Flying is rarely enjoyable. Enclosed, highly-populated cabin aside, flying also entails jet lag. Experiencing jet lag can exhausting and uncomfortable for days. Turns out, there may be more reason to avoid it.
Gibson et al. from the University of California, Berkeley reported findings on the physiological effects sleep schedule modification can have on the brain. “It would be like a flight from New York to Paris every three days.” Using hamsters as an analog, researchers advanced their sleeping schedules every three days for a month. The results are telling.
The jet lag simulation reduced neuronal growth by 50% in the hippocampus, an area of the brain attributed to the consolidation of short-term memory into long-term memory and spatial navigation. Notably, Alzheimer’s patients typically suffer damage to the hippocampus first. Hamster learning also deteriorated; treated hamsters took significantly longer to learn which 2 cage chambers contained a running wheel. Deterioration persisted even after 28 days of ordinary sleeping schedule.
Investigators from the University of Virginia and Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands investigated the suprachiasmatic nucleus, an area of the brain associated with timekeeping. They found the ventral area is directly connected to the retina and rapidly synchronizes to a new light schedule whereas the dorsal area requires several days to adjust. More importantly the findings suggested GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is responsible for dorsal-ventral synchronization. They note that enhancing GABA (below) through some drug may reduce the effects of jet lag.
So what do we do about it? Patrick M. Fuller and his team of researchers from the Beth Deaconess Medical Center in Boston reported that a second eating-driven clock may override the standard light-based timekeeping.
“A period of fasting with no food at all for about 16 hours is enough to engage this new clock,” A researcher suggests. “So, in this case, simply avoiding any food on the plane, and then eating as soon as you land, should help you to adjust — and avoid some of the uncomfortable feelings of jet lag.”