Saturday, August 26, 2017

Jet Lag Becomes Worse as One Becomes Older

Intercontinental travel is something I do quite frequently.  Just in the past two years, I have flown multiple times between Asia and Africa, Africa and North America via Europe, and between the Americas.  For all of these aside from the inter-American flights, the time difference between the origin and the destination is big enough to separate night and day.  But with so many experiences under the belt, I generally is able to grind through the time difference, often by ensuring that no sleep is taken during the long flights across the continents, so that exhaustion means immediate sleep upon arrival at the accommodation at the destination.

Unfortunately, the strategy is starting to break down as I get older.  In some ways it works better since now, I can no longer sleep on tight, stiff seats for hours at a time (something that I used to do often on long bus journeys) even if I wanted to, so it is not difficult to keep awake.  And once arrived at the destination, the body is also exhausted enough for sleep.  Yet, instead of staying asleep, the body wakes up at 4 or 5am, following the early brightness of the summer.  And no matter how hard I try, I just cannot fall back asleep.  Grogginess ensues for the whole day.

Then it becomes a matter of staring at the ceiling until a more "appropriate" hour to wake up.  Certainly nothing can be done until business hours out there, so it is always better to pretend to sleep than doing anything else.  But the tradeoff is that when 7 or 8pm hits, there is really nothing that can be done to stop the body from shutting down.  For all the excitement of being in Tokyo, with its endless nightlife options and safe streets full of people into the wee hours, I am forced to call it quits and head back to bed, repeating the same pattern of waking up at 4 or 5am again the next day.

It is the type of routine least recommended to people going through jet lag.  One is supposed to force oneself into the local time, whether it be the time to sleep or wake up.  Even if the first day is not possible, the second day should be.  Yet, at this point in time, even after three days, the same 8pm to 5am sleep cycle continues, and it has unfortunately entrenched itself despite it very much should not be.  It shows every sign of not receding, making the jet lag longer and longer until it becomes part of daily life in a new city in the new part of the world.

In some ways, it is a situation that causes fear.  After all, as people become older, the ability to adjust becomes weaker.  Beyond the lack of adjustment for jet lag as noted above, there are plenty of other, more important things that one may not be as capable of adapting to as much as one should.  Those could very well be what sets apart assimilation into the new place of residence vs forever staying outside of the local mainstream.  Things like culture, customs, language, social norms, and all sorts of unwritten rules on etiquettes and mannerisms.  They are the components that can make a person behaviorally "at home."

As one gets older, the residues of somewhere else, much like weird time routines of waking hours, sticks with one when creating one's social profile and presence.  Those residue makes the person foreign and stick out like a sore thumb especially in a socioculturally homogenous society like Japan.  As the foreign routine remain, the native populations become more and more disappointed by the inability of foreigners to fit in over time and simultaneously by their own inability to quickly convert foreigners in the local mold into residents knowledgeable and accepting about local life.

Such lack of adaptability shows itself in the most mundane of ways.  It shows when one does not know how to navigate the local hospital, how to order food in a restaurant, when and where to stand or sit in a train, and how to walk around streets and passages without bothering others.  They seem like nothing to the person used to the previously normal routines from somewhere else, but to people who are used to the local ways of doing things, they are the surest signs of the foreigner not able to account for local knowledge and getting used to the local ways.

So one's indulgence for abnormal waking hours because of jet lag is not simply a matter of jet lag or supposedly temporary physiological distress.  It is also a sign of laziness, a lack of effort to adjust to a new reality because not adjusting seems to cause little harm for oneself while avoiding a whole lot of personal discomfort.  Jet lag is just a metaphor for refusal to localize, and to ignore the subtle disapproval from others due to the lack of localization.  It is not just about being socially conservative, it is about being oblivious to how locals react to the refusal to accept the changing realities.  

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