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Breakthrough research found the ideal solution for jet-lag

[Sept. 9, 2023: Staff Writer, The Brighter Side of News]

For globe trotters, few experiences rival the thrill of touching down in a new city, the adventures that await just beyond the tarmac. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

For globe trotters, few experiences rival the thrill of touching down in a new city, the adventures that await just beyond the tarmac. But, then there’s the dreaded jetlag – the physiological price of long-distance travel.

However, recent studies out of the US might just have presented the ideal solution. With strategic eating patterns and a dose of sunlight, travelers may soon bid goodbye to jetlag. As one dives into the heart of this research, one thing becomes evident: our body's internal clocks and the disruption they face during travel plays a pivotal role.


What Causes Jetlag?

Jetlag arises from disruptions to the body's circadian rhythm – an innate 24-hour cycle governing numerous bodily functions. This rhythm is synced to Earth's daily rotation. Thus, jet-setting across multiple time zones can wreak havoc on this internal system, leading to insomnia, fatigue, erratic hunger, digestive issues, and even severe headaches.

Determined to find a remedy, researchers at Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois, and the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico undertook a comprehensive study.


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"Having a larger meal in the early morning of the new time zone can help overcome jetlag," revealed Yitong Huang, the study's author from Northwestern University. Huang emphasized the importance of maintaining meal schedules, noting, "Constantly shifting meal schedules or eating at night can cause misalignment between internal clocks."

Our body’s central time-keeper, the circadian rhythm, influences sleep patterns. Recent studies show that virtually every tissue and cell in our body harbors its own circadian clock, each potentially differing. The brain houses the main clock, the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), comprising roughly 20,000 nerve cells, directly linked to our eyes.


Sunlight, especially exposure in the morning, resets the brain's clock by affecting melatonin production – a hormone from the pineal gland central to sleep regulation. Daylight suppresses melatonin, keeping us alert. Simultaneously, peripheral organs, like the stomach and liver, have their distinct clocks, reset by our food intake patterns. When these multiple clocks fall out of synchrony, jetlag strikes.

Illustration depicts the team's mathematical model. It consists of two populations of coupled oscillators, where one population represents the central clock in the brain, influenced by light, and the other population represents a peripheral clock, influenced by food. (CREDIT: Huang, et al.)

"Conflicting external cues, such as nighttime eating, can confuse our internal clocks, leading to desynchrony," Huang pointed out.


To decipher the effects of multiple internal clocks on jetlag and aging's role, the researchers employed computer software. Their innovative model featured two 'oscillators', representing the sunlight and food-controlled clocks. This exploration shed light on the ideal intervention: consuming one large meal during the early morning for three days post-travel.

When eyes receive light from the sun, the pineal gland's production of melatonin is inhibited, and the hormones produced keep us awake. When the eyes do not receive light, melatonin is produced in the pineal gland and the human becomes tired. (CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons)

When discussing their findings with reporters, Huang revealed, "Among the meal schedules tested, the morning-focused approach excelled in facilitating jetlag recovery."


Yet, age remains a key factor. With growing age, the interplay between circadian clocks weakens alongside diminished light sensitivity. Consequently, older individuals might require extended recovery post-travel.

This study has set the stage for further investigations, with the team eager to unravel factors strengthening our internal clocks. These insights might pave the way for jetlag prevention and maintain a robust circadian system as we age.

Jet Lag Symptopms. (CREDIT: Brianna Gilmartin / Verywell)

However, the interrelation between the body's multiple clocks remains a puzzle. Labeling the brain as the 'central clock', the researchers highlighted its role in coordinating other clocks. Their findings, published in Chaos, emphasized the need for a mathematical framework encompassing both the central and peripheral clocks to deepen our circadian rhythm understanding.


Jetlag Combat Tips: Sunlight, Superfoods, and More

Take A Walk: A 2019 airline study revealed that a post-flight outdoor walk trumps napping for jetlag. Dr. Yu Sun Bin, a sleep researcher from the University of Sydney, noted the importance of sunlight in adjusting body clocks. Alarmingly, less than half the travelers surveyed prioritized it.

Limit Alcohol Intake: Alcohol may initially induce sleep, but it also disrupts its quality, exacerbating jetlag. Dr. Sun Bin and the NHS both caution against excessive in-flight alcohol consumption.

Consume Superfoods: From lemons combating dehydration to bananas offering muscle relaxation, superfoods can be jetlag warriors. Cherries, goji berries, and fresh ginger, all rich in melatonin, can aid sleep regulation. Digestive issues? Quinoa might be the solution.

Melatonin - A Cure? Marketed as a jetlag remedy, melatonin tablets have gained popularity. The Mayo Clinic validates melatonin's role in aiding sleep during atypical hours. Yet, the NHS remains skeptical, citing insufficient evidence of its efficacy.


To counter jetlag, the NHS recommends hydration, in-flight activity, and aligning sleep patterns to the destination's timezone swiftly. Upon arrival, avoiding oversleep and embracing daylight are crucial.

For those itching to explore the world, these findings offer hope, making the next adventure just a little bit smoother.

For more science news stories check out our New Innovations section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


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