by Logan Schechter; Denver School of Science and Technology (Denver, CO)
“Vert skeepy now ehardly itype hjust wante say hello. The bathroom has a atv.” On Gypsy’s Guide of Best Jet Lag Stories, Marilyn Terrell recounted her trip from Taipei to LA when she was so tired that her message to her family after landing was nearly incomprehensible.
According to the National Association of Managed Care Physicians (NAMCP), jet lag is a common sleep disorder that affects millions of people on a daily basis as they travel for both business and pleasure. Jet lag has been defined as a disruption of a body’s internal clock, which is temporary and occurs when traveling across time zones.
Frequent travelers experience jet lag symptoms, such as fatigue, sleepiness, digestive problems, impaired judgment and poor decision making skills, memory lapses, irritability, inability to concentrate, and apathy. Beyond symptoms of jet lag, when a human’s body clock is out of synch over an extended time it could lead to more serious diseases such as obesity, diabetes, strokes and heart attacks.
Jet lag occurs when the body’s circadian rhythm is disrupted, which in turn disrupts all other biological processes and can even result in a change in brain chemicals. The National Institute of General Medical Sciences explains the science of circadian rhythm to be the physical, mental, and behavioral changes associated with a 24-hour cycle. Both animals and plants are affected and respond primarily to light and darkness.
This disruption in the body’s circadian rhythm influences the production of the hormone, melatonin. Because melatonin plays an important role in regulating body rhythms, The National Institutes of Health (NIH) conducted a study to determine its effectiveness in combating the effects of jet lag. The NIH conducted ten trials using melatonin, two other medications, and a placebo. Nine of the ten trials revealed a decrease in jet lag symptoms with the introduction of melatonin when taken close to destination target bedtime. Researchers concluded that melatonin was a safe and effective short-term treatment that accelerates the body’s body clock acclimation to new time zones.
Researchers continue to search for the “magic pill’ to limit or even eliminate the effects of jet lag on the human body. Although melatonin supplements are a viable short-term solution with limited side effects, additional research has been conducted into hormone regulation.
In October of 2013, researchers at Kyoto University in Japan published the results of the studies of circadian rhythms in mice. Kyoto researchers discovered that jet lag is directly related to a hormone called arginine vasopressin (AVP). Their research involved placing mice in cages where light was regulated to simulate day and night. Ultimately, the researchers concluded that they could deliver chemicals to the mice to block the secretion of AVP, which then minimized the effects of jet lag. A significant drawback to this study is that the drug cannot be delivered directly to the brain so it would affect other vital organs and could causing undesirable side effects.
According to Tom Spicer, a United Airlines pilot and former Air Force test pilot, after a long trip he finds that his reaction times are slower and he tends to “feel a little bit foggy.” Spicer is not alone in his struggle with jet lag symptoms as his job requires that he cross time zones on a regular basis.
The human body typically functions on a 24-hour cycle so that when a body is at sleep the human heart and breathing slow down, blood pressure drops, and muscles relax.
Some frequent travelers have tips that help them to avoid severe jet lag symptoms.
Mark Schechter, Vice President of Marketing for Keyston Bros. typically travels 14 to 20 days per month. He tries to quickly adapt to the new time zone by maintaining “a more consistent schedule when you get there [which] can always help you to get more sleep.”
Spicer also believes that a consistently healthy diet and good sleeping habits when at home and on the road are the best ways to combat jet lag. While piloting a jet, Spicer also tries to “move around” and “stretch” periodically to stay alert and combat the symptoms.
Schechter explained that short trips on which he travels east are quite difficult because his day is shorter. “I am definitely not as focused as I should be on a trip when I am a couple of hours away on a time zone.” To combat these effects, he tries to get out into the sunlight upon arrival and get some exercise. He has found that both of these factors help him to sleep better.
Spicer believes that most travelers adapt and compensate for the effects of jet lag, but does not believe you ever really get used to crossing time zones, which is hard on the body.
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