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Preparing For An Overnight Flight To Europe: Tips For Sleeping on a Plane

Updated: May 15

Yay! You have finally booked your first trip to Europe! Or maybe you’ve been on these flights before, but you just can’t seem to catch any sleep. This is a common concern: “Did I leave enough time at the beginning to recuperate from the flight?” Well, if you can get some sleep on the flight over, you won’t have to sacrifice time to catch up on sleep during your long-awaited vacation.

Remember when you could sleep anywhere?

As a Travel Advisor, I have flown from Denver to Europe multiple times.  That’s an 8-9 hour flight!  And I have found that if I prepare correctly, then I will sleep.  The first time we didn’t sleep.  We didn’t plan on it.  Even though we each had an entire row to ourselves (in 1999), we were just too excited to sleep. We were young and pushed through the day. (Except my husband dozed a bit on the canal boat through Amsterdam.)

One thing that you might not realize is that you typically don’t get to sleep the entire length of your flight. They serve dinner before you go to sleep, and ask you to close the window shades and turn off the lights. Then a couple of hours later they wake you up saying, “Good morning, it’s breakfast time!” This will help you get on the time of your destination, but you will wake up wondering, “Didn't I just go to sleep?!” But it is possible to get decent sleep. Recently, I slept 7 hours and didn't wake up until we were making our descent. If you really want or need to sleep, here are some tips for you.

Start Adjusting Your Sleep Schedule in Advance

One effective way to prepare your body for sleeping on the plane is by gradually adjusting your sleep schedule. About a week to five days before your flight, start going to bed and waking up earlier, aligning your sleep pattern closer to the time of your flight. If your flight is at 8 p.m., your aim is to make it feel like that  is past your usual bedtime and you are sooo tired when you get on the plane.

For example, if you typically go to bed at 10 p.m., start going to bed earlier each night, shifting your schedule by about 30 minutes earlier each day.

Here’s a suggested schedule to help you get on track:

  • Day 5 Before Departure: Go to bed at 9:30 p.m.

  • Day 4 Before Departure: Go to bed at 9:00 p.m.

  • Day 3 Before Departure: Go to bed at 8:30 p.m.

  • Day 2 Before Departure: Go to bed at 8:00 p.m.

  • Day 1 Before Departure: Go to bed at 7:30 p.m.

two timezones on a phone
two timezones on a phone

And you’re thinking, “But if I go to bed earlier, then I can’t get ready for my trip!” But you can because you’ll be getting up earlier.  If you typically get up at 6am, you will have shifted by 2.5 hours so you’d be getting up at 3:30am (which is not fun in the winter in Colorado but it is worth it). Just think about what time it is in Europe (and add a second timezone on your phone if possible). This not only helps you prepare for sleeping on the plane but also helps in combating jet lag when you arrive in Europe.

Pack Essential Items to Sleep on a Plane

A well-packed flight bag can make a significant difference in your ability to sleep during the flight. Make sure you have everything you need to create a favorable sleep environment. Essential items include an eye mask (a good one that is concave on the inside) to block out light, earplugs (like the fabulous Quies below) or noise-canceling headphones to minimize noise, a hoodie or scarf to keep you warm, extra socks to keep your feet cozy, and a travel pillow for neck support. These simple comforts can enhance your ability to relax and sleep during the flight.

Consider Sleep Aids

Warning: Do not sacrifice sleep for several nights before your trip because you need your immune system to be strong for traveling.

If you struggle with sleeping on planes, consider taking sleep aids to help you relax and fall asleep more easily. (And I would suggest that you start taking them at home so that this is not something new on the plane.)  Melatonin supplements are a popular choice for regulating sleep patterns and combating jet lag. Alternatively, over-the-counter medications like Benadryl or Dramamine can induce drowsiness and alleviate motion sickness, making it easier for you to doze off during the flight.

However, always consult with your doctor before taking any new medications, especially if you have underlying health conditions or are taking other medications.

Cute and comfortable neck pillow
Cute and comfortable neck pillow

Additional Tips for a Restful Flight

In addition to adjusting your sleep schedule and packing essential sleep aids, there are several other suggestions to consider for a more restful overnight flight.

  • Choose your seat wisely: Opt for a window seat if that works for you, as it provides a surface to lean against and offers better control over light exposure.  If you can afford it, you can purchase seats with more leg room or upgrade to premium economy or above.

  • Eat dinner before you get on the plane. Then when you get on the plane, put on your eyeshades and prepare to go to sleep asap. (Be sure your seatbelt is buckled outside your blanket or jacket so the flight attendant can see it and won’t wake you up!)

  • Avoid caffeine and alcohol: These can disrupt your sleep patterns and contribute to dehydration. Instead, opt for hydrating beverages like water or herbal tea to help stay hydrated.

  • Practice relaxation techniques: Deep breathing or gentle stretching exercises can ease tension and promote relaxation. There are even videos on the plane for “Seat Yoga”.

Tips for when you arrive at your wonderful destination:

  • When you get to Europe, don’t keep looking or thinking about what time it is at home.  You are in Europe.  Enjoy it!

  • Try not to take a nap the first day and aim to go to bed early and get a full nights sleep (in a bed!).  You will have the best night’s sleep and be ready to hit the ground running.

In conclusion, sleeping on an overnight flight from the USA to Europe can be challenging, but with proper preparation and mindful practices, you can enhance your comfort and increase your chances of getting quality rest. Start by adjusting your sleep schedule, pack essential sleep aids, consider using sleep medications if needed, and implement additional tips for a restful flight experience.

Bon voyage and sweet dreams!

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