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Getting good sleep on a plane can be difficult, especially if you’re in the aisle seat. Unlike the window seat, there’s nowhere to comfortably lean your head. You always have to get up for your neighbors and even worse, sometimes get bumped by the passing food cart.
So how do you sleep in the aisle seat on a plane? Recline your chair back to straighten out as much as possible. Be considerate of those behind you. If the chair doesn’t recline, use a neck pillow for support and lean away from the aisle to avoid carts. Curl up to allow others get around you.
Why Choose the Aisle Seat?
People choose the aisle seat simply because of the freedom it offers. It allows you to get up and stretch your legs or go to the bathroom anytime without disturbing anyone. No more awkward fumbling over angry passengers to get to the aisle. On long haul flights, it can be a relief to get up and take a stroll or see how your friend is doing three rows back. The aisle seat is an ideal spot if you want that extra bit of space to stretch the legs out. Just watch out for passing carts and people walking by. Furthermore, no need to worry about requests to open and close the shades.
In case of an emergency, should the plane need a quick evacuation, you’ll be up and prepared that much quicker, being closer to your overhead luggage.
Some travelers opt for the window seat because they can lean against the wall or get a great view of the landing. This however, is about as good as it gets, making the aisle seat a much more popular choice.
But, as good as the aisle seat sounds, night eventually approaches. The shades close and lights start to dim. Everyone gets into their sleeping positions. You glance over at the person in the window seat, leaning comfortably against the wall.
How to Sleep in the Aisle Seat on a Plane
You unfortunately, don’t have that luxury. But with a few, simple tips on how to position yourself, the aisle seat can be just as comfortable.
1. Position Yourself
Try to mimic how you sleep on a bed. Choose a side of the plane based on how you would normally lean or position yourself to avoid leaning into the aisle. For example, if you normally sleep on your left side, choose an aisle seat on the left side of the plane. This would prevent you from falling into it or getting bumped by passing carts.
Politely recline your seat to a comfortable position without startling the person behind you. Angle yourself back to at least 135 degrees. The flatter your back is, the easier it will be to relax the body and avoid stress on the joints. If it’s a long flight, especially overnight, don’t feel guilty about reclining. The person behind you may also be reclining their seat. Just take a quick glance to make sure they’re not in the middle of a meal or have a baby on their lap. You could also even ask if they don’t mind – if you really want to be polite.
It is possible to sleep upright – we’re just not used to it. It may take some shifting around but you will want to find the most comfortable angle for your body, which may be different for everyone. Try placing a pillow under your knees to prevent moving around and take pressure of the legs. Make sure you recline slightly and stretch your legs out into the aisle if possible. Avoid sleeping pills that can knock you out for longer than 2 hours. After a couple hours of sleep, you will want to get up and stretch the body to avoid sore legs or further health problems.
2. Stretch your Legs Out
Stretching your legs out into the aisle is a great way to relieve any aches and pains. Make sure to check for anyone passing by before doing so. If you want to have them stretched out while sleeping, only do so during designated sleep times, which are usually during overnight flights.
On long-haul flights, deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a concern. DVT can develop when you don’t move for a very long time, such as being stuck in a plane seat where you can’t stretch out your legs. When this happens, a blood clot can form and cause pain, swelling or cramping in one or both of the legs.
To avoid this, take advantage of the aisle space. Thankfully, on long-haul flights, there’s a general consensus on when everyone gets some shut-eye. This is a time when there’s no passing carts and only the odd person will stroll down the aisle to the bathroom. This is when you want to fully stretch out into the aisle space, optimizing your comfort and drifting into a blissful sleep.
3. Bring Sleeping Supplies
Sleeping in an aisle seat can be a challenge since there are more distractions. The constant aisle traffic, noise from announcements, and food being passed over you is enough to keep you awake. When you do get a chance to sleep, make it count by bringing some of these items:
- Blanket – Some flights might be cool, especially if those around you have their fans on. Get as comfortable as possible with a blanket, even if that means standing up to wrap it around you. Make sure the seat belt is over it and visible to avoid getting woken up by the attendant. In the aisle seat, a blanket is especially helpful for padding in case your shoulder or knee gets brushed by other passengers.
- Eye-mask – Eye masks are key to a good rest simply because the darkness tells your brain that it’s time to sleep. In an aisle seat, its easier to get distracted when people are stepping over you or food is being passed to your neighbors. With an eye-mask, you’re unaware of these distractions, thus able to get to sleep quicker.
- Noise-cancelling headphones – Block out loud conversations, crying babies, and annoying announcements. Whatever it may be, the Bose QuietComfort 20 Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones (view on Amazon) are essential for a quiet rest. You may also want to listen to soft sounds such as waves or white noise to help drown out other external noise.
- Comfortable clothing – It’s not easy to sleep in a pair of jeans and a dress shirt. Wear soft or loose clothing that will help you relax. This may include a favorite hoodie, sweat pants, or thick socks – anything that gives you that extra bit of comfort.
- Books/Magazines – Limit the amount of screen glare since they cause strain on the eyes, making it tougher to get some sleep. Instead, settle down with a nice book or favorite magazine.
- Water – Have a bottle of water on hand to stay hydrated. Avoid alcohol which affects your sleep pattern and leaves you feeling groggy.
4. Use a Proper Pillow
It’s a good idea to bring a proper travel pillow to help the body maintain a relaxed position and prevent any soreness. These type of pillows are designed to support the back and neck as the body drifts into a natural, sleeping position. In an aisle seat without any neck support, your head will eventually drop to the side and flop around, creating stress on the body. If you are a side sleeper, you may get the urge to curl your body up and rest the side of your face on the dirty seat. For this reason, a pillow is a good idea to not only keep the head in a neutral state, but your face off any dirty parts of the plane including the seat and table tray.
Travel pillows can normally be found in an airport shop for $20 – $30. More ergonomic options are priced higher, but definitely worth it for a comfortable sleep. Go for one that is hypoallergenic and anti-bacterial, and also washable since it will probably be covered in drool after the flight.
Since travel pillows come in all shapes and sizes, carefully decide which one works best for you. There are the classic, u-shaped pillows that wrap around the neck and then some new, innovative choices for finding that comfortable position. For aisle sleeping, you may want to rest your head forward onto the tray. In that case, go for a pillow that allows you to rest your face on an ergonomic pillow with front support. For side sleepers, go for a u-shaped that not keeps the head in a natural, centered position, but also provides lumbar support.