How to Actually Sleep on a Plane

By Nikolina Skoric
21 August 2018
Travel, Flying, Sleep
AFPGetty Images
Can't afford first class? Not a problem – just be sure to take on board these tips.

You've booked yourself a dream holiday and now you have to deal with snoring passengers, long-haul flights and stopover delays.

Some lucky folks might be able to pass out immediately upon takeoff. Just 30 seconds in and as the seats begin jouncing through high turbulence, throwing passengers around like the winning ball in a bingo cage, and already your travel companion is snoring loudly, smug in the knowledge they'll be arriving at the destination reasonably rejuvenated. You, on the other hand, have to spend the next ten hours in the dark. 

With the help of the team at Cathay Pacific, Professor Peter Eastwood and Ian Dunican of the University of Western Australia have shared with us the science of inflight sleeping.

Eat for sleep

Not surprisingly, what, how much and when you eat can all affect your sleep, even on planes. Intestinal distress and deep slumber are not friends. Spicy meals and gluttonous portions tend to make the former more likely at the expense of the latter. Eastwood and Dunican suggest avoiding large, fatty and sugary meals.

“What you eat, how much you eat, and when you eat can affect your sleep. Try to avoid large, fatty and sugary meals at any time when flying, but especially just before you are about to go to sleep. These foods are difficult to digest when you are sitting for long periods of time.”

Stay hydrated

There's nothing worse than feeling dry and thirsty on a flight, but it seems that the feeling isn't just uncomfortable, but also a good reason you may not be getting enough shut-eye on your last flight.

"Dehydration can negatively affect sleep by causing your mouth and nose to become dry, setting you up for snoring during sleep and a parched throat on waking. Minimise these effects during flying by regularly consuming water and using eye drops and a face moisturiser."

Dress for comfort

You'll only get a good sleep if you're physically comfortable. It might be a challenge, but it's not impossible to do on a plane. For starters, whilst you might not be able to do much about your seat, you can decide to wear clothes that help you snooze. The looser and less restrictive, the better. And pay attention to footwear, too. This is one of the rare occasions we'd advocate for changing into some slippers.

Move to sleep

If you're not relaxed, you're not going to be sleeping. Period. Sure, getting comfy when your seat only reclines a fraction of a degree is tough, but there are other options. Eastwood suggests movement:

"Prolonged inactivity can sometimes result in sore or aching muscles of the back, arms and legs. Simple stretching exercises such as flexing and extending the ankles at regular intervals while seated, and frequently contracting the calf muscles can relax them, plus increase blood flow and deliver oxygen to them.

Sleep smart

We each have an internal "clock" that tells our bodies when to get up, when to go to sleep and so on. When you travel far outside your normal time zone, your internal clock becomes wildly out of synch with the time in your new location and thus, jet-lag is born.

"Set your watch to the destination time and try to sleep at the appropriate time for your new location. The smart lighting on Cathay Pacific's A350 flights help you sleep as it is programmed to reflect day-time and night-time at your destination. Passengers who sleep during the 'dark hours' become better adapted to the sleep and wake cycles needed at their new location."

GQ Tip: If possible, a few days before travel, start to gradually change your sleeping and waking times each day, edging closer and closer to what you expect your hours will be at your destination.

Sleep requires a quiet environment

Obvious? Yes. Important? Extremely.

While it's possible to block out some background noise, falling asleep will be about five time easier after investing in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.

"External noises can also have a negative impact on sleep quality. Noise can prevent you from falling asleep initially, and sounds during sleep can cause you to wake. The use of ear plugs or noise-cancelling headphones can seriously help to reduce this kind of noise."

Turn off the screens

Studies have shown that blue light resets our biological clock, since our brain reads short-wavelength light as its cue to wake up. Our now-omnipresent screens, whether in phone, tablet or laptop form, emit way too much of that light for you to have a restful slumber. Take a break from Facebook and put the screen away at least an hour before you're planning to sleep. 

Via GQ Australia