Jetlag in China
travel guide

Jetlag in China

By Candice SongUpdated Mar. 18, 2021
Jetlag tips

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

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. 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. 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 the American East Coast, the American West Coast, the U.K., New Zealand and Australia. Furthermore, time of arrival will also be included as a factor; we will split this factor into two categories: arrival in morning local time and arrival in evening local time.

Flying from the USA or Canada

Arriving in the morning from the USA or Canada

Jetlag Tips for China Trip

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), which means that they would feel as if they arrived in the afternoon. 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, 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 (I’m looking at you, hotpot). Generally, eating less spicy and oily food is good on one’s first day; we would instead recommend some delicious, filling dumplings (jiaozi (饺子)).

Arriving in the evening or afternoon from the USA or Canada

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 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 easier fall asleep, 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

Arriving in the morning from Great Britain

Arriving in China in the morning for British people with a time difference of 7 hours 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.

This can be eased by eating a good, nutritious meal and perhaps some snacks such as barbecue sticks or what’s among foreigners commonly known as ‘Chinese pizza’ i.e. tujiabing (土家饼).

As local evening approaches the challenge will be to fall asleep, while inside it might just feel like afternoon. Stretching one’s legs, drinking something hot (not coffee) and learning how to play Chinese chess or Majiang (麻将), an extremely popular board game that is played all around the clock, especially in Western China.

Arriving in the evening from Great Britain

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 easier fall asleep, a stroll, tea, Chinese board games and a good book are all viable options until one is finally able to drift away.

From Australasia

Arriving in the morning from Australasia

Australians or New Zealanders arriving in China in the morning will generally 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.

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.

Arriving in the evening from Australasia

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.

An extra problem for Australasians and others from south of the equator

For travelers departing south of the equator, another problem will have to be taken into account. That problem is the reversal of seasons, i.e. if it’s summer south of the equator then it will be winter north of the equator.

Since China is north of the equator, this is an important fact to remember. China is a huge country and the climate is very different depending on which part of the country you are in. It would be a tragedy for New Zealander, for example, to travel in summer to Beijing only to discover that it is winter and freezing in northern China.

The variations in weather and temperature vary greatly across China but a general rule is that the variations in temperature are smaller the more south you go. Variations in temperature are also generally smaller near the coast because the water takes longer than earth to heat up and cool down.

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.

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.

Final notes

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 often lacking on planes, though I heard rumors that Sichuan Airlines should be good – 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.

You could try changing 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.)

Side note

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

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