Navigating your way through clueless tourists, grabby TSA guards, and disinterested ticket counter clerks is only half the battle. Once you make it to your seat, you've still got an entire flight to endure. Your best airplane strategy is almost always to sleep through the entire ordeal, but how does one sleep effectively while fully clothed, sitting up, in the middle seat? It's surprisingly easy with a bit of planning.
Your Plan of Attack
Wherever it is you're flying to, no matter how long or short the flight, do everything in your power to make it a non-stop flight. Nothing ruins your nap like having to disembark the plane. Also, schedule your flight for later in the evening so that you aren't trying to achieve REM sleep at three in the afternoon, though you'll want to balance that against the number of time zones you're crossing so as to minimize the disturbance to your internal clock. Choosing unpopular flight times, say Tuesday evenings, also ups your chances of getting lucky and being seated in an otherwise uninhabited row—it's an instant day bed.
Where you sleep on the plane is just as important as the timing of your flight. If you've got the miles saved up and can afford to splurge for a long-haul flight, of course you should opt for the business-class lie flat seats that Emirates and Cathay Pacific offer. But since the FAA probably has rules against stretching out in the galley, you're best bet is to grab a spot in an emergency exit row, specifically the window seat if you can, where you won't be disturbed by your row neighbors and can stretch your legs out as far as you want. Overall, the closer to the front of the plane you sit, the quieter your flight generally will be. Conversely anything within five rows of the galley or bathrooms is sure to receive near-constant foot traffic.
Rock the Pajamas
Let's get one thing straight; we aren't flying for the benefit of those around us. If that were the case, infants would never be allowed on a plane. No, we fly because the thought of spending days on a Greyhound bus next to a dude who you're pretty sure is an axe murderer just to get halfway across the country is a non-starter. So screw what the folks in first class think. if you're going to spend the next 15 hours on a plane, you'd damn well better be comfortable for the duration of it.
As such, don't forget to bring a pair of comfy pajama bottoms (or an entire adult onesie if that's how you roll), as well as some comfortable, wooly socks, with your carry-on. Once the plane has hit cruising altitude, hit the lavatory to brush your teeth, wash your face, and slip into something... a little more comfortable.
Also, whether you roll the dice and use an airline blanket or bring your own, be sure to buckle your seatbelt over the blanket. This way, the flight attendant won't keep waking you to ensure you're safely restrained in the event of turbulence. And even if you do bring your own, grab an airline blanket regardless. You can roll it up into a handy lumbar support.
Even if you get screwed in your seat selection and wind up between a pair of portly gentlemen that smell of cabbage and carry-on burritos, respectively, you can still catch a full night's rest. You just need the right tools.
Light is the enemy of every sleeping airline passenger—even the low cabin lights employed on overnight flights can be enough to rouse you from a slumber. If you travel often or have significant problems falling asleep unless its pitch black out, invest in a sleep mask to fully block out the light. If that isn't an issue, then simply pack along a baseball cap and pull the bill down low over your eyes and face. Not only does it block out the light but provides at least a small measure of privacy. Combined with ear plugs or noise-canceling headphones, this method is can easily drown out the drone of those around you.
The next issue you'll have to deal with when sitting in the middle seat is your inability to rest your head against something solid. So rather than duck-neck your way through the entire flight [duck-necking: when you snap awake after falling asleep sitting up because your neck went limp and your head jerked forward, like the ducks in Chinese restaurant windows], but a horseshoe (aka doughnut) travel pillow. But put it on backwards. By placing the gap around the back of your neck, rather than the front, you can rest your chin comfortably on the pillow and catch some sleep without waking up on your neighbor's shoulder. And to minimize the cabbage-burrito smell, give your pillow a few spritzes of essential lavender oil.
If none of those methods work and you just absolutely have to get to sleep right now, there are a number of over-the-counter and prescription sleep aids to try. Just don't ever mix them with alcohol—not only is that medically dangerous, combining alcohol and the dry cabin air is a surefire mix to leave you dehydrated and hung over, which will make waking up at your destination even harder.
You'll also do well to set a quiet alarm for 30-45 minutes before you're scheduled to land. That should give you sufficient time to get yourself and possessions together, hit the head, change back into your business clothes, and get back to your seat before the rest of the passengers are even awake. Then its just a matter of fighting your way through the traveling hordes to baggage claim. [Neatorama - Independent Traveller - Entrepreneur - Real Simple - Men's Journal]