At the beginning of the movie “Lost In Translation”, there is a scene with Bill Murray sitting on the edge of his bed, in the middle of the night. He is in his bathrobe, wearing hotel slippers. You can see Tokyo in the background.
The movie scene represents jet lag.
Right now I am going to Tokyo about once a month. So I have a lot of experience with jet lag. For those who have never done it, the flight is about 14 1/2 hours from the east coast to Tokyo, and then about 13 hours back (because of the tail wind on the way back). Depending on the time of the year, Tokyo is either 13 or 14 hours ahead of east coast time. So if it is 9am here, it is 10pm or 11pm in Tokyo.
What still confuses me is that the flights cross the International Date Line. I hope I never have to answer a test question explaining what the International Date Line is. What I do know is that if I leave on a Saturday morning from the east coast, I arrive in Tokyo on a Sunday afternoon. And if I leave Tokyo at 9am Friday morning (are you ready for this?) I arrive on the east coast at 8am Friday morning. In other words, I arrive on the east coast before I left Tokyo, even though I’ve spent 13 hours in the air.
Ever hear the expression “the longest day of my life”? On a flight from Tokyo to the east coast, you have a 37 hour day. That is the longest day of my life. And I’ve done it 15 times so far.
When I go to bed in Tokyo, I am absolutely exhausted. I feel like I’m going to sleep for 18 hours. Yet I wake up 4 hours after I go to sleep. If my colleagues are travelling with me, I know that they are awake, too. All that I need to do is to check e-mail, and I can see that my colleagues are also all awake.
If I want an easy laugh, I wait until another westerner gets on an elevator in a hotel in Tokyo. I look at them and ask “sleep ok?”
No one ever does.
People who have never done the trip ask me “have you ever tried melatonin?”
You can eat a Valium the size of a deep dish pizza and still not sleep through the night. I don’t know why, but it’s true. When my hypothalamus says “WAKE UP!!”, I wake up.
Conventional wisdom is that it takes 1 day to adjust for every 1 time zone that you change. Going to Tokyo involves changing 13 time zones on the way, and then 13 time zones on the way back. I would have to take two weeks to adjust, in each direction, every time I go.
My family doesn’t give me two weeks to adjust anymore. I get one nap when I get back, and then I’m not allowed to complain anymore.
I think they’ve had enough of jet lag.