How the Expat Life is Messing with Your Health

Article by XIANEASE

Being can be a fun and exciting lifestyle. That is, for many, the reason why we got started down this path to begin with. However, the expat life can also lead to some less than optimal behaviors that can affect your health, both mental and physical, that can cause discomfort beyond the normal. This can lead to feelings of discomfort that you might not experience if you had stayed at home.

Problem #1

Being an Expat Can Mess with Your Sleep Schedule

Good sleep is at the root of good health, and if you’re not getting the requisite amount of sleep, your health will often suffer in the long term. So what is it about being an expat that messes with your sleep?

For starters, many activities that expats get involved with involve late nights, with parties and events, KTVs and bars keeping us out way past the time we should be in bed. This is especially true for those who are on the training school-style work schedule of 1PM-9PM. This shift often means even later nights, as your post-work day takes you even further into the night. Even if you adjust to this schedule, it’s been said that this “night shift” type of schedule can be detrimental to your long term health. Not to mention that you’re likely overdosing the caffeine in order to keep that pep in your step during the day, and drinking a bit heavier than you should at night.

Even if you are getting your 8 hours of sleep, the environment here might be causing your sleep quality to drop. Xi’an is a city of 11 million, give or take, and that means that the city is always on, in one way or another. Light pollution and noise pollution can be significant factors in the degradation of sleep quality. Speaking of pollution, poor indoor air quality can further decrease the benefits of sleep, and cracking a window isn’t exactly going to help.


Adjusting your sleep schedule can be a difficult one, as it often will feel that you are sacrificing social time in order to get to bed at a reasonable hour. Also, the habits and patterns that we develop around our schedules here are often hard to break. One method for adjusting your sleep schedule is to limit the amount of caffeine and alcohol that you consume in a given day/week to reduce the impact that they have on your sleep. Increasing physical activity during the day, especially in the morning, can also assist in adjusting your sleep schedule. If you’re looking for additional assistance, sleep aids, such as melatonin, can assist you in getting to sleep at an earlier time.
To better adjust your sleep environment, there are a few things that you can do. The windows in modern buildings are much more insulated than those in older buildings, meaning less sound penetration, so if you’re living in an older building, it might be time for an upgrade. Light pollution can be dealt with by purchasing some blackout curtains, and you can take them with you when you move house, making it a one-time expense. To deal with the indoor air quality, an air filter in your bedroom is one of the best purchases, as well as regularly airing out the room. It’s also a good idea to run it even in summer, even though the air looks clear.

Problem #2

The Expat Diet is Often Poor

Looking back to the first few years of my expat life in China, it’s a wonder that I survived at all. When you’ve first arrived in the country and your language skills are limited, you often fall back on a few dishes that you learn the name of real quick. Those dishes tend to be the ones that are more familiar to the expat palate, tangsuliji, gongbaojiding, and similar offerings that also tend to be full of sugar. The other option tends to be a fried noodle of some kind or something similar, leading to a diet that is not the best. Also, for many, when you want a taste of something familiar, you turn to fast food options that definitely are not good for you.

It also can be daunting to try and buy the fresh meats and vegetables at markets if you are not comfortable with the language. The cost of purchasing kitchen equipment is also something that some expats don’t bother with, as they don’t plan to stay in one place for too long, especially since restaurant food is so cheap. Not to mention that many don’t know how to cook very well, further discouraging making food at home.

In addition to the issues surrounding food, as previously mentioned, many expats tend to drink above the recommended amounts of caffeine and alcohol. Whether for social reasons or for coping reasons, this habit of overconsumption tends to be one of the hardest to break.


One of the best ways to fix your diet in China is to learn a few cooking skills and prep meals on your day off. It’s now easier to get the raw ingredients than it ever has been with apps like Sevenfresh and Hema, and sourcing high quality ingredients through Taobao and other apps is also a great way to keep your kitchen stocked. You probably won’t quit eating out entirely, but it’s a step in the right direction.

When you are eating out, start experimenting with different dishes. A lot of Chinese food is pretty healthy, with higher volumes of vegetables per serving than many cuisines. For the work time lunch, try hitting up a 小吃城 or “Snack City”, a food court with many restaurants, where the average worker in China eats lunch. Besides being affordable, some of the restaurants will serve food cafeteria-style, meaning you can point to what you want, and actually see what you are getting.

Finally, instead of going for the Western fast food, save the tastes of home for actual restaurants. There are some great Western restaurants in Xi’an, with more opening all the time. You’ll be more satisfied with the results and it will make you feel better overall.