AdviceBoozeEat & Drink

How to Sleep on an Airplane

Updated: Jul 08, 2011 16:29
The Bay's best newsletter for underground events & news

There’s got to be a better way!

Sleeping on planes: Is it possible? If I had a dime for everyone I’ve ever heard say, “I just can’t sleep on a plane,” I would have at least $5. I used to be one of those people; I sat in that 14-square-inch space, face pressed to the window, SkyMall catalogue clutched to my chest, certain that so long as I kept an eye on the ground, we couldn’t die a horrible, horrible death in a fiery plane crash. It’s taken a little work to get to the point where I can snooze on a red-eye, but the improved brain functionality upon landing and the quick passage of plane time have been so, so worth it. With a little planning and a few reasonably priced tools, you, too, can sleep the sleep of babies in the cradle (or make yourself pass out, whatevs):

The Pregame

You’ve got to have the right tools if you want the mechanics of sleep to work properly. First, I advise sleeping as little as possible the night before. I do this naturally due to my high anxiety about flying. I also choose red-eye flights whenever possible because your body naturally wants to sleep during this time, unless you work the night shift, in which case, do the opposite. You also ought to steal a blanket — and a pillow if you can swing it — from the next plane you’re on and use it to improve the comfort of your airplane sleeping domain on all your flights thereafter. Finally, depending on how lightly you sleep, drop a couple of bucks on earplugs and an eye mask. I use those every night, though, so I’m used to them, but I am the most well-rested person ever.

The Pill

Unless you will be on a very long, nonstop flight, pick up an herbal sleeping pill (save the prescriptions for the overseas crowd). You want something that will help you sleep but won’t make you so groggy that you miss your connection or end up on a flight to Burma when all you wanted to do was visit your parents in St. Louis. I have found success with melatonin and valerian, but other options to try are 5-HTP, St. John’s wort, and kava. Pop it just before boarding.

The Potable

It’s even better if you can pop that pill in conjunction with an alcoholic drink or two. We all know how alcohol makes you sleepy, and it’s got a pretty good track record of intensifying the effects of other medications or drugs. However, since high levels of sugar can make you too antsy to sleep, avoid the sugar-laden mojitos in favor of, say, a gin martini. You can bring your own liquor, order a drink from the airplane bar, and/or take advantage of the in-flight beverage service. I usually do the latter two — if I manage to stay awake long enough for the drink cart to come around.

Optional: The Provisions

I would never endorse illegal activity; however, I have witnessed passengers getting their (prescribed, I’m sure) marijuana through security by baking it into food. If weed makes you sleepy, you could have a pot cookie (from the totally legal dispensary, of course) once you’re on the plane. I wouldn’t do it earlier than that, though; those things can knock you on your ass, and you’ll be like Tom Hanks in The Terminal before you know it.

A Word about Layovers

Layovers can be an excellent chance to continue your in-flight nap. Be sure to find your next gate, and set an alarm for 10 minutes or so before your boarding call begins. Then sprawl out on the floor, rest your head on your bag, cover yourself with your coat, and nod off in complete horizontal bliss.

Like this article? Make sure to sign up for our mailing list so you never miss a goddamn thing!
Previous post

DIY: How to Make your own Earring Organizer

Next post

Go Italian With Happy Hour at Zuppa

Sarah M. Smart - Red-Light Special

Sarah M. Smart - Red-Light Special

Sarah M. Smart was summoned into being on a distant ice cream planet
through an unholy union of Two-Buck Chuck and unicorns. They sent her to Indianapolis and then the University of Missouri's School of Journalism
to spread peace and big hair. Perpetually in mourning for the comma, she
has worked for a variety of print media, including Indianapolis
, Global Journalist, and Vox. Since moving
to San Francisco for the booming dumpster-diving scene, she has been an
online operative for such fine folks as , Neo-Factory, and
Academy of Art University. After a day of cat-feeding, hat-making,
dog-walking, vegan baking, and daydreaming about marrying rich, all she
wants is a margarita as big as her face.


  1. Anonymous
    April 2, 2011 at 11:13 am


    • April 5, 2011 at 1:45 am

      Hmm, I think most of it would work on a bus. The key with the plane is that it’s somewhat smoother once you get in the air than a bus is with its starts and stops. But if you are not bothered by those, you could use essentially the same techniques.

  2. Anonymous
    April 2, 2011 at 11:16 am


  3. yawni
    April 3, 2011 at 10:47 pm

    That last photo is obviously a fake. In a real airport that backpack would be long gone