The Best Ways To Sleep On Economy Flights

The Best Ways To Sleep On Economy Flights
Photo: Volkova Natalia, Shutterstock

A full eight hours’ sleep during a lengthy international economy flight can dramatically improve how you feel at your destination. Conversely, not getting any sleep can negatively impact your energy levels for days.

If you can never seem to fall asleep properly on an aeroplane due to the cramped conditions, these positions might be able to help.

Over for the Washington Post, writer Natalie B. Compton described, in detail, why exactly sleeping on flights is so damn difficult. Perhaps it’s being surrounded by sneezing, coughing, and otherwise restless passengers around you that makes it hard to sleep soundly.

Or, as Compton writes, it’s just the harsh environment of the aeroplane itself. “The only thing more disruptive than those strangers may be the deafening plane noises and overhead lighting, seemingly designed to combat any attempt at slumber,” she says.

Beyond the noise and lighting, however, aeroplane seats deserve much of the blame, too. They’re cramped, uncomfortable, and rarely recline beyond a few inches (unless you’re lucky and seated in first or business class)—the best you can do is sleep in a semi-upright position and hope that your limbs don’t inch their way into other passengers’ personal space.

To make the point that an aeroplane is a terrible place to get shuteye, WaPo asked readers to submit their preferred sleeping positions—and revealed some of the best and worst answers in a series of illustrations with accompanying descriptions. Frankly, we don’t know how some people do it. Some positions look terrible for your back. Others might get you kicked off a flight.

Here are a few of the responses, as WaPo writes:

  • The View Finder: For window seats only. Fall asleep upright, with your head against the window.

  • The Hoarder: Pile as much of your belongings on top of the tray table and fall asleep on it.

  • The Power Stance: For middle seats only. Bring both legs up and wedge your feet on both armrests in the row in front of you.

  • The Thinker: Lean forward, with your elbow to your knee and your head on your hand.

  • The Flipped Script: Bring your legs up and turn around completely in your seat so that you face it. Cross your legs and lean forward.

We can’t help but question several of these responses. While there is no single, “correct” position, the Power Stance is aggressive—no one wants your feet at their side. And the Flipped Script doesn’t take into account just how tiny seats are, to begin with; it’d be impossible to fit your entire body, legs included, in your seat.

I, for one, prefer to keep it simple, with my arms crossed, head reclined, and a blanket and pillow buried behind me (mainly because the seats are just too uncomfortable for my lower back). Meanwhile, Virginia, our managing editor, is a firm believer in adopting several different sleeping positions, depending on the seat. “I’m a fitful sleeper,” she told me.

So, to our readers, we ask: What is your preferred sleeping position on a flight? And who, in your opinion, is the worst kind of sleeper on a flight?


  • After 16+ years of international business travel in Economy class, I keep it simple.

    1. Try to grab a seat in a row where there is no one behind you (you can then recline freely).
    2. Pillow under your head and and eye mask on.
    3. Fold arms so you’re not constricting blood flow anywhere (and knock your shoes off)
    4. Blanket only if it’s too cold.
    5. iPod with Noise Canceling Earphones and Rainforest noise on a loop.

    Works a treat for me, much to the annoyance of my family when we have travelled together. I had dinner and went to sleep and they sat there astonished that I could sleep on the plane.

    BTW, my apologies to anyone sharing a plane with me, I do snore and I am told quite loudly….

  • I do trips from Oz>UK every couple of years in economy and generally I just assume sleep is going to be sporadic (or non-existent).
    The best sleep I’ve ever had was when I had 3 seats to myself. If I’ve only got the one seat (which is the norm) then the only was I can can get sleep is if I have a window seat and lean on the window.
    Sleeping tablets are an option but I’m reluctant to take those because in a emergency they’d do you no favours.

  • If possible choose a route that is not especially popular. My family flew from Qatar to Washington and the flight was perhaps 25% full in each direction, so we each got three seats each to lay down and sleep.

  • 1. Half turned on my side, hood of my hoodie pulled well over my face, pants belt loosened but seat belt done up and pillow mashed under and beside my head in hope of it not slipping down while I was asleep
    2. Accepting that I was going to wake up in an uncomfortable position, my pillow was going to fall and if I had to half wake to fix it, that was OK because at least I was getting *some* sleep
    3. No looking at my watch. It’s not like I was going to miss my stop

Log in to comment on this story!