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China Jetlag: Recovery & Avoidance Tips

airplaneTraveling to China by airplane usually leads to some sort of jetlag.

Jetlag can massively influence your first days in China, making you feel tired when you actually want to explore and making you wide awake when it's time to sleep. With the right arrangement of flight times, journey activities and recovery methods, we will make sure that you will have a smoother adjustment to local time and therefore be able to make the best of your journey into fascinating China!

The Effects of Jetlag on China Travelers

With respect to dealing with Jetlag, it is important to remember that although there are common symptoms that affect any traveler to varying extents, your solution and the steps you should take ultimately depend on your exact point of departure as well as time of arrival in China.

Symptoms of jetlag may include insomnia, tiredness (with associated irritability, inability to concentrate, etc.), and disorientation, particularly with respect to routine activities like mealtimes and bedtimes.

Some factors are out of your hands when you arrive in China, such as personal resistance to jetlag, the strength of your immune system, whether you are able to get good sleep while flying etc. etc. However, even when you arrive at your destination in China, you still have a chance to influence the severity of your inevitable jetlag.

How to deal with jetlag depends on the time difference and on the local time of arrival. Therefore, advice on how to deal efficiently with jetlag will wary. Here we will outline some advice for travelers from America, the U.K., and Australasia. Time of arrival is also included as a factor.

Flying from the USA or Canada

Those flying from the Americas generally experience the greatest jetlag when coming to China, with both the longest flight times and the longest time difference.

Morning Arrivals

Arriving in China in the morning will for Americans or Canadians mean a time difference from 12 (if from the East Coast or Eastern Canada) to 15 hours (West Coast or Western Canada)… an hour more during daylight saving time, which means that they would feel as if they arrived in the afternoon/evening (the previous day).

As the day then progresses, Americans’ and Canadians’ biological watches would tell them to sleep way before evening in local time. They shouldn’t give in to this temptation though, instead they would be wise to conserve energy the day that they arrive (and get as much sleep as possible on the flight in), drink some mild (not green) tea and take a stroll and try to keep awake until it’s evening in local time.

If it’s difficult to keep your eyes open, perhaps some KTV (karaoke) will help to drive away sleep. As one’s immune system is weakened after such a long flight, it is important to not push yourself too hard or eat food that might challenge your organs (e.g. hotpot). Generally, eating less spicy and oily food is good on one’s first day. We would instead recommend some delicious, filling food like dumplings (jiaozi 饺子).

Afternoon/Evening Arrivals

If Americans or Canadians arrive in the afternoon or evening, the issue will be the exact opposite of arriving in the morning: it might be quite difficult to fall asleep. For travelers from the USA or Canada, it will feel like they are arriving in the night/morning and, when it’s evening local time – 11 pm -, it will only be 8 (West Coast or Western Canada) to 11 am (East Coast or Eastern Canada).

In order to fall asleep easier, take a walk to tire your muscles and enjoy some Chinese tea – go for mild, yellow tea as some tea, like the bitter green tea, will actually make you unable to sleep for some time.

Flying from Great Britain

UK citizens will have a 7- or 8-hour-behind time difference (depending on daylight saving) to contend with.

The shortest flights are about 12 hours traveling east, which would mean “gaining” 12 hours, or the net effect of arriving seemingly only about 4 hours after leaving. Quite disorientating! Sleeping 8 hours on the flight may seem like the logical compensation, but whether you will arrive in the morning or later in the day is still more important than flight duration…

Morning Arrivals

Arriving in China in the morning for British people with a time difference of 7 hours in British Summer Time will mean that they feel as if it is in the middle of the night. To adjust to local time, one then must stay awake.

mealA good meal is helpful for jetlag when arriving in the morning.

This can be eased by eating a good, nutritious meal and perhaps some familiar snacks that you bring with you.

As local evening approaches the challenge will be to fall asleep, while inside it might just feel like afternoon. Stretching one’s legs, getting some fresh air and exercise, and drinking something hot (not coffee) should help.

Afternoon/Evening Arrivals

British people arriving in the evening will have an easier time compared to Americans or Canadians, but will likely still have trouble sleeping, as evening will feel as afternoon according to their internal biological clock.

To ease falling asleep, a stroll, tea, Chinese board games (try getting your head round mahjong or Chinese chess) and a good book are all good options until one is finally able to drift away.

Flying from Australasia

Australians or New Zealanders arriving in China in the morning will have a smaller time difference than both British, Canadians and Americans. In Australia the time difference goes from 0 (!) hours to 2 hours while for New Zealanders the time difference is 4 hours.

Morning Arrivals

Arriving in the morning will not be a big problem for people from these destinations, as morning might just feel like a later morning or midday. Still, it is never good to compress too many activities into the day of arrival as one will still be a bit dazed from the flight.

Afternoon/Evening Arrivals

Australians will have little trouble arriving in the evening as the time difference is relatively small. New Zealanders might be tired as evening could feel as night. A warm meal and Chinese milk tea – often served with small pieces of jelly inside – might help New Zealanders from not going to sleep too early. See our list of The Top Drinks to Try in China.

An extra problem for those from south of the equator

For travelers departing south of the equator, another problem to be considered is the reversal of seasons, i.e. if it’s summer south of the equator then it will be winter north of the equator in China, and vice versa.

China is a huge country and the climate is very different depending on which part of the country you are in. The variations in weather and temperature vary greatly across China, but a general rule is that the temperature is warmer the more south you go.

To combat the problem of seasonal difference, Hong Kong would be a better gateway city than Beijing if travelling from a southern hemisphere summer. Conversely, when it’s winter in the southern hemisphere, Beijing, where it’s less humid, although still hot would be a better starting city than anywhere further south. Another way to avoid the problem would be to travel in the middle seasons: spring or autumn.

If you do cross the equator and the local weather is very different from the place that you departed, give your body time to adapt to the local conditions by not pushing yourself too much for the first couple of days and wear appropriate clothes.

How Much You Should Sleep on the Plane

How much you should sleep on the plane to China depends on your point of departure and the time of arrival. It is impossible to give advice to every possible flight route or time as they can include waiting time in airports, one or multiple transfers, etc.

on the planeAdjusting your eating and sleeping patterns on the plane can help reduce feelings of jetlag.

However, a good rule of thumb is to look at what local (Chinese) time will be when you arrive and then planning your sleep accordingly. Try to adapt to Chinese time even before you arrive by choosing to sleep on the plane (if, for example, you arrive in morning local time) or stay awake (if you arrive at evening local time).

Otherwise you might find yourself too tired to stay awake or too energetic to fall asleep. A good idea while flying is to also attempt to adjust eating your eating pattern as well as sleeping pattern as this will also help you adjust quicker to local Chinese time once you arrive.

You could change your watch/devices to the time in China from when your flight departs, so that you can start mentally adjusting, and adjusting eating and sleeping patterns during the trip. (Make sure you have the correct time if you transfer flights in an intermediate time zone though.)

Final Advice — Afternoon Arrival is Probably Best

If it is an option for you to decide your time of arrival in China then we would generally recommend arriving in the afternoon as this will allow to first spend some energy, then eat some good food – something lacking on planes – and go to sleep not long after.

Give yourself time the first few days, wear appropriate clothing, avoid too oily or extremely spicy food for a couple of days and force yourself to follow local time. Then enjoy China.

Side Note: All of China is One Time Zone (GMT +8)!

Time in the westernmost province of Xinjiang is officially still Beijing time, but the locals often follow their own two-to-four-hour-earlier time. Beijing time is used for transport, museums, etc. but “local time” means that restaurants open later than you might expect.

Travel with China Highlights for Great Advice and Tour Design

touristsTravel with China Highlights to adjust well and make the best of your China time.

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Contact us to have us design a customizable tour for you, which will allow you as much time as you need to recover from jetlag. Enjoy travel at your pace, your way.

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