Newswise – When we travel, our biological clocks are thrown out of synch. Constant light also disrupts our internal clocks, resulting in problems like jet lag and health problems in extended-shift workers. A new study shows that even though we get the impression that our internal clocks are disrupted, as far as are bodies are concerned, they keep on ticking away at a constant pace.
Neurologist Douglas McMahon wanted to find out how to modify constant-light situations to lessen their impact on humans. According to McMahon, “if you are putting someone in constant light, such as a neonatal intensive care unit or an extended space mission. Knowing that cellular clocks keep ticking means that you can work on keeping them synchronized rather than restarting them.”
Maintaining the synchronization of our internal biological clocks has important health consequences. For example, babies who need to be in neonatal intensive care unit under constant dim light can show lower weight gain than those on a more natural light cycle. Repeated jet lag can also have adverse health effects.
McMahon discovered that one way to keep your biological clock synchronized is exercise.
Biological clocks are responsible for maintaining circadian rhythms, which affect our sleep, performance, mood and immune systems. The mammalian biological clock in the brain is made up of multiple nerve cells, each with a pair of identical nuclei. McMahon says, “We wanted to be able to track not just the average activity of the clock nuclei as a whole, but the individual cell rhythms and correlate that with the behavior of an individual animal. Has the [constant] light stopped the clocks in individual cells, or has it reorganized the neurons?”
He discovered that, “The individual cell clocks had not stopped, but they had become desynchronized. Some mechanism that couples the two sides was disrupted. It appears that the nucleus on each side can control behavior.”
What does this mean for the average air traveler? If you take a walk as soon as you deplane and get lots of exercise during the day, you can reset your internal clock. The worst thing to do is what so many of us do during Thanksgiving vacation: eat a lot of food, become sedentary in front of the TV, then take a long nap. Thankfully, most of us don’t travel far enough during the Thanksgiving season (since the holiday is only celebrated in the US) for this to be a problem.
Art credit: http://www.freeimages.co.uk
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