Should You Take Sleeping Pills on a Plane?

Someone just asked me if it is a good idea to take Tylenol PM for an overnight flight so you can sleep.
The answer is, it depends.

I once took 1/2 an Ambien with a glass of red wine on the way to Italy, and I passed out so hard, I have no recollection of the flight. I did feel pretty good when I landed. Then, I tried the same thing on a longer flight to Brazil, and was lethargic for hours after we landed. Reactions to medications vary, not only from person to person, but individually from instance to instance.

Here are some things to consider before you pill pop upon take off.

  1. How long is the flight? Will you have enough time to sleep soundly, but not be so tired when you get there your first few hours are ruined?
  2. Have you taken the medicine before? I advise NOT taking a pill for the first time on a plane. If you are thinking about it, give it a trial run when you have the luxury of a long snooze. Tylenol PM is said to last between 4-6 hours, but your personal experience with it may be different.
  3. What are you trying to accomplish? If planes make you too anxious to sleep, I’d try L-theanine. If you are extremely nervous about flying, speak with your doctor and see if he or she will give you a couple Xanax to get you through. A half of one should be plenty. Same #2 rules apply. Read my Xanax disclaimer here.
  4. Are you traveling with kids who may need you? If so, you might be better off with a glass of wine and a good book.
  5. How good of a plane sleeper are you? If you can usually doze off in flight, there is no reason to think you won’t be able to do the same on a longer flight. Bring things to make yourself more comfortable … earplugs or a soothing playlist, one of those headrest things, a blanket (check out this one that doubles as a scarf) warm thick socks so you can take your shoes off and dress comfortably for sleep.

Here is what NOT to do. Don’t get frustrated midway into the flight and then take something to sleep, unless you are flying to Australia. If you are already irritated with insomnia, it will be harder for the pill to work and in all likelihood, when it does kick in, you will end up exhausted and delirious at the baggage pick up.


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Author: Karen Latimer

Dr. Latimer is a Family Physician and Wellness & Parenting Coach. She works with parents who want to feel more confident when helping their children and coaches young adults to help them better navigate college life and transitions. Contact her at to learn more. She is the author of two Audible Originals, Take Back the House -- Raising Happy Parents and Worry Less, Parent Better. She is also the co-founder of the app that makes your life easier and puts social in a healthier place -- List'm.


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