Ask Shelly: Tips for helping a baby sleep on an airplane – and stay asleep?

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Baby not sleeping on an airplane, riding in the FlyeBaby air travel hammock.
To help a baby sleep on an airplane – and stay asleep for your flight, you might want to avoid the bulkhead row. The FlyeBaby will make it a little easier to give up that airplane bassinet if you decide to.

Advice for helping a baby sleep on an airplane? This is the million-dollar question of most parents flying with a baby – right along with how to keep them sleeping once you are lucky enough to get them there… Here is a recent reader question I’m sure many of you will appreciate.

Hi Shelly:

Do you have any tricks for helping a baby sleep on an airplane…and stay that way? I will be going to France with my almost 3-year-old and 5-months old baby. My first one had managed to fall asleep but woke up with the sudden noises of the plane: ice, overhead bins opening and closing… and was REALLY not happy after that… making the rest of the plane unhappy as well overall: any trick to get baby and toddler to fall asleep and stay that way?


I’m thinking my advice here comes down to three critical points.


First, I recommend booking a red-eye/overnight flight with your baby and toddler if possible to help your toddler as well as your baby sleep on the airplane. They may not settle in right away with the excitement of the new surroundings, but once it’s sleep time for the rest of the passengers, the crew will dim the lights, passengers will settle in, constant drink cart service should subside, and on overnight flights it is far less likely that the captain will come on the (loud) speakers, announcing, “If you look out your window right now, you can see Greenland!!!” which has never been helpful for sleeping children onboard in my experience.

Cloud B Sleep Sheep
The Cloud B Sleep Sheep can help baby sleep on an airplane or in the hotel room.


You might also want to bring aboard a portable white noise machine, such as the baby-friendly Cloud B Sleep Sheep. You can place it right next to your baby for a calm, constant soundtrack to help muffle out other sudden noises in flight. If you aren’t using something like this already, start using it at bedtime at home now so that your baby will also associate it with sleepy time during travel.


Since this is an overseas flight (I assume), and you are likely planning to have an airplane bassinet, you might want to rethink those bulkhead row seats. Since these are usually positioned right where the lavatories are, with frequent traffic, flushings, and door slamming (and I won’t mention other unpleasant effects), the extra people coming and going and smiling at your children can make it very difficult to get them to sleep, or keep them that way. It could also put you right next to a central galley, with flight attendants banging meal trays and sharing war tales with each other, and dumping ice as you describe.

If you do want bulkhead row seats with a bassinet, and I can understand why you would(!), do everything you can to get the window seat and neigbhoring seats to the side and not on the center row of your wide-body aircraft. You will be a little less exposed there to traffic. Also, anyone planning to use an airplane bassinet for baby, be sure to read this post on age / height / weight limits for airplane bassinets.

However, you might prefer quieter seats toward the middle-back of the airplane, where you should experience less traffic, and there may be a few extra seats (especially on the red-eye) that you can snatch up after reaching cruising altitude. In fact, when you check in, see if your agent is sympathetic and might reseat your family next to an empty seat or two. This doesn’t always work, but once we actually ended up with two consecutive rows of four seats for the 5 of us just because a savvy agent with kids reseated us at check in!

If your baby is flying on your lap, consider the FlyeBaby airplane hammock for babies to help give your arms a rest. The photo above is my guy in the prototype – you can read all about how to use it and see the recent improvements to the FlyeBaby airplane hammock for babies in my review here.

If your baby will be flying in her own seat and infant car seat, you’re in luck. You can choose whichever part of the plane you want, have your hands (and lap) free during meal service, and have the advantage of the infant car seat canopy to help block distracting lights and blowing air from overhead vents, which can really help a baby sleep on an airplane!

One more thought on seats: Your toddler! If your toddler is likely to get antsy at some point in your flight, it could possibly negate any other good decisions you’ve made to help your baby sleep on the airplane. (Doh!) For this journey, you might also consider sitting in consecutive rows with your children instead of side-by-side. Sometimes being away from big brother or big sister can do more toward helping a baby sleep on an airplane than anything else you might try!

Need more tips for helping a baby sleep on an airplane – or during travel in general? In addition to the links below, be sure to read the sections on Naptime and Nighttime Sleeping on the Go in Travels with Baby, and pack along (or upload) your Take-Along Travels with Baby to keep those tips handy to help baby sleep on an airplane and stay happy, healthy and safe during your travels (and help keep you sane during travel with your baby and toddler!).

Whatever you decide, I hope you’ll let us know how it goes! Does anyone else have a tip to share? Do you have a secret for helping a baby sleep on an airplane?

Here are more online posts and articles on sleep during travel with babies and toddlers:

Safe journeys,

Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning Travels with Baby and Take-Along Travels with Baby

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