Trashy's World Rotating Header Image

May 17th, 2012:

Trashy in China 4.0

Day 2 – sleep, or a lack thereof…

The amazing thing about sleep pattern shifting is that you can achieve an almost altered state of reality without having to resort to pharmaceuticals! This is especially noticeable during the first couple of days of arriving in a drastically different time zone. Beijing, is 12 hours ahead of EDT at this time of the year. This means that your internal clock which governs not only your sleep patterns but also the expectations of you digestive system is turned completely upside down. Day is night, night is day. Breakfast is dinner and noon is midnight. People often complain about the time differences between, for example, Australia and Canada… which can be anywhere from 14-16 hours. But, in reality, this change is much less severe than the 12 hour gap as really your body is going through but an 8-10 hour shift.

Everyone tries to mitigate the effects of the change differently and everyone experiences different side effects both symptomatically and in terms of severity and duration.

For my part, the second sleep and second full day are usually the worst of a ten day trip. I use melatonin to offset some of the worst symptoms, namely interrupted sleep at night, but there remains shiftlessness and nervousness accompanied by a moderate headache, dry mouth and upset stomach. I have learned to not gorge myself or drink lots of booze on days two or three… both of which exacerbate the symptoms.

But by night number 4, I start to feel myself again and I am on an upward slope until day 8 or so… and then a funny thing happens – I go downhill at light speed! On the last mission, for example, I was feeling pretty good and my body had finally decided to accept the fact that we weren’t in Ottawa anymore when WHAM! I hit a wall at about noon on day 8 and felt like I had just been simultaneously Tasered, punched in the gut and had my head bashed into a wall by Chcuk Norris! It was next to impossible for me to stay awake and in the room that we were meeting our Chinese colleagues.

And then, that night, I felt fine again and had a nice 8 hours sleep! It was like my body had to “snap” that last bit into place. Weird.

Of course, this happens right before our return flight home, where we have to re-accustom ourselves from square one. And for whatever reason, it is far more difficult getting back to normal on the return trip to which I have found no solution. At least in this case, I am home, in my own bed and eating familiar vittles.

So, if you are going to travel distances that require multiple time zone jumps, like China or Japan, I advise the following:

  • Take melatonin. At least 2 or three pills starting the night before you leave on your trip.
  • Stay awake until your normal bedtime, in the destination time zone. Eat a good meal, but not too much and not within 2 hours of your bedtime. And keep the booze to a minimum! That applies to the flight over as well.
  • On the first full day, chill. If your trip is for work, you may not have this choice, but if you do have a say on the scheduling of meetings, save the intense stuff to later in the trip and front load the easier topics. Try to start later in the day and end earlier if possible.
  • Expect to hit a wall around day 8. But maybe that’s just me.
  • Upon return, try not to do anything that involves concentration or coördination for a day or two if at all feasible. The first time I returned from a trip to China, I thought I was ever-so-cool upon my return and a-OK to pick up my kids from school and daycare in the afternoon. It wasn’t until I blew through the second 4-way stop that I realised this was a bad idea.

There ya go. Take it for what it’s worth!