Is It Really Safe To Take Sleep Aids On A Flight?

Long flights can be grueling, especially if you're stuck with screaming children on board, so it's natural to want to pop a sleeping aid before takeoff. It seems like the easiest way to deal with all the chaos happening around you. Travelers also take them to prevent jet lag, which has been proven to lower the effects of the disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic. Sleep aids seem like a cure-all: they help you get some shut-eye when you need a little assistance and a little boost of energy when you land, but are they safe to take on a flight? 


Chances are you haven't considered this, which is completely understandable. It seems like a no-brainer — that's what sleeping aids are for, right? However, there are some contingencies to think about before taking any sort of sedative, specifically those you can purchase over the counter. There's been a lot of debate surrounding this topic, but doctors have finally come to a definitive answer.

Melatonin is safe and effective

Melatonin has been in the sleep aid game for years and is commonly used to treat jet lag. Some travelers believe taking the drug when they arrive at their destination is the best protocol; however, studies have shown taking the drug can help ease the effects of jet lag when taken during your destination's bedtime, so keep an eye on its local time to make sure you take the melatonin at the correct moment (via Healthline). It's safe to use, but it's not a permanent solution.


If you haven't taken the dietary supplement before — the United States Food & Drug Administration recognizes it as such, per the National Institutes of Health —it's a good idea to try it out before your departure. This way, you'll know how your body reacts and which dosages work best for you. Keep in mind you shouldn't take melatonin without first speaking with your doctor, which is especially true for those with an autoimmune disease, depression, or a seizure disorder, and those who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Sleeping pills are okay, but should be used with caution

While sleeping pills like Ambien and Ativan can give you a great night's rest, there are things you need to take into consideration before taking one on the plane. According to Condé Nast Traveler, some people have noted experiences with retroactive amnesia while taking Ambien. In other words, you could have an entire conversation with someone during the flight and not remember a single thing later on. Ambien has also been known to cause sleepwalking, which can have serious consequences, per The Points Guy.


With that being said, since you're on an airplane and have no chance of turning on the stove or stepping into traffic if you happen to start walking around in your sleep, taking a sleep medication is generally safe (again, consult with your doctor before usage). However, one of the greater things to consider is the duration of the flight. Taking a strong sleep aid on a short flight could leave you feeling dazed and confused when you land. Those are more suited for longer flights where you're traveling across several time zones.