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Discovery of body clock reset mechanism could help shift workers and jetsetters

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March 20, 2014

New research could help shift workers at travelers reset their body clock faster (Image: S...

New research could help shift workers at travelers reset their body clock faster (Image: Shutterstock)

The human body clock is the curse of any shift worker or traveler arriving in a new time zone. Although one's body clock can be adjusted by external cues, such as light – a factor that devices such as the Re-Timer and Litebook are designed take advantage of – the adjustment period can vary significantly for different people. Now researchers have discovered the mechanism that controls how easily such adjustments can be made.

Body, or circadian, clocks orchestrate daily rhythms in our physiology. When this internal clock is thrown out of sync, be it by working nights or taking an international flight, it can negatively affect our sleeping patterns and metabolism.

"We are not genetically pre-disposed to quickly adapt to shift-work or long-haul flights, and as so our bodies' clocks are built to resist such rapid changes," says Dr David Bechtold. "Unfortunately, we must deal with these issues today, and there is very clear evidence that disruption of our body clocks has real and negative consequences for our health."

Dr Bechtold led a University of Manchester team that worked with scientists from Pfizer on a series of experiments involving mice that focused on an enzyme known as casein kinase 1epsilon (CK1epsilon), which is a component of the body clock.

"At the heart of these clocks are a complex set of molecules whose interaction provides robust and precise 24 hour timing," says Dr Bechtold. "Importantly, our clocks are kept in synchrony with the environment by being responsive to light and dark information."

The team found that mice lacking in CK1epsilon were able to adapt to a new light-dark environment much faster than normal. The team followed up this finding by showing that drugs that inhibited CK1epsilon were able to speed up the adaption rate of normal mice. Importantly, faster adoption to the new environment reduced metabolic disturbances caused by the time shift.

"As this work progresses in clinical terms, we may be able to enhance the clock's ability to deal with shift work, and importantly understand how maladaptation of the clock contributes to diseases such as diabetes and chronic inflammation," says Dr Bechtold.

The team's discovery is published in the journal Current Biology.

Source: University of Manchester

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag.   All articles by Darren Quick
3 Comments

If they can get this past all the regulations, it will save a lot of lives lost to drowsiness and inattention and improve efficiency in the process. As to whether we as a species are on the right track if we need to fool our body clocks into behaving unnaturally is another matter entirely.

Mel Tisdale
21st March, 2014 @ 02:13 am PDT

There's something inherently wrong with taking a drug to inhibit a natural body process. Maybe its all the unnatural side effects that accompany drug consumption. There are natural supplements that help correct sleep disorders, but Pfizer can't exploit them to their bottom line.

Jaesun_1
21st March, 2014 @ 05:26 am PDT

.......Or you could train yourself to need less sleep. Most people sleep for more time than they need to. By cutting down sleep by 5 minutes every week you can get down to a more efficient level of say 6hrs 30minutes. I'm fortunate not to need much sleep and can function on hardly any or zero.

I have to travel to India on a very regular basis and often spend between 2-3 weeks there. I always stay on UK time which compacts my sleep to 3-4hrs. I do this so I can remain available for my wife and family on Skype. I NEVER suffer with jet lag.

It's the quality of sleep you get, not the quantity. I can go very quickly into a very deep sleep. I've been doing this all my life. Too many people don't know how to sleep, and they need to train their bodies.

The Master
23rd March, 2014 @ 02:13 am PDT
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