Rumpled and exhausted is no way to end a trip. No matter how tired you feel at the gate, falling asleep and staying asleep can feel impossible once you're buckled into your airplane seat, especially if you're booked into a small seat in coach instead of a cushy seat in first class. Still, medication is not your only option when you need to sleep on a plane.
Prep Your Body
Planning for a good flight's sleep starts hours before takeoff. Aim to board the plane feeling a little sleepy. Avoid caffeine for at least four hours before your flight, and stay away from spicy foods or those that give you gas. Exercise on the day of your flight if possible, but not within a few hours of boarding. Take care of any tasks that are nagging at you; you may have trouble falling asleep later if you're worried about a business call you need to make.
Dress for Bed
Gone are the days when people dressed up on planes, but that doesn't make pajamas acceptable travel clothing. Dress in street clothes that feel as comfortable as pajamas to help you relax in your seat. A woman can wear a long cotton skirt, while both men and women can wear soft pants with stretch in the waistband. Alternatively, slip into sweatpants just before boarding. Wear a soft T-shirt and a cozy cardigan or zip-front sweatshirt, which you can remove if you feel warm. Don slip-on shoes and fuzzy socks, and then slip out of your shoes when you're settled in your seat.
Set Up for Sleep
When you arrive at the airport, ask the desk agents to give you a window seat away from any lavatories, where you can lean your head against the window and won't be disrupted. At the gate, ask to be upgraded to business or first class. Eat a big snack and use the bathroom so you'll be comfortable on the plane. Before boarding, consolidate your carry-ons into one bag if possible. Place this bag in the overhead compartment so you'll have plenty of foot room.
Whether you're in curled up in a big first-class seat or crammed into coach, a plane's sights and sounds can be disruptive to sleep. Carry a neck pillow, blanket, eye mask and headphones to your seat. If you have a window seat, bring a second blanket or bulky sweatshirt to wedge between your shoulder and the wall. Load an MP3 player with soothing music, boring podcasts or white noise to listen to as you drift off. Only use sleep medication after consulting your doctor. Once you're cozy and have your mask and headphones on, concentrate on clearing your mind and taking slow, deep breaths.