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The long-term effects of jet lag

Sleepiness from long flights may be the least of your problems. Learn how Timeshifter, available through the Haven Life Plus bonus rider, fights jet lag to improve your overall health

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If you travel often, your body may already understand the toll of jet lag. The grogginess, lack of mental sharpness and irritability are all symptoms of jet lag that 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 eligible Haven Term policyholders.

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.

In this article:

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 shift is 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 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 be 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 not be 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’re a business traveler who makes 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, eligible policyholders get an annual subscription for Timeshifter at no cost. (Through Plus, eligible policyholders also receive 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.

It’s not just easier life insurance, it’s an easier life.

Learn about the perks that come with being a Haven Term policyholder.

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About Tom Anderson

Tom Anderson is an award-winning financial journalist whose work has appeared in CNBC.comKiplinger’s Personal FinanceMoneyMonocle and Wired. He was a 2008-09 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economics and Business Journalism at Columbia University.

Read more by Tom Anderson

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer-centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our editorial policy

Haven Life is a customer centric life insurance agency that’s backed and wholly owned by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual). We believe navigating decisions about life insurance, your personal finances and overall wellness can be refreshingly simple.

Our content is created for educational purposes only. Haven Life does not endorse the companies, products, services or strategies discussed here, but we hope they can make your life a little less hard if they are a fit for your situation.

Haven Life is not authorized to give tax, legal or investment advice. This material is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for tax, legal, or investment advice. Individuals are encouraged to seed advice from their own tax or legal counsel.

Our disclosures

Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (DTC and ICC17DTC in certain states, including NC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111-0001 and offered exclusively through Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. In NY, Haven Term is DTC-NY 1017. In CA, Haven Term is DTC-CA 042017. Haven Term Simplified is a Simplified Issue Term Life Insurance Policy (ICC19PCM-SI 0819 in certain states, including NC) issued by the C.M. Life Insurance Company, Enfield, CT 06082. Policy and rider form numbers and features may vary by state and may not be available in all states. Our Agency license number in California is OK71922 and in Arkansas 100139527.

MassMutual is rated by A.M. Best Company as A++ (Superior; Top category of 15). The rating is as of Aril 1, 2020 and is subject to change. MassMutual has received different ratings from other rating agencies.

Haven Life Plus (Plus) is the marketing name for the Plus rider, which is included as part of the Haven Term policy and offers access to additional services and benefits at no cost or at a discount. The rider is not available in every state and is subject to change at any time. Neither Haven Life nor MassMutual are responsible for the provision of the benefits and services made accessible under the Plus Rider, which are provided by third party vendors (partners). For more information about Haven Life Plus, please visit: https://havenlife.com/plus

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