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15 science-backed tips for sleeping on a plane

sleep on a plane

Let's face it: a plane is not a comfortable place to sleep . Between the sardine-crowded spaces and the constant noise , it's hard to sleep in the sky (unless you're flying first class or have the power to knock yourself out anywhere).

Lack of sleep can lead to exhaustion and jet lag when you arrive at your destination. But it's not always the case. By circumventing these limits, you increase your chances of sleeping peacefully on board.

Discover our science-backed strategies for sleeping on the plane.


1. Stay at the correct temperature.

On most planes, the temperature can vary by 10 degrees, hence the importance of wearing lightweight, easily removable layers.

Science suggests that the temperature for optimal sleep is between 15 and 19 degrees. Although cabins are generally kept between 21 and 23 degrees, temperatures fluctuate in different areas of the cabin and when the plane takes off, is in flight, and lands. A study showed that 60% of planes experience temperature variations of 10 degrees. Dress in lightweight, easily removable layers to avoid overheating and getting cold when the plane cools down.

Research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine also showed that cooling head temperature helped patients with insomnia achieve sleep quality equivalent to that of healthy participants. Try a cooling cap to create a sleep -friendly environment.


2. Wear bed socks.

Studies show that wearing warm socks can increase sleep efficiency by 7.6% and reduce waking up by 7.5 times.

In addition to a blanket, you can also take off your shoes and wear bed or flight socks. A study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology showed that heated socks allowed participants to sleep 7.6% more effectively, reduce the number of awakenings by 7.5 times, and sleep 32 minutes longer.


3. Turn off your devices.

Blue light from phones can suppress melatonin and disrupt the sleep-wake cycle.

Here's what you need to know : If you hope to get some sleep , you need to unplug your phones, tablets, and other mobile devices. A Harvard University study showed that blue light emitted by phone screens alters circadian rhythms and suppresses melatonin , the hormone responsible for sleep and wake cycles.


4. Wear a light-blocking eye mask.


Natural light can also delay your sleep . A study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism showed that exposure to ambient light reduced the duration of melatonin by about 90 minutes. Dim the lights as much as possible and wear a mask to block the light.

5. Listen to pink noise.

Listening to pink noise can reduce the time it takes to fall asleep by 38%.

Instead of your favorite playlist, you might consider listening to pink noise. Unlike white noise, which is played evenly at the same frequency, pink noise decreases in intensity as the frequency increases. Think of beach waves, steady rain and rustling leaves. A small study in Front Neurology showed that listening to pink noise reduced the time it took participants to fall asleep by 38%.


6. Wear noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs.


Wear noise-canceling headphones to combat the noise of a cruising plane, which is equivalent to the sound of a running vacuum cleaner

You may not realize it, but airplane noise is loud. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, a cruising airplane emits 85 decibels, the equivalent of the sound of a running vacuum cleaner. A study published in the journal Annals of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that aircraft noise caused sleep disturbances in people living near an airport. It’s no wonder it’s difficult to sleep on a plane! Noise-canceling headphones or earplugs can help block out noise.


7. Uncross your legs and use the footrests.


Uncross your legs to reduce the risk of a blood clot during long flights.

When you cross your legs, you put pressure on one side of your body. Although it may help you relax, crossing your legs can restrict blood flow and increase the risk of a blood clot during long flights, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). . Instead, keep both legs straight and bend your knees slightly.

Another tip : do not place personal items or bags under the seat, which will allow you to stretch and promote blood circulation to the feet. A footrest can provide additional support.


8. Lean back with adequate support.

135 degree recline is considered the safest and most comfortable angle for sleeping on an airplane

If you are traveling in economy class, your seat recline options may be limited. Experts at the American Academy of Sleep Medicine say the 135-degree recline is the safest sleeping position because it puts less strain on the body and reduces the risk of a blood clot. You should move back 40 degrees in your seat, but don't be that person who leans their chair all the way back.

Don't take armrests lightly. A study published in the journal Orthopedic Clinics of North America showed that armrests can alleviate pressure on the back, which often prevents sleep . Rest your forearms on the armrests to support your upper body and relieve your spine.


9. Add a pillow to the bottom of the seat back.

Lumbar support on the plane can reduce back pain and discomfort, and make it easier to fall asleep .

The truth is that our bodies are not designed to sleep in an upright position. Sitting in an upright position, even in the workplace, is stressful for our bodies. To remedy this, place a rolled up jacket, blanket, or small pillow on the lower back of the seat to support the natural S-curve of your spine. Sleep experts suggest that proper lumbar support can improve comfort and reduce back pain caused by long flights.


10. Adopt a neck pillow.

A U-shaped neck pillow that supports the chin can reduce head movement during sleep .

One of the main reasons we can't sleep on a plane is because our heads aren't properly supported. We know neck pillows look a little awkward. However, a study published in Human Factors and Ergonomics found that a U-shaped pillow enveloping the head and supporting the chin resulted in the least head movement and therefore the least discomfort during sleep .


11. Avoid alcohol and caffeine.

Avoid drinking caffeine, as it can stay in your body for up to 14 hours and prevent you from falling asleep . Alcohol can also prevent deep sleep .

Not alcohol! Unfortunately, alcohol is not the solution to sleeping on a plane. Although it may initially put you to sleep , studies show that alcohol can lead to more waking up,

poorer quality of sleep and less deep sleep . Plus, you'll wake up dehydrated and groggy, which will amplify the dreaded jet lag.

Coffee lovers will also need to avoid caffeine. According to Science Translational Medicine, caffeine can stay in your body for up to 14 hours, delaying your circadian clock and preventing you from getting the sleep you need.

12. Try lavender aromatherapy.

Studies show that the smell of lavender can slow your heart rate and relax muscles, which promotes deep sleep .

Don't want to take sleeping pills ? Try sniffing lavender instead. A small study by psychologists at Wesleyan University showed that lavender increased slow-wave sleep in participants. Slow-wave sleep is a type of deep sleep in which the heart rate slows and muscles relax - exactly the sleep you need on the plane!


13. Eat potassium-rich snacks...

Bananas have been shown to induce sleep thanks to their magnesium and potassium content.

Bon appetit- sleep ! Although it is recommended to avoid heavy foods, studies published in the International Journal of Tryptophan Research show that the magnesium and potassium found in bananas can help regulate blood pressure and induce fruitful sleep .


14. Stay moist and hydrated.

Inhale a cup of warm water and drink water every hour to combat the lack of humidity on the plane.

Although the EPA recommends maintaining humidity levels of 30 to 50 percent in homes, airplane cabins typically have humidity levels below 20 percent. Research shows that these desert conditions can dry out the nasal passages and make it difficult to sleep .

To soothe the nasal passages, the National Institute of Health suggests using a humidifier. Of course, it doesn't make sense to bring one on board. So you can use nose drops to maintain your nasal passages or inhale a cup of hot tea, water or coffee. Experts also recommend drinking 300ml of water for every hour spent on the plane to combat dry air.


15. Practice mindfulness meditation.

Studies have shown that practicing mindful breathing can reduce fatigue and insomnia .

Amidst all this travel stress, we often forget to relax. One way to relieve stress is through mindfulness meditation, a practice that involves focusing on breathing and being aware of the present moment. A clinical study published in JAMA Internal Medicine showed that mindful breathing allowed participants to experience less insomnia and fatigue, and sleep better overall.

What to do before flying?


Now that you know some tips about sleeping on board, you can prepare yourself just before you take off and in the days before you arrive at the airport.


Choose the right seat.
Reserve a seat based on the side you usually sleep on . If you can, opt for a window seat, which will allow you to rest your head against the window. Seats located closer to the exit rows provide legroom, increasing comfort. And if possible, choose a flight at a time when you would usually be in bed .


Change your sleep schedule before the flight.
Our circadian rhythms are linked to ambient light – adding light in the evening keeps us awake and sets our clocks back, while removing light allows us to fall asleep earlier. Sleep experts say it takes about 24 hours for our body clocks to shift by an hour. Use this rule of thumb to slowly adjust your sleep time and get closer to your final destination.


Follow a routine.
When you're at the airport, follow the activities you would normally do before bed , such as reading a book, wearing lounge pants, and brushing your teeth. This will help your mind think of this as your regular before- bed routine .


Exercise before the flight.
Exercise is the answer to everything. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research showed that resistance training, in particular, decreases the number of times one wakes up after falling asleep .


Sleeping on a plane with sleeping pills

According to Expedia, 15% of travelers “always or sometimes” use sleep medications . Although sleeping pills are powerful, they can create long-term health problems. Pills like Ambien and Benadryl have side effects like sleepwalking, dehydration, and prolonged drowsiness, and put you at increased risk of a blood clot during a long flight.

Since it's produced by your body, melatonin may be a safer sleep aid. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found that a dosage between 0.5 and 5 milligrams can be effective in helping you fall asleep faster. The problem? Melatonin should be taken approximately five hours before the flight.

An alternative to sleeping pills is using a natural sleeping pill like lavender to calm you down. Foods such as bananas, almonds, cherry juice, chamomile tea, and high-carbohydrate snacks have also been shown to promote sleep .


How to sleep on a plane when you snore?

Snoring on a plane is a nightmare. Why do we snore? Snoring is caused by the tissues along our airways vibrating when we breathe in or exhale. To reduce snoring, try sitting up straight and reclining. The effect of gravity in this position can help reduce these vibrations.

Heavy snorers should also avoid alcohol, which relaxes the airway muscles and makes snoring worse. Allergy treatments, nasal dilators, and anti-snoring mouthpieces can provide relief and prevent soft tissue from blocking the airway. Hydration is essential because it prevents mucus from building up in the throat and making snoring worse.

So why can't we sleep in the air? Simply put, it's a mix of seat structure, less-than-ideal cabin conditions, and our sleep cycles. The plane isn't the best place to sleep , but it's not impossible. If you can optimize your sleep environment, you will enjoy quality sleep on the plane and arrive at your destination refreshed. By following simple tips, sleeping in a car, plane, boat or any other moving vehicle is no longer synonymous with lack of sleep .

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