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How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep in Airports (and Get Away With It), According to Experts

Airports + Flying
by Eben Diskin Aug 28, 2023

If a bedroom is the optimal place for a good night’s sleep, an airport might be the polar opposite. Airports can feel engineered specifically to keep you awake and in a constant state of frenetic anxiety. From the blindingly white lights to the sterile looking (and not exactly cozy) concourses, not to mention the robotic boarding calls every couple of minutes, airports aren’t even faintly conducive to sleep. Unfortunately, airports also happen to be a public space where people often do need sleep.

Despite all of the things working against getting some shut eye at the airport, there are tricks. Few know them as well as Donna McSherry, editor of

Is sleeping in airports overnight even legal?

Sleeping in airports isn’t illegal, it just becomes more complicated in certain airports that close for the night.

“I have never heard of someone getting a ticket or taken to jail for sleeping overnight in an airport,” McSherry says. “Some airports close for the night and people will be asked to leave the building. In that case, people will be left to wait outside the terminal or in nearby bus shelters – even in the winter, if they don’t have a backup plan, which is something we always strongly recommend people have.”

You might be asked by airport officials to show proof that you’re a passenger awaiting a flight, so be prepared to answer some questions and show your outbound airline ticket.

If your airport does close for the night, an airport hotel is a good plan B. Sure, you might not be looking to spend the money, but it’s better than being forced to sleep outside on the sidewalk. Most airports have at least one hotel that’s either walkable or a 5 to 10 minute shuttle ride away. Be aware of your hotel options in case you have nowhere else to go.

Catching quality Z’s in airports

As frequent travelers are well aware, not all airports are created equal. Some are actually pretty conducive to sleeping, while others seem to actively discourage it.

“Some airports have added thoughtful features such as rest zones with reclining lounge style seating,” McSherry says. “Sometimes just armrest-free seating is helpful to travelers trying to catch a quick cat nap in between flights.” In lieu of that, try the arrival lounges instead of departure lounges. They tend to be far less busy, as fewer people congregate by ticket counters the same way they do around departure gates.

The advent of sleep pods and Minute Suites – rentable pods designed as private work and sleep zones – is also making some airports more attractive for long layovers, as long as you don’t mind shelling out the extra cash. If you find yourself stranded at the airport due to extreme weather resulting in flight delays or cancellations, some airports will also provide you with cots, pillows, blankets, toiletries, and food coupons. Note that this service is only provided for stranded travelers, rather than those who simply don’t want to spring for a hotel room.

And of course, there are always airport lounges. Whether you enjoy lounge access thanks to a credit card program or decide to pay for the guest fee, lounges can be a great place to get some rest as long as there isn’t a time limit for your stay. Think of them as an elevated version of the typical airport gate: the seats are more comfortable, the lights are dimmer, food and beverages are free, and they have their own dedicated WiFi that often works better than the general airport’s.

Tips and tricks for getting better sleep in an airport

Sleeping in the airport isn’t just about finding the space to do it. It’s about coming prepared with the right tools. For the pro airport sleeper, that gear could come in the form of eye shades to block out the lights, ear plugs, and a small blanket. Anything that somewhat replicates a normal sleep experience is highly recommended.

And hey, maybe the prospect of sleeping on the airport floor for a six-hour layover is abhorrent to you. Or maybe you know you won’t be able to sleep anyway, and would rather not waste your time perusing the airport bookshop for books you know you’ll never buy. In either case, remember: there’s no rule requiring you to stay in the airport. Since most major airports are 20 to 40 minutes from the city, take advantage of the layover to get out and explore. has a pretty comprehensive list of some of the world’s best airports for layovers, how to get into the city, and what to do there.

The best airports for sleeping

If you do decide to call the airport home for a night, it’s helpful to keep in mind which airports are particularly suitable for sleeping. In 2019, conducted a survey that asked travelers to rate airports worldwide based on criteria including comfort, services, food options, customer service, navigation, and “sleepability.” The highest-ranked airports have a few things in common: plenty of seating and rest areas, as well as perks like in-terminal movie theaters (also great for sleeping).

Singapore’s Changi Airport took the top spot in 2019 for its free movie theaters, spacious terminals, and dedicated nap zones. Each terminal has a “Snooze Lounge” with sleep chairs, and many lounges in the airport have sleep cabins and nap rooms for those with access.

Seoul Incheon in South Korea is another airport with great nap potential, with special rest zones with free padded lounges and beds. Even if these are full, you can still take advantage of an abundance of amrest-free seating throughout the airport. Continuing Asia’s trend of nap dominance, Tokyo’s Narita International Airport is similarly conducive to sleeping, with an overnight rest area complete with foodrests and padded benches.

Elsewhere in the world, the Vancouver International Airport is known for its comfortable, armrest-fee seating, and a few fee-based lounges with nap rooms. Amsterdam Schiphol and Munich International also have nap rooms and quiet zones, as well as scattered reclining lounge chairs and benches.

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