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FAQ: How do I help my child to go to sleep on a plane?!

There is no magic solution to help get your child to sleep on a plane. Each age presents its own difficulties, every child is different and indeed every flight serves up its own variables! Surely I can’t be the only one who’s had a revolting flight with a child who refused to sleep a wink until we came in to land!  Or fall asleep on the airport floor following a 13 hour flight?!

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Here is my biggest tip for parents.. as soon as your kids fall asleep, you should attempt to sleep.. Don’t be tempted by that movie or book as you never know how long that window of sleep will last.

That said, there are a few tricks that you can use.  If you have more nuggets of wisdom, please do leave a comment and I will add them to this list. We are all in this together!

  1. Book a night flight.  Parents often debate whether a day flight is better than a night flight. In my opinion, I would rather chance a night flight and attempt to get a few hours sleep than cope with a longhaul day flight.  I’ve always found flights departing approx. 9/10pm are easier for us all to get to sleep on than either 5/6pm departures or midnight flights.
  2. Keep your kids tanked up on milk/healthy snacks.  For babies, keep feeding and feeding during take off. Not only will the sucking motion help their ears with the air pressure but this should make them more drowsy. For older kids, give them a big meal in the airport so that they don’t get on board and demand to stay awake until dinner (my 3yo in a nutshell). I also bring plenty of snacks to eat so they can start eating as soon as we get on board, again not having to wait for the meal service.
  3. The best slot for getting the kids to sleep is during take-off, especially if it’s dark outside.  Once you’re up in the air the cabin crew will turn the lights on and that could be game over.  I try not to let my kids get too hyper when we first get onboard and keep them in their seats in the hope that the sleep will visit.
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  4. Have the kids wear their pyjamas on board.  In fact, I quite fancy sporting my onesie on my next longhaul overnight flight!
  5. Pack their favourite pillow, blanket and cuddly toys in your hand luggage.  Let your kids get involved in the packing process of these cuddly items by selecting their favourite stuffed toys or even allowing them to pick a travel blanket/toy to buy.  You could even try bribery (reckon this only works aged 3+) and say ‘I’ll buy you this beautiful toy/blanket but you have to promise to try to fall asleep or I’ll take it away’… 

    TravelSnug are the best snuggly travel blankets/cushion on the market.  Designed to fit neatly with an airline seatbelt, the fleecy material curves around your child to support their arms, head and neck.  These are also good for those dreaded times when your flight’s delayed and you have to bed down at the airline gate!
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  6. Blackout! Regular readers will know I’m obsessed with travel blackout whether that’s blacking out hotel windows or trying to create darkness on a plane.  I always pack a black pashmina/scarf – for babies in a bassinet, you can drape it over to darken the area for them (pack clothes line clips to attach the scarf to a bassinet). For older kids, you can create a fun ‘tent’ to help them sleep although you might get told off by the cabin crew.  My 5 year old was also given a pair of kids eyeshades on Virgin once and she got quite excited about wearing them to sleep.
  7. Create a comfortable zone.  If you’re in business class on a flat bed then lucky you. If you’re in the cheap seats then there are a few things you can do.  If you don’t need a bassinet then make sure you aren’t traveling in a bassinet row as the armrests don’t normally lift up.  My kids like to lift the armrest and then lay their head on my lap.  Of course I’m uncomfortable but that’s not the point.  Also make sure you ask for extra pillows.
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    Another trick is to put a wheelie suitcase in the foot well so that they can lay with their legs stretched out.  Again, you might get told off by cabin crew if there’s turbulence but it’s quite a good way to create your own mini bed.  Finally you might want to do what my 2 year old does and lay on the floor.  Trust me, the cabin crew will really tell you off for this one as it’s not safe!  That said, it did work on numerous longhaul flights for us..
    You can also invest in an inflatable stool for the foot well.  We have one from Fly-Tot which is brilliant.  You can read a full review here but this works brilliantly for the 2-5 year age group.
  8. Neck pillows.  My kids have head and neck support pillows from BenBat (HKD $179).  Sometimes they use them on planes and sometimes they don’t. However, they are really useful when they fall asleep in cars so worth packing on your travels.
    IMG_3799 More importantly, let’s talk about adult neck pillows. If your kids are going to lay out and take up 50% of your seat then the best way for you to get comfy is with a neck pillow. I swear by my J-pillow which I now refuse to travel without when I’m flying longhaul.
  9. I don’t know how well this one actually works but when my kids were 2 and under, I used to dole out a bit of Piriton (an antihistamine given to me by my doctor with his blessing to use on a flight) and Calpol.  Whether it actually made them drowsier, is difficult to tell but always worth a shot, especially if your kids have the snuffles anyway. There are also homeopathic drops you can buy. Native Essentials do a really nice blend of essential oils called Baby Sleep.

7 comments

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  1. yulee

    been researching this topic for ages and this was the most (and first!) really informative piece! thank you!!!

    1. Nicola

      Thanks!

  2. Fiona

    Hmm, I had a 5 year old hallucinating after a dose of phenergan on a plane, will never ever do it again. And am now facing a 24 hour flight with a 4 and 6 year old – I am going to try something herbal. I don’t think you can get calpol in Australia which is a shame. I have managed to get a full nights sleep by having a child on the floor – but they have to be very easygoing crew! I am just hoping we get 4 seats to share for the three of us – then as last I can have half a seat to cling to whilst (if) they sleep!

  3. demi

    great share

  4. Marney

    Just stumbled across your website. LOVE it!

  5. Renata Ovidia

    You can post photo of how you use the pashmina to the blackout ?

  6. Willis Dawson

    Hey good article, liked it, keep it up, thanks

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