How to Sleep on the Plane to Japan

Being able to sleep on plane can make a big difference to your Japan trip. If you arrive feeling refreshed you’re more able to get off the ground running as soon as you land (important when there’s so much to do in Japan), it also makes long flights go quicker and prevents the absolute dread that comes with a night flight otherwise.

The problem is it’s not always so easy…

5 Reasons Why It’s Hard to Sleep on a Plane

  • You’re nervous/excited
  • You’re too upright
  • The lights flicker which wakes your brain up
  • Lower oxygen levels
  • Noise from the plane or other people

Trying to improve your ability to sleep on plane therefore involves tackling as many of the things above that bother you – and here are a few tips to help.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links which mean I earn a small commission if you use them to book. This does not cost you any extra. Japlanease is a member of the Amazon Associates program.

When Should You Sleep?

Ideally, you’re going to want to sleep as close as possible to the time you’d be asleep in Japan, as this helps you adapt a tiny bit quicker when you get there.

However, there’s another time when you might want to at least try and grab a short nap – right after take off.

An expert I once interviewed in my day job, told me that the G-force makes you feel heavier and because the air-conditioning isn’t running yet the cabin is often carbon dioxide heavy which makes you sleepy.

You’ll find some more tips on beating jetlag when you arrive in Japan in our jetlag fighting post.

How to Make Sleeping on a Plane Easier

Trying to sleep on a plane requires learning to combat which of these factors is the most problematic for you (for me it’s being upright – put me in business class and I’m out like a light, unfortunately, that happens about once every ten years!) and the following tips might help…

Book The Best Flight For Sleep

1. Choose Night Flights

It goes without saying that it’s going to be easier to fall asleep if you’re already tired – although, depending on the time difference from where you’re flying to and Japan this might not work so well for adapting to local time.

Because everyone else is tired night flights are normally generally pretty quieter than day ones which can also help you sleep better.

Because I do find it so hard to sleep on a plane, night flights are usually my idea of a nightmare – so, I tend to ignore my own advice and fly during the day!

2. Fly the Dreamliner

Okay, you might not get a choice, but if you do, the Dreamliner is reputedly one of the best planes to travel in for many reasons including softer cabin lights and higher levels of oxygen and humidity – all of which make it more comfortable to sleep – and help reduce the effect of jetlag. The A380 also scores highly.

3. Book The Right Seat

I normally pick an aisle seat so I can move around, so I was not pleased when I got stuck on a window seat on a night flight to Tokyo and couldn’t change it. Turned out to be my best night’s sleep in economy ever!

I found out I could tuck my feet up onto the seat and under the armrest by the window which let me curl up into the ball I normally sleep in.

Most airlines let you book your seat in advance so pick the right one – also remember it’s noisier by the toilets and some seats have equipment under them that can prevent you stretching out. Seatguru.com will alert you to such things.

4. Know Your Sleep Side

If you’re travelling alone or, in a couple but you’re the one that gets the middle seat, sleeping next to a stranger can make it harder to drop off.

One thing that can help is to think about what side you like to face when you sleep and try and book the side of the plane that lets you lie on that side without face planting into a stranger. It makes a surprising difference.

What to Pack in Your Carry On

Having a few things in your carry on can help with creating an environment where it’s easier to sleep

1. Go Pillow Shopping

The days when travel pillows came in one shape are gone – you can buy all sorts of shapes to suit your sleep style.

Kathmandu has a good selection – including their two-in-one pillow which converts from a U-shaped pillow to a flat one. They also do a hooded one which I really like the look of. Click here to check them out.

If you get woken up by head lolling have a look at the Trtl pillow which comes with neck support. You’ll find it here.

Or, simply wear your normal U-shaped pillow the wrong way round which also stops your head falling forward.

If you’ve ever fallen asleep on a massage table, you might want to check out the Cloudsleeper. You put it onto the tray table in front of you, lean forward and rest your head on the hole.

And then there’s the Ostrich. Aka the most ridiculous looking travel pillow ever, but I recently interviewed a sleep expert about this and he said he thinks it might actually be a good buy!

2. Get Something to Block Light and Noise

A basic eye mask and earplugs are all you really need here. If you fly a lot, you might want to invest in some Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones which are used by many of the frequent flyers I have spoken to.

I hate having my eyes covered so I bring a scarf and make myself a little tent over my head to block everything out. People probably look at me strangely, but I can’t see them so it doesn’t matter.

3. Download a White Noise App

A steady noise can further stop you being disturbed by others in the cabin or any noises of the plane. I use White Noise Lite by TM Soft.

I choose the brown noise setting but pink noise is particularly associated with better sleep.

If you find it hard to sleep in normal headphones, try Sleephones which are encased in a headband – or, look at Bose Sleepbuds which are small inner ear headphones specifically designed for sleeping. They link to their sleep app.

4. Bring a Scarf or Throw

Airline blankets are polyester which traps heat which can lead to a less restful sleep. Having something a bit more lightweight can prevent that.

I also find a scarf really helpful to create a hammock for my feet. I tie it round my knees and hook them in and find it helps me curl up more easily.

You can buy feet hammocks to use on the plane but many airlines don’t allow them so check before you splash out.

5. And Some Socks

People fall asleep faster if they are wearing socks – says science!

6. Don’t Try Sleeping Tablets

You’ve probably heard that altitude increases the strength of alcohol, well it does the same to sleeping tablets – and that can be dangerous in an emergency.

If you do want a little something to relax you try the natural sleep hormone melatonin or, products containing valerian (Note: This shouldn’t be used with other sedative medications or substances including alcohol, if you’re pregnant or have liver problems. Check for other contraindications here).

Or, I use a dab of Aromatherapy Associate’s Deep Relax Oil on the end of my nose. If it doesn’t send me to sleep it at least makes me chilled out enough not to care!

Also avoid any kind of sedative, even natural ones, if you have to drive after your flight.

If you’re thinking of using sleeping tablets to calm your nerves, try natural calmers like Rescue Remedy instead.

Once on Board

Okay, you’ve got the right seat, you’ve bought your sleep inducing goodies – now it’s time to nap…

1. Change Into Something Comfy

Even better if it’s something you’re used to sleeping in (assuming that’s airplane appropriate!) – that’ll tell your brain it’s time for bed.

In the same vein it’ll help to brush your teeth with your normal toothpaste and apply your normal moisturiser – the closer you can get to your normal sleep time ritual, the more you tell your brain it’s sleep time and the more likely that it’ll start to wind down.

2. Order the Vegetarian Meal

It’s like to be more carb heavy than the chicken or the beef and a plate of stodgy pasta with a bread roll will flood your body will calming serotonin that triggers sleepiness.

Keep the dessert in case all of these tips fail and you need a sugar shot before landing.

It goes without saying that you should skip the after dinner coffee.

3. Assume the Ideal Position

Generally, the flatter you are, the more likely the brain will let you fall into deeper sleep – the problem is that economy airline seats don’t always make that very easy.  

The best position is created by reclining your seat right back. Now extend your legs under the seat in front and lift your feet a little by resting them on pillows or a couple of spare blankets. Put a pillow or jumper under the small of your back for comfort and rest your head on the seat back or one pillow (any more increases the angle and prevents sleep).

Of course the seats in Premium Economy, Business Class or First Class make sleeping flatter easier so check sites like Skyscanner for deals before you book.

Some airlines, like Air New Zealand also let you book extra seats on some routes to create more sleep space even in economy. Look for Air New Zealand SkyCouch when booking.

The best position does differ from person to person though – because I’m short, I sleep best if I can also get my legs up on the seat and curl up, so just see what works best for you.

4. Keep Your Seatbelt Visible

It’ll stop the crew disturbing you if the seatbelt sign goes on.

If you also don’t want them to wake you for meals, tell them in advance.

So there you have our top tips for sleeping on your plane trip to Japan. Do you have any more tips that might help? Let us know in the comments section…

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