Friday, March 30, 2007

New research on bad effects of jet lag

Frequent long-haul flights hard on the body Reuters/Yahoo!News 3/30/07 "Airplane crew and passengers who frequently fly between several time zones face a number of health problems including disruptions in a woman's menstrual cycle and even short-term psychiatric disturbances...There seems to be no getting use to long-haul flights, according to researchers who report that flight crews who regularly take long journeys are not protected from the effects of jet lag such as poor and interrupted sleep, mood changes, irritability, stomach problems, and decreased brain power...Jet lag is worse for older travelers, and its severity increases with the number of time zones crossed. "If the journey crosses fewer than about three time zones, then jet lag is unlikely to be a major difficulty for most people," ...The direction of travel also matters, Waterhouse and colleagues say, with flights to the east bringing more jet lag than flights to the west..."

And the researchers provide this handy little formula for calculating how much jet lag you'll probably encounter.

"Jet lag caused by eastbound flights lasts for several days "roughly equal to two-thirds of the number of time zones crossed, and about half the number of time zones crossed for westward flights,""

The advice on how to deal with jetlag: "For journeys that cross more than three time zones, travelers can help the body clock adjust by deliberately seeking or avoiding sunlight at the new destination...Trying to maintain alertness during the day at the new destination by exercising and/or drinking caffeinated beverages may also help. The jury is still out on the value of taking the hormone melatonin to curb jet lag, the authors say. Melatonin is secreted during sleep and has been implicated in jet lag, but Waterhouse and colleagues don't advise using melatonin until more research is conducted..."

In my experience 1.5-3mg of melatonin right before bedtime in a new time zone really does help reset the circadian faster than light exposure and other methods. Curious that the authors seem overly cautious with melatonin.

CDC offer this: "melatonin seems to be safe and well tolerated, and doses of 0.5-5 mg promoted sleep and decreased jet lag in travelers crossing five or more time zones. Five-mg doses promoted more rapid sleep than lower doses; doses >5 mg had no additional benefit. Slow-release forms were not effective. Melatonin should be taken at the target bedtime, beginning 3-4 days before departure if possible."

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