10 Must-Know Tricks to Getting Sleep on an Overnight Flight

Got an overnight flight? YJ Influencer Heather Lilleston shares her personal strategies for staying well-rested despite frequent flying.

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If you are a fellow traveler, you will inevitably end up on a red-eye flight at some point—and likely worry about whether you’ll miss out on precious rest. I currently average around 50 flights per year, which means I am on a plane (often overnight) about once a week. Sleep is one of the most important factors in whether we are able to meet whatever is on our daily plate with clarity and enthusiasm.

Traveling that much doesn’t always leave a lot of recovery time once I land before I have to be present and awake for what I came to do (typically welcoming a group of people to a foreign land to make them feel comfortable and settled and then teach them yoga for a week). So I’ve had to pick up some tips along the way to make sleeping at 30,000 feet manageable. Take my advice below to plan on landing in your destination well rested.

See also 4-Step Bedtime Restorative Practice for Better Sleep

1. Window seat, always.


If it’s in your budget to fly business or first class with a completely reclining seat, that is of course most preferable for sleep. But for budget travel, always book a window seat, so you can lean your head against the side of the airplane to sleep and won’t be bumped by the beverage cart or your seatmates getting up to use the restroom.

See also 5 Myths About Traveling Yoga Teachers

2. Decide ahead of time that you WILL have a good flight.


It’s important not to psych yourself out about not being able to sleep on a red-eye. If you tell yourself that something is going to be bad before it even happens, this just sets the tone for a terrible situation. Be prepared with the below, and decide you are going to sleep and get off the plane feeling rested and ready for your next adventure. You just may surprise yourself.

See also Transform Negative Thoughts with Meditation


3. Pack your homeopathic sleep aid.


I never leave home without Hyland’s Calms Forté, a gentle homeopathic sleep aid and anxiety soother. (You could also try melatonin or valerian.) It is non-habit-forming and never leaves me feeling groggy or dehydrated. Place two under your tongue about 20 minutes before you want to fall asleep, add the below ingredients, and unless you are dealing with major insomnia, you should enjoy a good old-fashioned snooze.

See also 
9 Keys to Getting the Sleep You Need

4. Use your aromatherapy.


Someone once told me to rub lavender oil on my feet to help me sleep at night. I have never forgotten this and it has always worked in some respect. I always bring a small bottle of lavender oil with me. I put a dot on my temples, sometimes on the crown of my head and then, even if the person next to me thinks I am weird, I will rub a little on my feet, then slip into some cozy socks. Lavender is super safe to pull out on a plane because it is the one plant that almost no one in the world is allergic to.

See also Scents that Heal: Aromatherapy for What Ails You


5. Shut down the senses.


I am a big believer in closing down the senses on an airplane. You never know when someone nearby will open a window, a baby will scream, or the cabin lights come on. When you can’t control your own environment, use an eye mask, ear plugs, cozy socks, and a beanie or hooded sweatshirt to block out anything that could interrupt good sleep.

See also 
Silence the Noise: 3 Ways to Build More Quiet Into Your Daily Life

6. Travel with a single-use heating pad.


One of the things I love to travel with is a single-use heating pad. You can use it on your low back or neck area and it will not only keep you warm (sometimes planes can be so cold and the blankets they pass around are small and thin) but it will relax your muscles to help you sleep. Plus, it is small enough that no one can see it and it’s to toss in your carry-on.

See also The Ultimate Health Maintenance Kit for All Your Travel Needs

7. Outsmart insomnia with brain-wave therapy.


If you are really having a hard time falling asleep, try playing Kelly Howell’s Sound Sleep Music & Brain Wave Therapy through your headphones. I usually just put it on repeat and let its magic sounds inject themselves into my brain till it drifts into deep sleep. This is especially helpful if you have a lot on your mind.

See also 5 Yoga Poses for Insomnia


8. Bolster your body’s defenses.


Chlorella Manna tablets are my newest carry-on addition. I discovered them in a health food store, knew nothing about them but simply looked at the bottle and heard YES. I bought them, then researched. If you are someone constantly going through radiation in security and being enclosed in recirculated plane air for hours, you want to support your immune system so it can can flush out anything you absorb. Chlorella Manna removes heavy metals, radiation, builds immunity, and has tons of chlorophyll to fill you with nutrients equivalent to eating tons of leafy greens and vegetables, which can sometimes be hard to find on the road. When you feel good in your body, sleep is much easier to fall into and you need less.

See also Immune-Boosting Foods

9. Practice your pranayama.


If you can keep it up, try breathing 4-count inhalations and 6–8-count exhalations to quiet the mind and get the nervous system to chill. Long exhalations turn down a busy mind, but make sure it’s comfortable for you. Use a ratio that happens smoothly on your own breath.

See also Beginner’s Guide to Pranayama


10. When in doubt, move your body.


From your seat you can press the tops of your thighs down to lengthen your waist and ease the psoas muscle into relaxing instead of gripping. This is also good for your digestive system. You can roll out your ankles and wrists, stretch your arms overhead with fingers interlaced, do mini sidebends with arms overhead, and twist holding onto your armrests and the tray table. Getting up and walking up and down the aisles is never a bad idea if you can’t sleep. You can exhaust yourself faster in higher elevations. 

See also 
Poses for Traveling

Want to go on a Yoga for Bad People retreat with Heather, or practice with her in person? Visit to sign up for upcoming events in 2018!