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Home > Medical > Will jet lag cause one's brain to shrink?
Will jet lag cause one's brain to shrink?
Flying - Medical
Tuesday, 08 January 2008 19:15

Hello Capt Lim,

This is Logan, the smoking aspirant pilot again. I hope you do remember me.

My question now is about jet lag. I have read about it in a magazine, stating that people who fly frequently face problems such as, jet lag would cause one's brain to shrink and also makes one very forgetful after a long haul flight.

A survey conducted by the University of Harvard's professor of medicine states that one should take a rest for 10 days after a long flight in order to cure the disease. I was amazed to know about this. I was wondering how it would affect a pilot's life, especially when he has to fly all over the world. So, what is your opinion on this?

Logan.

Hi Logan,

I think what you have read about jet lag may be grossly mistaken. As far as I know, jet lag is not a disease. It does not cause the brain to shrink or makes one forgetful in the long term. Further, you do not really require 10 days to recover from it. Here is a short write up to refresh your knowledge about jet lag.

Jet lag arises when a traveler is disorientated because of traveling through many time zones. For instance, in a 12-hour flight from the East to the West, (eg. Hong Kong to London) he may cross 8 time zones and hence become jet lagged and fatigued. However, a passenger who travels on a 12-hour journey from the North to the South (eg Helsinki to Cape Town), he is still in the same time zone and would not be jet-lagged, but feeling extremely tired!

Jet lag causes sleep disturbance, loss of concentration, extreme fatigue, gastrointestinal upset because your body clock is not in synchronization with actual clock of where you are. Basically, your body functions would lapse into a temporary state of confusion.

However, there are some lucky travelers who have very little problem with jet lag because they have the natural ability to reset their body (circadian) clock. On the other hand, others may have a hard time recovering to their normal daily routine. Generally, almost everyone suffers from jet lag when flying through many time zones. For me, it takes about 2 days to recover from crossing about 8 time zones when flying from West to East and I hardly feel it when flying the other way round. But jet lag affects passengers more than the flight professionals like us because they are generally less accustomed to them.

There has been suggestion that taking Melatonin is one way to reduce jet lag but there is some controversies in this complex treatment. Latest research shows that, if used incorrectly, Melatonin will make jet-lag worse! Some people use sleeping pills to try to alleviate jet lag. This is not a very good approach because sleeping pills can induce a comatose state with little or no natural body movement, contributing to DVT (deep vein thrombosis) further.

There are also many suggestions on how to cope with jet lag. You can try it out and see if it works for you! Amongst others, prepare for a forthcoming long haul flight by ensuring, as far as possible, you are fully rested and in excellent state of health. As soon as the Captain announces the local time of your destination, reset your watch and start thinking of the new time zone. Avoid drinking alcohol, eat lightly than you are accustomed to and sleep well in flight so that your body would be in peak condition to conquer jet lag at the destination.

When traveling from West to East (most difficult), schedule important meetings late in the evening or a day later when you would be more alert to make any important decisions. Plan your flight so that you arrive during the active phase of the day in your destination. When flying from East to West (easier to acclimatize), choose a flight that leaves as late as possible, for you would have a longer night. This would allow you the longest possible rest period before your destination-time breakfast on board the airplane.

So jet lag is not a disease but rather a disorientation of the body clock, giving rise to symptoms that appear to be medical in nature. It does not cause the brain to shrink although it can cause one to lose concentration, absent mindedness, headaches or poor motor coordination in the advanced stages, but they all soon disappear when one recovers with rest in about a day or two at the destination.

I have deliberately given you a longer answer than you require for it also benefit other travelers as well.

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