If you travel often, your body may already understand the toll of jet lag. The grogginess, lack of mental sharpness and irritability are all feelings frequent travelers experience. But there could be another cost to all that travel … your long-term health.
Jet lag is more than a nuisance. We talked to Steven Lockley, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School’s Division of Sleep Medicine, to discuss the long-term risks of jet lag on your health.
Lockley has spent 25 years studying sleep, is an expert on circadian rhythms (the internal 24-hour clock that helps regulate your sleep and many other processes) and works with Formula 1 drivers and NASA astronauts to improve their performance. He also is an advisor to Timeshifter® – The Jet Lag App, a service that’s now available at no-cost to Haven Life customers.
Research by Lockley and other neuroscientists make a strong case for why reducing jet lag may prevent some of its long-term health effects. Here are some of the surprising insights from the cutting edge of jet lag research.
Jet lag may put you at risk for many chronic health conditions
Neuroscientists (including Lockley) have studied the health of shift workers, such as doctors, flight attendants, bartenders, auto workers and police officers, to understand better what disruption of circadian rhythms can do to your body over time.
“Shiftwork and jet lag are very similar problems, caused by shifting your sleep and light cycles too quickly for the body clock to keep up with. Shifting your work times by 12 hours from a day shift to a night shiftis the same as traveling 12 time zones, like flying to Asia,” Lockley says.” And there’s a lot of data showing that long-term shift workers have a much higher risk of heart disease, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, some cancers and depression.”
The cause of jet lag is rooted in our biology. “We have evolved to detect small changes in light day-to-day as the season changes, but we haven’t evolved to deal with rapid shifts of many hours in a single a day, which is what happens with jet travel,” Lockley says.
Lack of sleep from jet lag drains you … and you may not realize it
You may not fully aware of how much a trip took out of you, especially when it comes to judging your own sleepiness. “We know that subjective sleepiness is a very poor measure of your actual level of sleepiness, your objective sleepiness,” Lockley explains.
One way to think of jet lag (and the sleepiness it causes) is that it’s like being drunk. “A sleepy brain is like a drunk brain. If you have had a drink, you may be not as able to make good judgments,” Lockley says. “If you are sleepy, the same is true. You can’t judge how sleepy you are when you have a sleepy brain.”
The lack of sleep caused by chronic jet lag also can produce cognitive declines, such as memory loss, according to a widely-cited 2000 study in the Journal of Neuroscience. Researchers compared the airline cabin crews’ levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) to those of personnel on the ground. They found that the cabin crews “exhibited cognitive deficits, possibly in working memory, that became apparent after several years of chronic disruption of circadian rhythms.” The same thing could be happening to you if you make long-distance flights frequently.
How personalized jet lag plans make frequent travel less hard
Fortunately, you can minimize the health effects of jet lag with a few simple steps. You can take naps or drink coffee and avoid bright light before, during and after your trips to adjust to your current timezone but the key is doing these things at the right time.
“The strongest time cue our body clock uses to reset itself is the daily light and dark cycle,” Lockley says. “If we time light exposure and light avoidance, or dark, properly, we can shift the body clock much more quickly than it normally would. So instead of shifting up to an hour a day, which will happen if you travel without a specific plan, we can shift the body clock three-four times quicker than that.”
Lockley has been hand-crafting personalized plans for friends and family to defeat jet lag for the past 15 years, and has provided a similar program to NASA astronauts for the past decade. In 2016, he began working with Timeshifter co-founders Mickey Beyer-Clausen, Tony Hanna and Jacob Ravn to bring his expertise to the masses. The Timeshifter app uses powerful algorithms to reset the clock as quickly as possible and its Practicality Filter™ to create individualized plans that fit with your sleep pattern and busy schedule.
“Timeshifter is highly versatile. There are over 600 different versions of every plan, based on the information you give and instances of things like sleep timing and duration, whether you’re a morning or evening type, whether you use melatonin (a natural sleep aid), whether you use caffeine, and how long you want to start adapting before your trip” Lockley notes. “Each plan has hundreds of different options, but we’ll give you the one that fits you best, based on the individual information you’ve given us.”
Timeshifter costs $9.99 per jet lag plan or $24.99 for an annual subscription. With Haven Life Plus, a no-cost rider (think benefit) to the Haven Term policy, customers get an annual subscription for Timeshifter at no cost. Plus services also includes access to an online will service, a leading audio fitness app, a digital safe and discounted family health services.
Sure, you can struggle through when traveling long-distances without a personalized plan to fight jet lag, and maybe think you’re doing OK. Thousands of airline passengers do it every day. But at what cost? Given the impact of jet lag on your health and productivity, why would you? Give Timeshifter a try and see how much better you feel.
Timeshifter is a registered trademark of Timeshifter Inc.
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