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Changing the time on your body clock

By Roger Kalla - posted Monday, 2 September 2013

One major disadvantage with living in the land down under is the time it takes to travel anywhere else.

From the time you are strapped in your seat, served countless airplane meals at odd hours , watch inflight movies until your eyes are fatigued. and finished your brought along crime novel, you still face hours and hours of utter boredom. Welcome to the once fashionable and exciting world of long distance travel by air.

It is a 24 hour trip one way to London by the most direct airplane route and 16 hours to Los Angeles across the Pacific. During these trips you cross mutiple time zones which sets you up for the dreaded jet lag, i.e. the effect of your biological body clock being out of synchronisation with the time zone you arrive in, that accompanies long distance air travel.People have been spruiking methods for overcoming jet lag, for as long as long distance air travel has existed


Airlines try to induce us to sleep by turning down the light and making us pulling down the blinds although it is broad day light outside. Presumably they know by experience that depriving 300 people of their sleep doesn't make for an airplane of happy campers and want to avoid scenes of ugly air rage by managing the problem proactively.

Some people swear that they can set their clocks by having a couple of extra alcoholic drinks and sleep it off while others resort to sleeping pills.

To expose yourself to light when you arrive in the morning and spend some time outdoors often helps to combat jet lag and shortens the period of time that your body is operating on Melbourne time while overseas.

The biological reason for the stubbornness of the body clocks to adapt to a new regime is the ingrained inertia of your biological circadian rhythms. Until now there hasn't been a way to set this clock as easily as the corresponding mechanical or digital timepiece. A key player in regulating the light/day cycle in our bodies is the hormone melatonin Natural levels of melatonin in the blood are highest at night. Circulating levels of melatonin in our body vary in a daily cycle, which allows for the entrainment of the circadian rhythms of many bodily functions.

Melatonin is produced and secreted into the blood by the pineal gland in the brain and released into the blood stream.

There is a link to light sensitive cells in the brain that are not primarily used for vision and this is believed to be the link between the perception of periods of light/dark and the synthesis and secretion of this hormone.


But the pharmaceutical administration of melatonin has a limited effect at best on shifting your body clock.

It has been speculated that there is a molecular brake that prevents the effect of light and melatonin to reach its full potential in counter acting jet lag.

Researchers at Oxford University working with jet lagged mice have now through the use of molecular biology managed to identify a master gene that codes for the protein SIK1 that has all the hall marks of the elusive brake. It turns off the genes that are initially turned on in response to light in the specific brain tissues affected.

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About the Author

Dr Roger Kalla is the Director of his own Company, Korn Technologies, and a stakeholder in Australia’s agricultural biotechnology future. He is also a keen part time nordic skier and an avid reader of science fiction novels since his mispent youth in Arctic Sweden. Roger is a proud member of the Full Montes bike riding club of Ivanhoe East.

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