There's absolutely nothing comfortable about flying, unless you happen to be tiny enough to fit into the limited space offered on airplanes, or wealthy enough to afford a first-class ticket. And if you're about to embark on a long flight, catching a few Zs can feel like an impossible task. But it's definitely not impossible to get some quality sleep for a few hours, you just need to know how to use that limited space to your advantage.
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Sitting by the window may impede your bathroom access, but it's the best seat in every row when it comes to comfort; The plane wall is the perfect spot to lean up against and rest your head. But not all window seats are created equal. Flight attendant Lauren McLaughlin swears that the best window seat is one that places the curve, or indent, of the window just an inch or two away from your seat. This allows you to lean your head into a premier sleeping angle against the window.
Not all window seats recline at the same angle, and some don't recline at all. Our resident illustrator, Yumi, recommends checking out SeatGuru before choosing seats to avoid seats with their backs against a bulkhead or in front of exit row, as they might not recline. SeatGuru even has an app for Android and iOS, so you can research more easily and submit photos of the plane once you're on it.
Those horseshoe-shaped neck pillows may look ridiculous, but having a neck pillow handy makes all the difference in your airplane nap. Flight attendant Michelle Lazzaro points out that it helps keep your head from rolling from side to side—and you won't wake up every time your chin drops to your chest. Best of all, using one will help keep you from drooling all over your neighbor. They sell them in most airport shops, so it shouldn't be too hard to find one. (Other pillows may work equally as well.)
If you do get one of those incredibly popular neck pillows, but find it to be slightly uncomfortable, just turn that sucker around. Or, get one that is designed to go all the way around the neck. With the opening at the back of your neck, your chin can be in a more natural position resting on the fluffy cushion side. This helps you keep your neck and spine aligned while sitting and snoozing, and increases support as you adjust your position.
TSA makes you remove your shoes as soon as you hit the security line, so most people prepare by wearing comfortable shoes that are easy to take off. So why not go shoeless on the plane, too? Shoes tend to constrict the feet and can hinder circulation when at flying altitude. If you leave them off for the duration of your flight, your feet will swell less, and you'll have space to free your toes.
There's no reason to get dressed up for a long, uneventful flight, so save yourself hours of discomfort in tight, stiff clothing. Instead, don your favorite sweatpants, your softest pajama bottoms, or even leggings. The goal is to feel comfortable and be able to move easily. The more you feel at home, the better you'll be able to sleep.
While you should always have your seatbelt on semi-tight when the seatbelt light is on, you can help alleviate some of the uncomfortable pressure it provides by putting a blanket, sweater, or other fluffy layer in-between you and the buckle. Flight attendants will leave you alone when they can clearly see your seatbelt is buckled, and you won't have to worry about the metal center pressing into your lower stomach.
Crossing your legs is an easy way to save space in a cramped airline seat, but when you sit in such a position, you're harming your circulation and could increase your chances of getting a blood clot. Physical therapist Karena Wu says that this position could even cause pain in your lower back, as it twists the lower half of your spine in one direction. As comfortable as it might feel, you'll wake up in pain from squeezing and twisting for so long. Instead, try to keep your legs as straight as possible, placing both of your feet on the floor.
Although planes are usually packed full of passengers, sometimes you'll manage to find a flight that has a few empty seats or, in an ideal world, an empty row. If you find yourself fortunate, ask a flight attendant if you can sit in the empty row where you'll be able to stretch out and sleep across the seats. However, if that seatbelt sign is on you won't be able to stretch out across the seats, but just knowing someone is not next to you is relaxing enough.
Keep your back more comfortable in your tiny seat by bringing an inflatable beach ball for back support and cushioning. Inflate the ball partially, and place it against the curve of your spine. As you lean back into your seat, you'll prevent poor posture and aches when you wake. (You could also buy an actual inflatable lumbar support pillow.)
Prepare for long hours of sitting before you get on the plane by doing a yoga or stretching routine. Get your muscles lengthened, bending, and ready for uncomfortable positions before boarding, and you'll find it easier to move when stuck in your seat. The more limber your body feels, the less you'll find yourself tensing up while trying to sleep comfortably.
In an interview with Yahoo, one flight attendant recommended choosing your in-flight drink carefully to help you sleep: "If its a long flight bring a chamomile tea bag." The plane's staff can give you a cup of hot water so you can brew your own tea. Since chamomile is known to calm you right to sleep, you can make your experience relaxing. Try to avoid anything that will dehydrate you, such as alcohol, coffee, or any salty foods, to make sure you wake up feeling well rested.
If you're flying with a friend, use their seat to create a comfy place to lay your head. Instead of reclining both of your seats back into the same position, have your travel partner leave theirs reclined a few less degrees than yours. Then, you can wedge your head on their protruding seat as you attempt sleep. Instead of leaning against a hard wall or window, you'll be able to use the cushiony seat itself. You could also just put a pillow in-between the both of you if you both want to doze off.
To take the wisest advice from a stranger on a plane ever: "Take off your shoes and your socks, then you walk around on the rug barefoot and make fists with your toes."
Got any other tips for inflight sleeping? Share in the comments below!