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Updated 8/23/2017 – With my son and I on an upcoming red eye flight to Sweden, I thought I would revisit the topic of how to sleep on a red eye flight in economy

Ah the dreaded red eye flight. Even worse, the dreaded red eye flight in economy! I mean anyone can handle a red eye flight when you’re relaxing in your lie-flat seats, but when you’re stuck in the back of the bus (so to speak), it gets a little trickier!

I took a red eye flight last week on my way from ng-conf in Salt Lake City to the Family Travel for Real Life conference in Charlotte.  The US Airways flight left SLC at 12:30 a.m. and was scheduled to arrive in Charlotte at 6:15 a.m.  With the 2 hour time difference, it was a scheduled flight time of 3 hours, 45 minutes :-(.

I did a bit of research beforehand about ways to make the most of a red eye flight in economy (i.e. how to sleep), and that, coupled with my experience, can give you a bit of ideas on how to maximize your sleep time.

So, here are my 4 tips to help you survive an economy red eye flight.

1. Book the right seat for your red eye flight

It all starts with seat selection.  Now, what kind of seat options will depend on your airline, and the status you have (which is probably none, because if you had status, you’d be jonesing for an upgrade, right?), and of course if you’re willing to pay extra to pick seats (I’m not, because I’m a cheapskate!)

The good news is that for the most part you shouldn’t need to pay extra for the seat that you really want, as these seats are not very much in demand.

First, you need the window

We all have different preference for window seat vs. aisle seat (although I think I solved the window seat or aisle seat question once and for all recently!), but if you’re on a red eye flight and you’re trying to sleep, there is NO question in my mind that you need a window seat.

Second, you want the back

As far back as you can go (without going to the very last row, which often don’t recline).  The reason for this is that the further back you go on the plane, the less chance that the seats next to you will be taken.


The empty row view from seat 31F

That’s my view from seat 31F on my last flight – the holy grail of Economy – the empty row!  I’m too big to lay out across the seats, but I definitely enjoyed the extra legroom!

With my son and my flight to Sweden, we picked an aisle and window seat 2 rows from the back of the plane.  My rationale was that the middle seat in between of us would be one of the last seats picked and even if someone did pick it, just about anyone would swap their middle for an aisle seat.

2. Prepare yourself before your red eye flight

You know your body the best, but first of all, I’d be leery of taking a nap on the day of your red eye flight – you want to be tired and ready for sleep, though you should probably avoid being over-tired.

Some people advocate for Benadryl or other “night-time” medicine to knock yourself out.  Again, you know your body best – for my red eye flight I just took some melatonin.

3. Wear the right clothes

You want to make sure to wear loose clothing for a red eye flight, as well as something that will be warm and comfortable.

Also, I had good success with wearing a hoodie as well.  The idea there is that a hoodie will keep you warm (since often the airplane will be chilly) but it also gives you somewhere to put your hands.  What I did is wear the hoodie, and then wear my coat over top of that.  It was a little warm in the terminal, but then once I was on the plane, I took off my coat and used it as a pillow!

4. Bring the right accessories

The #1 accessory for a red eye flight has got to be a good set of ear plugs!  Since I didn’t have an eye mask, I just wore my sunglasses in an attempt to keep the lights out.  The cabin crew did dim the lights as soon as we got going, but having my sunglasses on meant a) I could get started resting even before they dimmed the lights, and then, even once the lights were dimmed, it was even darker.

I actually put my ear plugs in while I was still in the terminal waiting to board, but then people kept talking to me 🙂

Putting it all together, and here you have me!


Does that look like a man prepared for his red eye flight?  Or a creepy guy you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley?!? 😀

I actually slept REALLY well – pretty much the whole flight.  Only bad thing was that the airplane made good time, so it landed nearly 30 minutes early!  Normally, that wouldn’t be a problem, but in this case, that meant 30 fewer minutes of sleep.

The only travel tips you'll need to know to get some sleep on a red eye flight

Hope this helps you if you have an upcoming economy red eye flight!  Leave some other good suggestions below in the comments!

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