My new strategy for maximizing sleep on transatlantic flights

Jan 12, 2020

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

With a few exceptions — primarily early-morning departures from New York to London — most flights from the U.S. to Europe operate overnight. If you’re traveling eastbound across the pond, chances are you’re going to find yourself on a dreaded red-eye flight. You don’t have to fear a red-eye flight, though — especially if you fly up front.

Recently, two new airline products have prompted me to change my tune when it comes to an evening or late-night departure to Europe.

First is United’s “high-J” 767 — with 46 Polaris seats on each flight between Newark (EWR) and London (LHR) and other European destinations. I’ve had great success upgrading economy tickets to business class, netting me low-cost lie-flat seats.

United’s latest 767 offers 46 lie-flat seats.

The other is the launch of La Compagnie’s Airbus A321LR, which features 76 lie-flat seats — and an otherwise no-frills experience — with fantastic fares. In some cases, you can book business class for the price of coach. However, there have been a number of reports of the airline’s mishandled cancellations and aircraft swaps to a far-less-desirable angle-flat 757. Aside from some customer service issues, I had a great experience flying the A321.


Although the quality of United’s à-la-carte dining has declined a bit since launch, I still prefer eating in the carrier’s Polaris Lounge to waiting up for an inflight business meal during the short overnight flight to Europe. Lounge access is limited to business-class passengers but you can get in with an eligible partner boarding pass, too.

If I’m flying another airline or my upgrade doesn’t clear until the gate, I’ll purchase a meal at a decent airport restaurantmy favorite is Classified at Newark’s Terminal C.

I don’t avoid alcohol on the ground but I don’t drink much on a red-eye flight. I also make a point of drinking lots and lots of water until an hour before boarding. If the journey is short enough, I can usually leave the supplied water bottle sealed until just before landing, and avoid a middle-of-the-night trip to the lav.

During the flight

When I need to sleep on a red-eye, I might have a predeparture beverage, but once the door to the plane closes, I’m cutting myself off. Since I’ve already eaten at the airport, I skip all the food, and I’ll do my best to avoid any additional beverages, too.

Just after takeoff, I whip out a product called Sleep Aid Spray from OneSecond Supplements. I was skeptical when I first tried it, but it really does the trick — the mix of chamomile and melatonin has me out in just a few minutes and I usually manage to sleep through most of a flight.

La Compagnie offers an eye mask and earplugs but it’s best to bring your own.

I also bring along my own eye mask and — most importantly — my own earplugs. Years ago, I purchased a box of “Howard Leight by Honeywell Laser Lite High Visibility Disposable Foam Earplugs” and I’m still working my way through. They’re designed for workplace hearing safety and they’re better than anything I’ve found in an amenity kit. Plus, they have a cord, which I can wrap around my eye mask strap so they don’t fall out of my ears in the middle of a flight.

La Compagnie’s A321LR has 76 lie-flat seats.

Almost immediately after takeoff, I recline my seat fully into bed mode, install a mattress cover — if one’s available — and prepare to doze off. With my eye mask and industrial-strength earplugs, I’m usually able to sleep through the pre-arrival announcements, often waking up with a flight attendant’s polite tap, letting me know that it’s time to put my seat in the appropriate position for landing.

After arrival

Some airports and airlines have an arrivals lounge, letting you catch a shower and grab a hot meal after you land. Often you’ll need a business-class boarding pass to enter but some offer paid access or partner with Priority Pass, such as the Plaza Premium Lounge at London Heathrow’s Terminal 2.

With an early-morning arrival, I’ll usually skip breakfast, unless I’m reviewing the flight, and either head to the arrivals lounge or purchase a coffee before I leave the airport. As a United Premier 1K, I get free unlimited access to the Timeshifter app, which has helped me to “beat” jet lag over the first few days of a trip, telling me when to drink caffeine, expose myself to sunlight and catch some sleep.

Bottom line

There’s never a guarantee that I’ll be able to snag a full night’s sleep but armed with my new strategy — eating before the plane takes off, focusing on sleep and using the Timeshifter app — I’ve been having a much more pleasant experience once I land.

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.