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Model of Internal Clocks Reveals How Jet Lag Disrupts the System

to catch up by backtracking, achieving a leap forward of six hours by delaying themselves 18 hours.

So what is the best strategy for reducing jet lag? Consider the system dynamics, says Siegelmann, and aim for the largest shift of the master clock that still leads to coordinated shifting. Their analysis suggests that a four–hour advance pushes the entire system in the right direction, causing all components to advance smoothly and quickly. And while their model addressed the system in on rats, a nocturnal animal, the researchers note the general principle is likely to be widely applicable.

“Jet lag isn’t a horrible thing that we have to conquer—and our clock is a very important regulator at a basic level— medications to target the clock may be counter-productive if they affect future oscillatory behavior,” she says. “Instead, take a stopover if you are traveling for more than 6 hours—relax for a day and then continue. Understand and go with your body’s natural oscillations.”

The work also has implications for rotational shift workers, such as nurses and airline attendants, says Siegelmann. There are shifts that are much harder for the body than others, and if employers are expected be alert and functional, a 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. shift might bode better than a midnight to 6 a.m. shift.

“I think people will pay more attention to this as we learn more,” she says. “If you are flying to a meeting where you need to be alert and able to concentrate, you can prepare your body for those particular goals by making the shift gradually.”


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