Sleep aid for international flight?

First flight from US to Europe and thinking about mitigating the travel pains with a pill to help me sleep...anyone ever done this? If so, do you just ask your dr to prescribe something? Problems with being groggy after? Sorry for the dumb questions...I'm a first-timer.

I'm taking a night flight from US to Venice, 2 stops...the middle flight is over 8 hours. On the way home I'm looking at a 10 hour flight.

Posted by lisaew
Albany, NY
181 posts

I have found that I do better if I focus on what to avoid that might affect relaxation and sleep. For example, any stimulant, extreme saltiness or sweetness, spicy food, etc. If something makes my stomach upset, that can make the trip seem worse. Bland and unfatty carbs might be a good choice. Potatoes and bananas are like natural relaxant-type foods. Chamomile tea may help as long as you can have it with meds.

I always enjoy a festive beverage either at the airport or on the plane but if I have too much I regret it later. Alcohol can wake you up a few hours after relaxing you and it can be an unpleasant awakening...not to mention dehydrating. Speaking of which...that aspect is always hard for me to balance. I want to drink water to stay hydrated but do not want to have to keep getting up to go to the bathroom.

Enjoy your trip :-)

Posted by Angela
Vancouver, Wa, USA
591 posts

I have thought of doing this, but never have. You shouldn't try anything you've never taken before on the plane, in case you do have any side effects. Definitely try it out before your trip so you know how you react.

I tend to have difficulty sleeping when I am excited, and always in a new place or bed... So what I do is take Tylenol pm at nighttime for the first couple nights until I get used to the time change. It helps with the achy feet and legs from walking everywhere as well.

I'll never forget my first trip to Europe in England, and not able to sleep at all on the plane or during the first 2 nights when I was in Bath! It would have been a nightmare, except that Bath was so lovely.

Posted by Katherine
Atlanta, GA, USA
207 posts

I take melatonin gummies here in the states, they help me "get sleepy", instead of knock me out for 8 hours, a la Tylenol PM......I usually take the gummies when I need sleep but I don't have much time to do so, helping me to get to sleep quicker (usually when I am working a PM shift at work and then have to wake up at 5 for the AM shift)......they haven't shown to have any negative side effects for me on the waking up side, leading me to believe that having them with me for my flight over might be beneficial....

but definitely find what works for you before you go....

Posted by Bob
Gettysburg, PA
1515 posts

This guy:

Conquering Jet Lag
By Rick Steves

has a lengthy post on this board that addresses a number of possibilities for you. Have a great first trip to Europe!

Posted by Zoe
Toledo, Ohio, US
7354 posts

Absolutely do not try taking something on the plane that you've never done before. Try it a couple of times before you go, well ahead (a week) of your departure. That will give you time to fine-tune or try something else if you don't like the effects.

Posted by Dave
Ventura, CA, USA
1459 posts

We tend towards natural remedies like Valerian or Chamomile. I totally agree with Zoe that using something for the first time is not a good idea. A reaction, or to discover that it's effects last 12 hours on you instead of the normal 6, would be a bummer. In the weeks before your trip, be extra aware your diet, and get lots of exercise-not a bad idea to prepare well for all that walking. Get some eye covers and ear plugs, pick your seat well, and just relax. Jet lag will happen, but the adrenaline rush of waking up in Venice has to be considered too. Have a great trip.

Posted by dfaye76
Portland, Oregon
56 posts

Ambien is AMAZING! no really, get a prescription for your travels. Try it a couple nights before your trip. I never have a hangover or groggy feeling the next morning (and I take it regularly) like I do with Tylenol PM. I traveled to Italy a couple years back, took one Ambien on the flight, felt great upon arrival, stayed up all day enjoying Venice and kept a 1/2 pill on my nightstand just in case I woke up at 2am. This will give you a couple more hours sleep the first night. I did this and it worked great! Didn't experience much jetlag.... but that might have been because I was so HAPPY to be in Italy. :-) (looks like Rick and I have the same love for Ambien)

Posted by Robert
Tampa, FL, USA
824 posts

I usally have a 2-4 hour connection in NY or DC for my international flights. I go right to the Duty Free shop, grab a bottle of red wine and enjoy it. That puts me to sleep on the plane

Posted by Dave
Ventura, CA, USA
1459 posts

I would consider wine a natural remedy, too;-))

Posted by lisaew
Albany, NY
181 posts

Robert...I read your post about the wine/duty free...maybe a dumb question but I am also going to have a few hours at JFK before my flight. If a person buys some wine in Duty Free, where can they drink it legally? Do you go to one of those casual eateries that have tables, order some food and then take out the wine? Do you know if they have smaller bottles at those JFK Duty Free shops? I have often wanted to bring a split or two with me to enjoy at the airport before a long help me relax and have with a snack...but never did it because I did not think it would be allowed in my carry on. So I have often thought about stopping at Duty Free.

BTW...I apologize if this is a bit of a tangent on this topic...not intended to go too far astray.

Posted by Tom
Lewiston, NY
11072 posts

Talk to your doctor, and as the others implied, whatever you decide on, make sure you give it a dry run at home before going live on a flight.

I always use ambien on flights because it has a relatively quick onset and short half-life, so the effects have usually worn off by the time I land. Absolutely do not mix it with alcohol, because this can provoke a paradoxical reaction of "wakeful dreaming". This side-effect is harmless and wears off quickly, but it will scare the piss out of the people sitting around you. If you're flying from the West Coast, Lunesta might be a decent choice because of it's longer half life, but some people experience an unpleasent metallic taste after taking it. If you get nervous on flights, ask about valium or ativan. If you get air sickness, ask about a sedating anticholingeric, like promethazine or dramamine, although the groggy feeling from these can linger for a few hours after you wake up. Some people like tylenol PM (the active ingredient is diphenhydramine, the same drug as Benadryl), probably because it's available over the counter, but this is not appropriate for everyone, especially the elderly.

Posted by Michael
Seattle, WA, USA
6726 posts

Alcohol to get to sleep on a flight is a bad idea that you will pay for later.

From this webpage:

Myth #4. Wine helps you sleep and is a jet lag cure
One of the principle causes of jet lag is dehydration—and alcohol naturally dehydrates the body. While a glass of wine may make the in-flight movie better, it doesn’t help your body handle the cabin’s harsh conditions. At cruising altitudes, studies have shown that alcohol’s effects are magnified, dehydrating the body more than usual. Avoiding jet lag means not drinking wine; in fact, wine is the furthest thing from a jet lag cure.

Posted by Dave
Ventura, CA, USA
1459 posts

Of course, all kidding aside, Michael is correct. Alcohol is not a great idea here, but I must say I'm surprised by how casually people toss back an Ambien or other prescription med, that's just me though.

Posted by Bets
3358 posts

Careful with the Ambien. First be sure you're not one of those persons who sleeo walks or makes a meal while asleep. Someone in my family talked on the phone in her sleep, but she's off the sleep aid now.

Posted by MarieB
120 posts


I am not an advocate for sleeping pills or heavy alcohol. I understand that your flights are long. I would rather take small naps and be aware of my surroundings as much as possible.

May I suggest, if you like (and can drink) herbal teas, to take a few bags of your favorite. I do this and just ask for hot water from the attendant. Or, if you are taking any electronics; maybe listen to some meditation music or your favorite artist.

I realize some travelers do sleep the entire flight with no incident. Some may just fall asleep naturally; have no way of knowing if they took a pill. Everyone's internal clock and level of excitement (winding down) is different.

I would choose very wisely and caution any type of sleep aid. You do not know how your body will react to it while in the air. There are many factors involved. The best thing to do is talk with your doctor or NP for medical advice.

Enjoy Venice and that special glass of wine...

Posted by Lee
1017 posts

I'm lucky I guess. The sounds of the aircraft speeding through the air are comforting somehow. That plus a good meal with a small bottle of wine with dinner are guaranteed to get at least five hours sleep on a transatlantic flight from Texas. I wear eye shades, warm house shoes, supportive socks and a sweater for warmth on the upper body. Never taken a pill.

Posted by donna
roswell, ga, usa
1496 posts

I use ambien for overseas flights on the longest leg. The best thing about Ambien isn't the sleep, it's waking up refreshed. Shame on me, I guess!

I agree with the other posters, especially Tom (whom I didn't know was an M.D.) that you should get some well before your trip, and try at least two nights using before using for a first time on a flight. Agree with not mixing with alcohol.

Posted by Pam
Troy, Idaho, USA
2658 posts

I will just add that if this is your first international flight (not sure from how you phrased the first line, so you may have gone to Asia or elsewhere) you really are not going to know how you will be affected. Twenty years ago when I flew to UK yearly I had bad jet lag, but the last 2 trips I have made it has not really bothered me. Not sure why! You may be pleasantly surprised at how you do.

Posted by Susan and Monte
Granite Bay, CA
1213 posts

I have always been a terrible sleeper at home and on a flight sleep would be non-existant. I had a friend recommend that I ask my doc for a Rx for Ambien. I did, tried it before the flight to see how it made me feel, and found that it worked really well for me. So, I took it on the flight when I settled in for the long duration from California. Even though it worked well at home it was terrible on the flight! I think I was so excited that I just couldn't relax very well and ended up not sleeping and feeling drugged instead. That was the last time I took it on a flight. I do better knowing that I will not sleep at all and just plan to deal with being tired. But, adrenaline gets me through! Once there, it does help me sleep since a different bed is something that would also keep my from sleeping.

Posted by Mike
288 posts

Flight time is important. If you can get a Europe flight leaving at 8 or 9pm, you'll be much better off. Skip the meal, have no drinks, and take an Ambien when the plane reaches altitude.

In the weeks prior to leaving, gradually get up earlier and earlier, and you'll have a couple hours of adaptation already done - and you'll be sleepy by flight time.

Posted by Sandra
422 posts

I don't take anything to sleep on an International flight. I would never. I want my wits about me in case i need them. I want to be able to respond to my environment around me.

I want to be awake when the Flight Attendants come around with their Goodies. On Swiss Air this is quite a show and worth their waking moments.

I need to be awake to read the instructional messages that appear on the big screen at the front.

And my neighbors around me depend on my being awake. At times they need me to help them, and other times I need them to help me. Good for me that we are there for each other if needed.

So i sleep in between goodies, instructions, and community need. The flight is part of the trip and so much FUN! i would never miss it.

But then I fly a great Airline and choose a good seat.

Posted by Denny
Columbus, OH, USA
1079 posts

I have never been able to sleep on a plane, or sitting up even as a passenger in the car. Years ago, my physician refused to prescribe Ambien, saying that should there be an emergency in mid- flight, it was best that I be alert. Reflecting on that scenario I decided that alert was the last thing I wanted to be. After discussing this with my current physician, I now take one Ambien after about an hour or two into the flight. It works well for me, I sleep about four to five hours, max, and wake up feeling fine. I drink no alcohol before or during the flight. Your doctor will know best, and the advice to try it at home is, I think, good. I seem to recall reading that this medication can have different effects on men vs women, but ask your MD. The flight home isn't nearly as bad since you will probably be flying during the day. Our trips usually last three to four weeks, and an Ambien or two on hand at home helps me get back on track. Safe travels!

Posted by Michael
Seattle, WA, USA
6726 posts

I forgot about the eyeshades. Definitely do them in case the person next to you insists on reading when the rest of the cabin is dark, or in those instances where you want to get some shut-eye but someone else leaves their window shade up as the sun is blasting in your eyes.

And that column on Ambien zombies points out the two main problems with it: "Then they choose to take Ambien for the first time on a big metal tube hurtling through the sky after they throw back a couple of cocktails." First time and combined with alcohol. Don't do that.

Posted by CD
6 posts

I don't sleep well at home and hardly even on planes. Sometimes on the return because I'm so tired. I was going to maybe try an allergy pill this time. That usually puts me out for an hour. Benadryl. I'm flying at 8pm and never feel tired until after midnight which doesn't leave me much time to sleep before getting there. Still thinking about it. I guess it wouldn't be the first time I don't sleep for a night. I've tried a bit of nyquil once. Helped for a bit but was groggy when I woke up.

Posted by Kristina
71 posts

Thank you everyone! I think I might bring ambien for the flight home (longest leg is 10 hours), but I will definitely try it at home first, probably just half a pill, and will talk to my dr first.

For the flight there, our longest flight is 8 hours, and I think the adrenaline will be high which may negate the effects of any drugs. I think I will stick to tea and hope for a few light naps. May do a glass of wine on flight with lots of water, and maybe the melatonin gummies. Nervousness is not a problem, I just go stir crazy after about 5 hours. Was hoping to make it a bit more pleasant, that's all. My longest flight to date has been to Oahu, only 7 hours, so this is the first flight of this length for me.

Posted by June
Edmonton, Alberta
475 posts

I suggest a book on tape, or whatever they are referred to now. You can put the earphones in, close your eyes and at least rest your eyes. I have a lot of trouble sleeping in the scrunched seat, so usually I do not sleep at all. With the recorded audiobook, at least my eyes were closed and I did drift off a few times. On other occasions, I would be so frustrated that I could not sleep, that I would be growly, and sat sitting staring at the tv. Not a good feeling to be angry at myself for not sleeping.

I have not used a medication, but I do use melatonin drops at home and will bring them on board with me. Another tip to feel better when you arrive is to stay hydrated. Drink lots of water, as the air in flight is so dry. I also drink a gatorade on the way to the airport, to get me started with good hydration. I might have a glass of wine with the meal, but as others have suggested, more alcohol is not smart. I bring healthy snacks and eat very little of the crappy meals on board.

I am a big believer in Rick's suggestion to stay in the daylight and walk about during the daytime. Although difficult, it does work to get me switched to the new timezone.

There are some websites that suggest changing your bedtime and waketime before your trip by an hour or so to be closer to your trip time; not sure that would work for me, as I usually work until the day before I leave, but it makes sense.

Have a great trip.

Posted by 1smithee
24 posts

The advice against alcohol is misguided. You don't get yourself into a stupor, but a half drink is an excellent depressant and sleep aid. Dehydration is a non issue with such a small amount, but you can always drink a glass of water with it anyway. I've tried stuff like melatonin and it doesn't work at all for me.

any, the biggest problem on international red eyes is the airlines. They insist on a meal service and their constant announcements make a good sleep impossible.

Posted by afnas
12 posts

My wife and I just got back from Italy and Greece. Our flight left from San Jose California to Venice for a 14 hour flight with layovers. I was expecting jetlag but stayed awake the entire time. My eyes were a bit sore, but neither of us had jetlag!. I was so surprised. We were fine the first day and slept well that night and fine the rest of the trip. On the way back. again we stayed awake and even though Our eyes were sore, we had no return jetlag as well. Once I got home though, I took some pain medicine for my eyes and that solved the sore eyes. I went back to work the next day and wasn't sleepy at all. The longest part of our flight over was 10 hours. Ive traveled to China and have had bad jetlag, so I was expecting to have some in Europe. So glad that it didn't happen

Posted by Linda
Clifton Park, NY
64 posts

ativan. Have taken it the last 2 times crossing the Atlantic after about 15 trips. Talk to your doctor.

Posted by Skip
Atlanta, Ga
178 posts

Just my opinion. Not that experienced. About 15 trips to Europe in last 15 years. I am not a pill person. Having said that, Take a Lunesta or Ambien. Didn't used to. Felt like a zombie for about a day or two. Started taking a pill about 10 years ago and feel much more rested when we arrive. (One pill will not desecrate the temple, but will make it last longer).
Again just my opinion. When you arrive, turn watch to current time, pretend like nothing happened, don't go to bed till your normal bed time. My unscientific belief is that once your mind tells your body it's okay to be on this new time, it just adjusts.

Posted by Sandra
422 posts

You don't need to take any pills. My seat mates and I depend on each other for Help thru out the long flight. If anyone of us is buzzed we could Not Help anyone else.

I guess I've been blessed with flight neighbors who stayed alert. I'm Not saying we don't sleep, we do. But someone of us was always there if needed.

Posted by donna
roswell, ga, usa
1496 posts

You've had lots of advice already, but I'm on the Ambien side. DO take it at home twice before you use it on the plane. I find the best thing about Ambien isn't even the going to sleep. It's waking up feeling great and rested. I get a "hangover" from the PM type tablets that are sold over the counter.

Posted by Fabyan
Nova Scotia, Canada
30 posts

Thanks for this Post Kristina,
I too have been thinking on a sleep aid/air sickness aid for an upcoming trip. I've been overseas 4 times and had jet lag / nausea each time. But that's me..My body gets upset easily when I'm off schedule.
It would be nice if we could all fly first class but that just isn't the case for most of us. I'm not sure either about taking a prescription drug but maybe some gravol or as others have suggested some tylenol pm..and limiting alcohol consumption. Like others have said also it can be hard to sleep on a plane..(you are basically trying to sleep sitting upright), but I would take the eyeshades, earplugs, neck pillow and blanket as I find it cool on planes once the AC kicks in.. (You may have yours shut off but others will not) and there is always some sort of activity on the plane..people getting up to use the washroom, trolleys up and down the aisles, announcements etc.. I also agree with staying up once you get there and going to bed your normal time. This will help get your rhythm in line. I hope you have a fantastic trip..Europe is wonderful..such a different way of life from North America :)

Posted by etalvarez
6 posts

As someone who is terrified of flying yet flies a fair amount I have tried everything to knock myself out. This includes Tylenol PM, sleeping pills, Xanax, Xanax plus alcohol (do not do this) and I'm gonna say the best thing, surprisingly enough, is a combination of tapping (it's an anxiety control method, look at the book tapping in if you want to try it) and a stiff drink before bed. The tapping removes the fear of flying and the drink helps me relax enough to get to sleep. Best part is that unlike medication, you metabolize that drink in an hour so you aren't trying to get through an airport half asleep and end up missing your connecting flight.

As a complete aside and an added story of adrenaline over taking medications, when I was at my worst, I would create enough adrenaline to overcome 5 milligrams of Xanax and 6 glasses of wine. I got off a 5.5 hour flight from Seattle to Orlando and was so sober thanks to the adrenaline I was able to easily and safely drive while my husband was too tired from his one glass of wine. Weirdest experience ever this fear of flying thing.

Posted by Diana
Michigan, United States
359 posts

Here's my story about Ambien. I went to Paris with my daughter's French club in 2013. Detroit to Paris nonstop overnight flight, I took Tylenol PM, slept about 20 minutes, got to Paris and had no problems the day of arrival and we had a very busy, packed day. This spring I went with my husband and got Ambien from my doctor prior to the flight, which I took twice before we left on our trip to London & Paris. I had no problems at home but on the flight I felt very sick to my stomach for about 3 hours inflight. I did sleep on the flight but only for maybe an hour total. Again I didn't have any problems staying awake on arrival. But the nausea was not good so for me, it wasn't worth it and I won't take it again on an overnight flight. Hopefully your experience will be better.

Posted by Kent
Pacific Northwest
9302 posts

Ask your doctor. Getting medical advice from laymen based on their personal experiences is, uhm, interesting, but might not be a good idea to rely on anything you read here, except from the 2 doctors that are regular contributors. Even they say, ask your own doctor.