Stress hormones and Jet Lag




These folks are saying that even short domestic flights that cross 1 time zone can throw our stress hormones out of whack for awhile. Maybe kind of like changing the clocks for daylight savings time.

Long-distance flights have previously been shown to throw off a person’s natural cortisol rhythms, the ebb and flow of the hormone normally experienced during a given day. So the researchers in the Vietnam Era study had their participants spit in a vial several times at home, then repeat their spitting during their Boston or San Diego visits. Those salivary samples – used to measure cortisol levels – allowed researchers to look for changes in the hormone before and after air travel for people who are less than frequent fliers.

“A person traveling 5 days a week or repeatedly traveling to Hong Kong on business is not representative of the general population,” Jacobson said. “But we all know how it feels when you’re going to California versus going to DC from Chicago and struggling with waking up. This paper links what we all think to be true about jet-lag with an existing body of research that had shown effects under fairly extreme circumstances and said yeah, this is in fact what’s going on, there are changes in the body even with short-term travel.”…

….The researchers did find detectable changes to that physiology in their sample, with cortisol rhythms affected even after flights that only crossed one time zone. Curiously, eastbound flights produced larger cortisol perturbations than westbound flights, a phenomenon that had previously been shown by studies of longer trips. Despite eastbound flights being half as long on average as westbound flights in the subject pool, the effect size of that eastward travel was twice as large.

What could cause this east/west gap remains something of a mystery, Doane and Jacobson said. One might expect that being forced to wake up earlier the day after travel to a easterly time zone could throw off a person’s cortisol, but statistically controlling for wake time and hours of sleep did not remove the effect. The disconnect between a person’s circadian rhythm and the new time zone they find themselves in could change cortisol dynamics by some still-unrecognized mechanism, the authors suggested, or the mere experience of air travel could be a significant stressor (as anyone who’s ever flown out of O’Hare can attest)….  more at the link

 via Up in the Air, Stressing Out « Science Life Blog « University of Chicago Medical Center.


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