The illustrated encyclopedia of sleeping positions on a plane

When flying in economy, it’s no small feat to fall asleep, yet many travelers try their best anyway. We nestle into the small, unforgiving confines of our chair, despite the fact that the seat is surrounded by sneezing, coughing, talking strangers. The only thing more disruptive than those strangers may be the deafening plane noises and overhead lighting, seemingly designed to combat any attempt at slumber.

But we travelers make do, because desperate times call for desperate measures. We adapt to the conditions, get creative, and come up with ways to get some shut-eye. Whether you’re a frequent flier or rarely find yourself airborne, you can twist and turn enough to figure out a resting position that works for you— if only for a brief interlude.

There’s no best way to sleep on a plane. There’s no right way, either. There are, however, many ways. We asked travelers to share their preferred in-flight sleeping positions to find out exactly how it can be done. These contortions have been carried out by actual travelers ⁠— seriously.

UPDATE: We’ve added six of the best reader-submitted sleeping positions to the list after you all commented, emailed and tweeted poses you’ve witnessed — or attempted.

The 50/50

Fold your body in half, leaning all the way over with your head in your lap (seat belt still buckled).

READER SUBMITTED:

The Beltanschauung, by Twitter user @patbits

Remove your belt and use it to secure your head to the headrest.

The Bobblehead

You’ve managed, somehow, to start sleeping while sitting straight up in an economy seat. Reality comes crashing back into focus as your head free-falls forward. With the unhinged head-bob, your slumber is over.

The Bottom Dweller

The Bottom Dweller is available to travelers who are great at negotiating or are flying with a trusted companion. Persuade your neighbor to let you sleep below your seats, perhaps leveraging the perk that they will get the row to themselves as a result. Should they accept this scheme, lay your complimentary blanket on the floor and drift off, ignoring foot odors wafting from the darkness.

The Face-Plant

Step one: Descend into the footwell onto your knees, facing your seat. Step two: Cross your arms over the seat cushion and rest your head on your hands. Step three: Try not to think about the cleanliness of the carpet below you.

The Flipped Script

For those with short and flexible legs, turn around in your seat to face your own headrest. Cross legs and lean forward against your seat.

The Human Triangle

Rest your head on the back of the seat that’s in front of you and place your hands on your knees or chair. For advanced practitioners, substitute seat back with own knees by pulling one or both feet onto your seat.

The Hoarder

Pile enough things in your lap or on top of the tray table to create a platform for your head to rest upon.

The In-Flight Meal

Splay your head and upper body on the open tray table until every tendon in your body snaps in two. Wake up with both arms deep asleep. Protect against the plague that is likely to be incubating in your tray table by using your outerwear (e.g., sweater) as a pillow.

READER SUBMITTED:

The Manifest Destiny, by commenter Ellie59

If the middle seat between the aisle and window is open, establish row dominance by taking over the unoccupied zone. Raise the armrest between the free seat and yours, then stretch out over them.

The Mouth-Agape Mummy

Recline with arms crossed, head back and mouth open like a dead person.

The Peeping Tom

Turn directly to the passenger next to you and sleep face-to-face.

The Potty Break

Slip into the lavatory and sleep on the closed toilet seat. Awaken when the flight attendant whales on the door with open palms, demanding you open up since you’ve been in there for 45 minutes.

The Power Stance

Reserved for middle-seat passengers seeking revenge: Wedge both feet in between the seats in front of you.

READER SUBMITTED:

The Restraining Order, by commenter JiminSt.Pete

Place your wrists in your lap and tighten the seat belt snugly over them. Relax your shoulders and arms without worry of being bumped by fellow passengers or the aisle cart.

The Risky Business

Available to aisle-seat passengers only: Temporarily alleviate pain in your cramped leg by stretching your aisle-facing leg into said aisle. Experience new pain when an attendant rams the service cart into your knee. Experience emotional pain when you inadvertently trip a passenger who couldn’t see your rogue leg in the dark cabin.

The Roadkill

Available to children coming down from a crying fit: Stretch out into the aisle and sleep fully supine. Ignore other passengers stepping over you.

READER SUBMITTED:

The Sleeping Giant, by commenter Gumborue

For the tall travelers out there, stretch the back of your head up and over the top of the headrest. Awkwardly cross your legs in an effort to use every inch of economy’s limited legroom.

READER SUBMITTED:

The Soldiers, by commenter Lina B.

This position requires enlisting the help of an in-flight friend. Turn back-to-back and lean against each other to fall asleep with support.

The Thinker

Rest your head on your hand until your finger and wrist bones feel like they’re breaking, forcing you to wake up in agony.

READER SUBMITTED:

The Total Package, by Doug Houseman

Outfit your seat like you would your bed at home by bringing a blanket and full-size pillow on the flight.

The View Finder

Available to window-seat passengers only: Lean your head against the window, despite it being slightly too far away for a comfortable lean. Pros: partial side-of-head support. Cons: possibility of drooling down window.

The Worm

Within your seat, rotate onto one side, then bend your knees and hunch your body, creating a squiggle shape.

The WTF

Sit upright, without the support of any travel gear, and sleep peacefully like a truly unstable person.

Credits

Editing by Dayana Sarkisova. Illustrations by Anthony Calvert for The Washington Post. Design editing by Rachel Orr. Art direction by Kat Rudell-Brooks. Design and development by Christine Ashack.

Natalie B. Compton

Natalie Compton is a staff writer for the Washington Post's new travel destination, By The Way.

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Originally published Jan. 15, 2020.