After suffering too much too many times from jet lag, lost sleep etc, we now book our hotel room for the day before our arrival. We advise the hotel we will not be arriving until early morning.
Therefore, when we arrive at our hotel at 7 AM, instead of having to be miserable for hours waiting for check in, we can go immediately to our room and take a short nap. We're up by lunch and out and "at it".
Of course, it does add some to the cost of the trip but when we have already invested so much, we feel it's a good investent to spend a little more and be able to enjoy ourselves and not feel so sleep deprived and miserable.
No, unfortunately, I can NEVER sleep on the plane! I just stay up the entire day I arrive and go to bed on the new time of the country I am in. I am good to go after that. However, the real problem occurs on the return trip - the flights are longer and I am more tired. It takes several weeks to adjust to being back on the old time. It seems I have jet lag at least 2 weeks plus I alway get a terrible cold.
I try hard for a window seat as then I can at least lean on something to try and sleep.
I tried to stay awake when we went to London--left at 6:30 pm and arrived there at 6:00 am. By the next morning it caught up and I had to nap!! By the time you get your body adjusted its time to go home and readjust again! But it is soooo worth it!!
I have very little problem flying west to east. On the last trip we left Barcelona at 10 or 11 AM local time, flew for nine hours through six or so time zones , hung around at Atlanta for a couple of hours before the final two-hour leg, getting us home around 10 PM. It was just a day with a few extra hours packed in. I checked my e-mail and went to bed around my usual 1 AM time. Woke up the next day as though I'd never been away.
It's the east to west that's the killer for me.
I can sleep on planes (former flight attendants can sleep ANYWHERE at ANY TIME -- it's a skill one never loses) but it's not refreshing sleep ... it's just passing the endless hours. A neck pillow is essential sleep equipment for me. And a nice sleeping pill never hurt anything.
I do not hold with the idea that a passenger have a couple of drinks to hasten the process along. Drinking alcohol on an airplane is a very bad idea, the longer the flight, the worse idea it is because of dehydration. Drink water instead.
When we arrive in Europe, I am usually so wired that there's no possibility of immediate sleep.
We usually self-tour wherever it is, even if it's just walking around to get the kinks out, have a nice early lunch (this time maybe with a beer or a drink) then take an afternoon nap. After the nap, we're pretty close to being on local time and go out for a late, light dinner or order room service.
Hotel hint: Request early arrival at your hotel. This has worked well for us.
I'm with Paul on the sleep mask(s) and earplugs, but add a "Breathe Right" nose strip.
I also choose clothes that may not be very fashionable but are comfortable and the fashion police won't complain. A cardigan, rather than pullover, sweater is A Good Thing. And I remove my bra. (This doesn't apply to gentlemen, unless you have very strange wardrobe habits.) No tight jeans.
If all else fails, take a copy of War and Peace for your airplane reading. Sleep is assured.
I can never sleep on planes and look and feel like a zombie after international flights.
Additionally - I have been unfortunate enough to each and every time to have a full flight and end up sitting next to someone with a screaming baby, someone very ill or some other disasterous situation.
One of these days I will be able to afford first class.