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Jetlag China: day becomes night, night becomes day

Last month, I suggested that we schedule a staff canoe trip and picnic for this afternoon, knowing it would be Day 2 of my return from China and planning to use the occasion to nap outside. The weather cooperated perfectly. I dozed in the sun on a grassy bank by a mountain lake, with a Berkshire blue sky and huge glossy clouds to look at when I occasionally opened my eyes. I made sure to get plenty of sun on back of knees. That’s an old military trick for curing jetlag, unproven by serious scientific research, but now part of our family method.

I only realized today that US-China travel has a tremendous advantage. The jetlag we experience is the same both ways, which makes it easier to manage systematically. European travel is less of a change, but it’s a different change in each direction – waking early, waking late.(This operates in my favor when I go to London now, because it’s easy to stay up for the late dinner parties my friends are prone to. But getting up in the morning, usually no problem, becomes painful. I remember once returning to my London neighborhood and having to leave my friends’ house at 8am to make an interview I’d agreed to, to talk about a new book. I walked down Camberwell Grove feeling very low, and then was sad that it had come to this, that being in Camberwell depressed me so. But my mood entirely changed as the day went on and by the next day I was fine. Waking up hours before my body was ready to had completely sunk my spirits. I found this fascinating and told a good friend about it. “I feel like that every morning!” she said.

But with US-China travel, it’s always the same entire switch of 12 hours: day becomes night, night becomes day. My daughter Rachel asked what I did in Beijing to deal with jetlag, since I can’t spend time outdoors the way I can here – working at a table on my deck, or reading beside a mountain pond! I told her that in China it’s the energy in the air that helps one adjust, and the rush and bustle and excitement. Actually, I am starting to believe in the effects of light – “believe,” that is, as in having found the true faith. So if I have to come back to gloom again, as I did this April, I am going to get some kind of sunlamp.

Time for my melatonin capsule (which, oddly, is available without prescription in the US but not in the UK or even in China): BBC story here.

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