Skepticism

Jet Lag Hag

Before we start, I wanted to call this post ‘Jet Slag’ but I thought it might not translate so well across the pond. Slag is a nasty term but also can be used to great comedic effect here, if said with a cockney accent like this “you slaaaagg!”.

The title, however, is meant to refer to my current status as a freak of female nature due to jet lag. In short, I look like hell and only have half a brain. I haven’t brushed my hair in two days, have zits in places I didn’t know I had places, and frankly could pass for a member of the cast of Macbeth, were it set in Gatwick Airport. I’ve been complaining about the inability to reset my body clock, and the generally ugly feeling in my mind, since I returned from TAM6, Las Vegas, on Wednesday, but it wasn’t til today that I thought to stop and ask “what the hell is jet lag anyway?”. My highly scientific findings after the jump.

Wiki says it’s a ‘physiological condition which is a consequence of alterations to circadian rhythms’ which makes you ill (not to be confused with syncopated rhythms, which merely make you groovy). Symptoms include insomnia, depression, loss of appetite, and nausea. The science is quite interesting. For example, did you know women of reproductive age are more susceptible to jet lag than men?

And that Viagra has been shown to be effective in treating jet lag…in hamsters?

All this from one Wiki entry. Once you’ve chewed over these and other thrilling questions, you will probably return to the place I’m at now, which is somewhere between “circadian rhythms” and “buh?”. Or maybe it’s just me. Either way, here’s an explanation:

“A circadian rhythm is an approximate daily periodicity, a roughly-24-hour cycle in the biochemical, physiological or behavioral processes of living beings, including plants, animals, fungi and cyanobacteria.”

Well cover me in garlic mayo and call me a po boy, I had no idea that everything was on the same cycle. That’s possibly because I skipped all biology lessons. Let’s gloss over that, I’m learnin’ now. So…as the circadian rhythm can be entrained by external cues, does that mean we can screw with stuff? What happens if we put fungi on a flight to Delhi? Mushrooms with jet lag is the funniest idea ever. Funnier, even, than trying to write a serious Skepchick post whilst suffering from all the symptoms…

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51 Comments

  1. There are many, many experiments where people have screwed with circadian rhythm. It’s really pretty fascinating.

    For example, male crickets kept in complete darkness will still call at the appropriate time for dusk. Over time, though, their clock drifts away from accurate time, and they become more erratic.

  2. What happens when you change the number of hours in the day over a stretch of time? Is there any evidence that we just get squirrlier and squirrlier, or do we eventually adapt?

    Just curious…used to work a rotating shift that was basically an 18 hour day, hated it of course.

  3. I had a cockatail once that was rather easily fooled into believing it was night and falling asleep instantly when I would put a towel over the cage. The stupid bird would squawk and squawk at the top of its little lungs, but as soon as the towel went over the cage, it was out. I bet I messed with its circadian rhythm.

    Similarly, my nocturnal Chinchilla probably never was too pleased with my schedule. I know I did not care for its active time in the middle of the night much. We never made great roommates, and it was back to the Humane Society with her.

  4. Am I the only person left in the world who thinks that abbreviating “Wikipedia” as “Wiki” is like abbreviating “encyclopædia” as “book”?

    /me goes off to fume that specific applications are not the same as general technologies

  5. they were talking about this on npr’s science friday a few months back, and actually your body has two clocks: one governed by the sun, and another governed by food. the food clock will actually preempt the sun clock, so you’re awake when food is available. basically, if you fast for 16 hours before and during an international flight, and then eat a big breakfast in the morning in your destination, supposedly your food clock will go *poof* and you will not get jet lag.

    i plan to try this when i fly to the uk in august.

  6. Hmm. Food eh?
    It’s 3.48am over here and my body thinks it’s still 7.48pm.
    Will a lard-fest help me out now?

    I don’t have a SitP London guest booked yet…if you’re offering?

  7. What happens when you change the number of hours in the day over a stretch of time? Is there any evidence that we just get squirrlier and squirrlier, or do we eventually adapt?

    Actually, if you’re an indoor type, my understanding is that it’s almost stupidly easy to adjust yourself off of a 24-hour clock – and by indoor type, I mean you can completely control the ambient light. For most people, anyway. In fact, in every case I’ve personally observed someone not set to a particular clock and not having to deal with natural lighting conditions much of the time (I know enough nerds that it’s come up more than once), they very quickly fall away from the 24-hour schedule.

    Luckily, I don’t have to worry about that sort of thing. Over two decades of chronic insomnia, and my circadian rhythms are so screwed-up that the word rhythm really shouldn’t apply anymore. On the plus side, I’m pretty well immune to jet lag.

  8. “and by indoor type, I mean you can completely control the ambient light.”

    “actually your body has two clocks: one governed by the sun, and another governed by food”

    That would explain the discomfort without totally losing functionality over the long term (my longest stretch was two months); they kept an arbitrary ‘day/night lite’ by dimming lighting during the ‘evening’ and brightening up in the ‘morning’ on a 24hour clock. They did have 4 meals per day at 6 hour intervals….come to think of it, we pretty much decided what ‘time’ it was based on when we were eating, with whatever meal occurred when we woke up becoming ‘breakfast’. :)

    It sounds like it would have been much more efficient to switch everyone over to an 18hour cycle, with perhaps two meals, rather than trying to keep a 24 hour ‘day’ while a majority of folks were living in 18 hour ‘days’.

  9. I read somewhere that a bunch of Russian researchers working underground and without clocks, quickly adopted a 30 hour day.

    Also, as a frequent trans-Atlantic flier, it is my belief that 8+ hours of canned air and cramped quarters would put anyone off kilter.

    Throw in 5 pints during layover at LHR and you’ll be pretty gibbled regardless.

  10. Along this theme, did anyone find it disturbing that you could lose track of time so easily in Vegas? Indoor lighting was the same 24 hours, and clocks were nowhere to be found.

    It reminded me of the episode of B5 where they were interrogating captain Sheradin in such a way that he had no idea what time of day it was or how long he had been asleep. They would do this to disorient him and mess with him psychologically. God, if the handle didn’t tell you, I really am a geek! BTW, if you know what B5 is, you are a geek, too!

  11. I once read this collection of alternative health therapies (mostly pro-quackery with a sentence or two with scepticism on the subject) and it talked about photo-therapy which they claimed was based on circadian rhythms. Apparently shining lights on people is supposed to cure jet lag.

    As further “proof” of the magical powers of photo-therapy, they mentioned that in the Dark Ages they used red light to “cure” small pox.

    Obviously it must have worked and the scientists just wasted all their time making a vaccine for small pox!

  12. Well, I do like Firefly. Ummm… Yeah, that’s about it for TV, honestly. I like to read classic sci-fi (Heinlein and Asimov rule that list in my universe). I’m a Tolkien nerd of the first order. Long-time gamer geek (which is where my nerdom truly shines in the eyes of the general public, I think).

    It’s kind of hard to answer that question, really, though… I mean I have lots of testes, but trying to decide which are pertinent isn’t exactly easy. I’ve a fondness for Greek food, Roman architecture, and Russian music. I hate chess. I think Kate Beckinsale is ridiculously hot. I prefer long hair on men and women. I like my pizza cold. I can’t stand beer. Princess Bride is my favorite movie, followed immediately (and closely) by StarDust, the Big Trouble in Little China. I like both cats and dogs, but rats are my favorite pets. I like blue eyes on men, but brown eyes on women. Long skirts and boots are fun. I think you haven’t lived until you’ve had sex in the rain, my favorite place in the world is Ireland, but for some reason I always come back to Texas, and I generally prefer women.

    Anything I left out?

  13. I read somewhere that a bunch of Russian researchers working underground and without clocks, quickly adopted a 30 hour day.

    Hmm… That sounds really appealing to me, actually. I rarely get to bed before 2 am, so the extra six hours would probably put me at roughly eight hours or sleep a night…

    Note to self: build an underground lair so you can keep a 30 hour day.

  14. Joshua: Bear in mind that if I remember correctly they worked 24 & slept 6.

    Rystefn: My tastes= Sci-Fi, Larry Niven.
    Movie, Bladerunner. Women, Short,smart brunettes ( but breathing will work ). Favorite place, Heathrow airport itself,really.

    And dont mention beer I’m sworn off it for a month and would kill for one right now.

  15. Oh yes, I’m a Niven fan… Honestly, i didn’t even know there was such a thing as a Niven-nerd until last year when some Trekkie pointed out that I was one when we got into a discussion of the Kzin and how the Trekiverse is wrong because the Kzinti homeworld is well within the borders of Federation space as defined in…

    Damnit. Yeah, I’m a geek.

  16. as I recall that was from the animated Trek series episodes that Niven wrote.

    I think he discounted it from his Known Space wrap-up tho…

    Ya, I’m a big Geek.

    PS. Best TV Evah= Blackadder

  17. I think I need to point out that Viagra has only been shown to be somewhat effective in treating advances in the sleep cycle (West-East jet lag) and does nothing for the East-West variety.

    As for woo phototherapy, there are well researched and well documented ways of advancing and delaying your sleep/wake cycle by exposing yourself to a threshold stimulus of light at various points during the night. I even was tested on the subject as an undergrad, but I have since drank that knowledge away. I do remember that all the “broad spectrum” or “blue spectrum” lights are worthless if you don’t use them within a specific interval

    Coolest Blackadder character by far: Lord Flashheart

    Thanks for signing my Skepchick calendar last weekend at TAM Ms. February, now I can pretend that wink was meant for me.

  18. I wake up at 5 a.m. on work days. My internal clock wakes me up at 5 a.m. EVERY day! I hate it. In Vegas, the time differences met that I woke up local time 3 a.m. which was about a hour after I went to bed.

    Which explains the dark circles under my eyes in every photo I’ve seen of me from TAM6.

  19. Josh K may be able to answer his question by taking a trip on the trans-Siberian railway. The train crosses approximately one time zone per day, so westbound travellers experience 25-hour days. pushing their body-clocks back back by an hour a day. The longest journey (Moscow-Vladivostok) lasts about a week, limiting the duration of your experiment to a week, but placing you 7 hours ahead of Moscow time.

    My trip was eastbound, so I had to face getting up an hour earlier for breakfast each morning — never a recipe for me to face the new day with a sunny disposition. My guidebook had said something to the effect of “after a few days, your body clock quits in disgust”; this seemed a little over-exaggerating to me, though you did have to make yourself eat meals when you weren’t yet feeling hungry.

    Disrupted sleep wasn’t really a problem, at least not when compared to that caused by the jolting of the train and the noise of its motion.

  20. Dangit, I should have gotten on the site earlier — I saw the typo right away and had my response half-written until I saw everybody’s replies. I just want to know how many constitutes “lots” when it comes to balls.

    Also, even if I didn’t already know you were a Tolkien fan I’d have caught it with “but I hates it.” Gollum rocks, albeit in a very slimy way.

  21. LoL… You haven’t even encountered me when I get all Bombadil. I’ve been known to go days at a time talking like that. It confuses wait-staff even more than accidentally ordering half in another language.

  22. SkepGeek- I used to have a cockatiel as well, and used the same solution to shut her up. They’re very social animals and hate being put in cages, so they just scream and scream until you let them out or make them think it’s sleepy time.

    As for circadian rhythms- mine’s been ravaged by a decade of narcolepsy to the point where I’m also immune to jet lag. The down side is that I already feel like I haven’t slept in 3 days. Oh well.

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