Unless you’re flying in business or first-class, flying is rarely an enjoyable experience, especially if you want to sleep or have a fear of flying.
Fortunately, there are sedatives that are readily available that can be purchased over the counter that will help calm your nerves and help you get some much-needed rest to provide a more comfortable in-flight experience.
Here are the 3 best sedatives for flying that I have used and recommend.
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According to one study, melatonin is “remarkably effective” when it comes to reducing or preventing jet lag altogether.
You should take a dose between 0.5 mg to 5 mg as close to the time you plan to go to sleep at your destination.
The study went on to state that doses above 5 mg provide no further benefit, though taking a dose closer to 5 mg will help you fall asleep further and sleep better.
Technically, melatonin isn’t a sedative, but it will certainly help you fall asleep, and research has shown that it is effective at reducing anxiety and calming your nerves, too.
You are allowed to bring melatonin on a plane, and melatonin has always helped me fall asleep more quickly on planes, and I very rarely wake up feeling groggy or experience any side effects.
Nature’s Bounty Melatonin is the brand I recommend.
2. Benadryl, Tylenol PM, ZzzQuil, Aleve PM (Diphenhydramine)
Benadryl, Tylenol PM, ZzzQuil and Aleve PM all contain an antihistamine called diphenhydramine.
They will certainly help you fall asleep, but the downside to them is that you can wake up at your destination feeling a bit groggy.
If you have to deal with long lines for customs and immigration, and have to go to baggage claim to pick up your luggage, you might want to opt for melatonin instead, as you won’t be nearly as groggy when you wake up.
I’ve made this mistake before when I flew from San Francisco to Singapore and vowed to never do so again unless I fly with just a carry-on and don’t have to deal with customs and immigration.
Diphenhydramine can also leave you dehydrated. Given that everyone becomes more dehydrated on planes, this is something else you should take into account.
If you’ve taken these drugs in the past and know what to expect, and know you can handle them, they’re’ still worth taking.
But if you haven’t, you don’t want to arrive at your destination being mentally and physically out of sorts.
You should also note that diphenhydramine isn’t recommended for anxiety (there is no scientific evidence to support its use for anxiety), so if you want to take a sedative for flying to calm your nerves, melatonin or a doxylamine drug like Unisom would be better.
Benadryl Ultratabs are your best bet, in my experience.
3. Unisom (Doxylamine)
Doxylamine is the strongest drug on this list, so if you need something stronger, it’s your best bet.
This means that you will wake up just as groggy compared to if you had taken diphenhydramine.
The caveat is that Unisom really will knock you out, so it can be useful if you have anxiety, but should be avoided if you’re flying short-haul.
I only recommend taking Unisom if your flight is 7+ hours.
What is the Best Sedative for Kids Flying?
Some parents give their kids Benadryl before a flight to help them calm down and sleep, but this usually isn’t a good idea because the response can be inconsistent.
The best sedative for your kids when flying is melatonin in smaller amounts.
A small dose of 1 mg of melatonin, and then moving up to a stronger dose up to a maximum of 2 mg, is recommended if there are no ill-effects.
How Long Before Your Flight to Take a Sedative
- Melatonin: You can take melatonin as soon as you get on the plane to help you get to sleep and calm your nerves, but it would be wise to start taking it a few days before your flight to help you adjust to the time zone at your destination.
- Diphenhydramine and Doxylamine: Because diphenhydramine and doxylamine can knock you out pretty fast, you definitely don’t want to take them before you are comfortably seated on the plane. Given that they can knock you out for a long time, also make sure that you only take them on long-haul flights (7+ hours).
How to Calm Your Nerves Without Sedatives
If it’s your first time flying, there are several over the counter supplements that can help calm your nerves before flying, including:
- Valerian root
- Kava kava
- Holy basil
Avoiding stimulants, getting enough sleep, practicing mindfulness exercises, and exercising before your flight can all help calm your flying nerves.
Utilizing a distraction like reading a book, listening to music, or watching a TV show or movie during the flight can all help, too.
How to Sleep on a Plane Without Sedatives
Some people seem to be able to fall asleep anywhere, including the middle seat of a plane.
Unfortunately, most of us aren’t so lucky.
So to give yourself the best chance of sleeping on a plane without sedatives, I recommend:
- Selecting a window seat
- Using an eye mask
- Flying at night
- Using earplugs
- Wearing noise-canceling headphones
- Reclining your seat
- Bringing a pillow and blanket
- Avoiding alcohol and caffeine
Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.
Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.
Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).