Unless you're in an air suite, commercial planes just aren't designed for sleeping--the seats are getting smaller and potentially torturous. Still, there are times when it's crucial that you arrive at your destination rested and ready to get to work. Here's how to set yourself up to get the best sleep possible in the less-than-ideal environment of a plane seat.
Skip alcohol and coffee
If you do a big upgrade for an important trip, you'll want to skip a big amenity: alcohol. For the uninitiated, first class, business class and, to a lesser extent, premium classes are like an open bar. Making full use of this perk, however, can make it difficult to sleep properly, even after you get off the plane.
Like coffee, alcohol messes with your circadian rhythm, your body's internal clock. Sure, you may get to sleep, but you likely won't stay asleep or achieve the deep, restful sleep necessary to function at your best. Add jet lag and you're setting yourself up for insomnia.
Avoid the very front and very back of the plane
Folks pay a premium to sit in, well, premium economy up front. The extra seat space is a benefit. The challenge? You are right by the commotion: loud dining service in first class, a constant flow of people in and out of the nearby restrooms, and lots of movement from the pilot area. The very back and the middle area in larger planes are regrettable too, also because of the bathrooms and sometimes additional service areas.
Strategically, it may make more sense to sit in the front center or back center of the plane than going for the very back or the very front.
Determine how you lean
It took me years to realize something obvious: I sleep better leaning to the right against the window seat. To paraphrase a Travel + Leisure expert, everyone has a natural style--kind of how people prefer sitting on a particular side and location in the movie theater. If you aren't sure about your preference, log into the airline websites and check your seats on recent flights. I'm betting you'll find a pattern.
The beauty is you can set yourself up for success before you even get on the plane: Pick your best seat when you buy the ticket. Even basic economy, the bargain-basement option that gives you a seat 24 hours before your flight, allows you to adjust your seat after it gets selected.
Invest in a neck pillow
As a minimalist, I resisted extra cargo for years. I finally broke down and got a neck pillow before an international flight. It made sleep much easier and saved my shoulders, neck, and even head from aches. It is worth carrying it through an airport.
My personal favorite makes a thick U-shape, cradling my neck and ear as I lean onto the window seat wall. Others provide a "cone of silence" so you can put your head down on the table. Think about your own sleeping habits and research accordingly.