lotion wipe? That would be handy. 

    I never thought of the empty water bottle either! That is a great idea, because I have a constant dry mouth anyway, due to BP meds that I have to take. 

    This is a one stop guide for anyone taking long haul flights, I will have to stop back!

    Thanks Richard,


    • Richard says:

      Hello Chas,

      I am really glad that I have been able to help people with the bottle through security suggestion. Most people are unaware of this and you can save a lot of money (By not buying water) and hassle with that simple tip. ,

      I agree with you that the poor souls like us on the wooden benches at the back get the short end of the stick but in the same way, i can understand that for the prices that business and first class pay, maybe they do deserve it just a little better than the rest of us.

      Thanks for adding your personal experience to the comments section.


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