Fighting jet lag – a simple case of wearing more layers?

Pioneering research has found that one of the best ways to beat jet lag may be by wearing more layers, sitting by a fire and having plenty of cups of tea. Scientists have found that our biological clocks are driven not only by light, but also by our body heat.

fireImagine you’ve been on a relaxing holiday. You’ve done nothing more than catch some sun, top up your tan, and sip cocktails on the beach. Why, despite the relaxing nature of your holiday do you return feeling more tired and fatigued than when you went? It is all to do with jet lag.

After a long-haul flight that crosses over many time zones, you can feel excessively tired and nauseous, with poor concentration and memory. Usually the more time zones you cross, the more severe these symptoms.  It also takes longer to recover, the longer the flight.

So why do we get jet lag?

We suffer from jet lag because of disruptions to our internal body clock which regulates things called circadian rhythms. These rhythms control many of our bodily functions and behaviours such as body temperature, appetite, hormone release and sleep patterns. They are controlled by a part of the brain called the SCN – the suprachiasmatic nucleus, located just above the roof of our mouths.

Circadian_rhythm_labeledOur body clock is synchronised to our environment using light signals, which signal to our brain what time of day it is.  During long haul travel, the cells in the brain’s ‘body clock’ become confused by the change in the light and act out of sync with each other. This is the point where we experience symptoms associated with jet lag.

Scientists have known about jet lag for a long time, but we know little about how to treat it successfully.  If you look on the internet you can find numerous sites giving tips on how to beat jet lag- or at least improve the symptoms. From my own experience, every time I’ve travelled to America and tried some of these, they have rarely touched the surface.

If you want to avoid jet lag the advice is to establish a new routine so that you eat and sleep according to the time zone you’re in, avoid napping during the day, and making sure you get as much natural light as possible. Research has shown that experiencing light during the evening causes a delay in our body clock meaning our bodies rhythms move later in the day. If we are exposed to light during the early morning, our clock becomes advanced and our rhythms start earlier in the day.

This stuff is all pretty old news. The link between the circadian clock and temperature is, on the other hand, altogether remarkable.  Scientists have found lots of evidence that point towards our biological clocks being driven by our body heat. Fruit flies exposed to drastic changes in temperatures exhibited changes to their body clock. They found that cells in the back of the brain called ‘dorsal clock cells’ were important in synchronising the body clock at warmer temperatures. Cells at the front of the brain -‘ventral clock cells’, synchronised the clock at cooler temperatures.

These findings may be key in helping us defeat jet lag by easing our body clock back into its status quo. It may be as simple as piling on layers of chunky jumpers, scarves and hats if you come from somewhere blisteringly hot, to be plunged into a cold climate. Vice versa, stripping down to as little clothing as possible may help battle jet lag if returning from somewhere cold. It’s all about easing our bodies back into its normal routine; not plunging straight into the deep end.

Post by: Samantha Lawrence

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