Don’t miss out on good rest while traveling: use these tips for how to sleep better on a plane, train or car. 

how to sleep better - plane, train or car

I have struggled to sleep on a plane, car or train for many years. I understand how it goes; maybe you try some medicine or supplement that promises soothing sleep, yet you’re just wondering when that child will stop crying, or your neighbor will turn off the overhead light. For me, it is not just the commotion happening around me. I twist and turn, pull down the airplane tray, or draw up my knees, desperate to find a comfortable position. The inflatable neck pillow is nothing like my bed’s real pillow, and my foot has been asleep for an hour. Read on for how to sleep better when traveling. 

I’ve traveled many times across the ocean, heading to other countries, or across the United States. Finally, I’ve gathered enough tricks to be able to fall asleep on these flights. And boy, does it make a difference. That red-eye flight means that sleep is crucial. Sleeping for twenty minutes here and there doesn’t quite cut it. Here’s how to sleep better when traveling, so you don’t lose out on the chance to refuel before you arrive at your destination.

Exercise Before the Plane Ride

how to sleep better - Exercise Before the Plane Ride

For long plane rides out of the country, it is likely you’ll be flying at night. That means you will really have to maximize that travel time for sleep. The good news, though, is that you will have your whole day free to tire yourself out! I personally don’t do well on long plane rides, but after so many years of traveling, I’ve learned to prefer nighttime plane rides. I tend to sleep the best when I have exercised during the day, before arriving at the airport.

Take a break from your packing and head to the gym, with a goal of getting a good workout in. If you really don’t have the time for that, even a walk would help your body be more ready to sleep on that plane ride. Much like a dog or child before a long car trip, exercising is an effective way to ensure a nap happens later. Additionally, it will be extra motivation to head to the gym, knowing that it is one of the tips on how to sleep better when traveling. I most definitely can tell the difference when my body has worked hard and is ready to snooze as soon as I’m seated on the plane. 

Give Yourself Total Darkness With a Sleep Mask

how to sleep better - Sleep Mask

It simply makes sense that you’d want to mimic the environment that your body best sleeps in. Total darkness is ideal for the best amount of sleep since that’s the most natural. Now, achieving that ideal sleep space can be difficult when it seems you’re out of control. That’s where a great sleep mask comes in. I know, I have always been hesitant. Sleep masks to me have always offered more of a hindrance-a clumsy object on my face- rather than a help. Additionally, it seems that my prior experience with sleep masks means that annoying light finds a way to still seep in, deeming the sleep mask useless. However, it does not have to be that way! The right sleep mask is key.

To begin, there are a few components of the sleep mask that are key. The shape of the eye “cave” is significant. You will not want your eyelashes to smash against the inner layer. Alternatively, you won’t want an eye mask to rest so far away from your eyes that it lets in light. Secondly, the material of the eye mask is significant. I personally do not prefer silk, so there are some great cotton options that I find really comfortable. Third, the strap which wraps around the back of the head makes a difference for me. Some are Velcro (not ideal since it tends to get caught and tangle hair), or feature an elastic band. I prefer the elastic band that adjusts, too, rather than one that claims to be “one size fits all.” Finding just the right sleep mask is an important step for how to sleep better when traveling.

Listen to Sounds That Are Soothing to You

how to sleep better - Listen to Sounds

Attempting to totally block out noise while traveling can be incredibly difficult. For true noise-canceling headphones, you’ll likely pay a high price. Additionally, some noise is just virtually impossible to block out. Rather than demand a totally noiseless environment, you can distract your mind with sounds that are soothing to you. Plus, when you focus on the soothing sounds, rather than the noise around you, you’re less likely to awaken during distracting outbursts. There are many free white noise apps available. My personal favorite app is White Noise Lite because there is a large assortment of sound types. You can choose various rain sounds or other nature-related noises, or perhaps you’re accustomed to the noises of fans, vacuums, washing machines or passing cars. Even better, it is free and you can set a timer for your desired length. 

We like the Bose Soundlink Around Ear Wireless Headphones II for this purpose. Though not entirely noise-blocking headphones, they are not incredibly expensive. If you listen to some white noise through them, you’ll likely be able to sleep! The ear pads are comfortable enough for me to forget that I’m wearing them while I sleep. You can find more information about the Bose Soundlink Around Ear Wireless Headphones II here. Additionally, the fact that they are wireless means you won’t become tangled in the cords or need to keep your phone on your lap. Regardless of what device and headphones you use to listen to your white noise, this app (or a similar one) can help you fall asleep when traveling.

Train Yourself to Sleep on a Plane, Car or Train Seat

Train Yourself to Sleep on a Plane

Finding a comfortable position was the biggest problem for me when trying to fall asleep on a plane. I am typically a stomach-sleeper, and there’s just no way to mimic that on a plane, train or car. Therefore, I had to grow accustomed to sleeping upright or even slightly reclined on my back. I decided to “train myself” to sleep on my back before one of my long plane rides. I did not make this training so extreme that I slept in a chair each night, but I did want to become comfortable sleeping on my back. For me, this meant starting each night on my back and increasing the amount of time until I would allow myself to turn over. Then, I found that I would be able to fall asleep on my back. This proved to be really helpful for sleeping on a plane. Sleeping upright or slightly reclined was closer to the position I was used to. As a result, I was able to get comfortable, and then start to doze off. 

Consider Some Sleep Supplements

Sleep Supplements

To help your body transition into a time of sleep, consider some over the counter supplements or medications to aid. I used to get motion sickness when I was younger and grew accustomed to taking medicines for it. Those had side effects of drowsiness, which was quite helpful in itself. I would be able to fall asleep on the plane, car or train, and not feel motion sickness. If the motion or equilibrium in your inner ear contributes to your struggles to fall asleep while traveling, consider taking some motion sickness medicine. Additionally, there are natural supplements available to help your body drift off to sleep while traveling. Considering supplements is a practical step for how to sleep better when traveling. 

Maintain a Routine as Much as Possible

how to sleep better - Maintain a Routine

Our bodies perform best with routine. Therefore, it is helpful to try to maintain that sleep routine even when traveling. Of course, that can be difficult with flight layovers, uncomfortable sleeping positions, and travel times. However, your strategy should be to keep your routine, including the nights leading up to the trip. That may mean planning a bit ahead of time, to slowly adjust your sleep during the week to accommodate the hours you will be sleeping during travel. I would suggest not taking the strategy of staying up really late with the hopes that you’ll be tired enough to sleep on your flight. I’ve found that I end up more tired, and stressed from not reaching my sleep expectations.

Rest Up With These Tips For How To Sleep Better When Traveling

Sleep Better When Traveling

Sleeping when traveling is so important, yet seemingly so hard to catch! These steps for how to sleep better when traveling should give you a better head start on that red-eye or long car ride. With the help of some good headphones, a sleep mask, and a good white noise app, you will have some tools to catch some better sleep while traveling. Your travel adventures don’t have to be miserable due to sleep troubles. Catch some good rest on the car or plane rides and set yourself up well for your days of sightseeing!

Related Article: ​Best Sleep Masks for Travelers: Fall Asleep Faster with These Top 19 Eye Masks​​​