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Unstrange Phenomena

22 April 2009

Brain: Why Do You Get Jet Lag? Because Your Brain Cells Are Out of Sync!

According to a new study from "Current Biology" and written up in Discover Magazine, there are two groups of brain cells that get desynchronized causing jet lag. OK, so the study was done on rats. Men are often compared to rats but then that's probably another feminist study. Seriously though, this study sounded intriguing.

Apparently, the rats were exposed to different amounts of light which simulated the effects of flying from Paris to New York City. With one group of neurons telling your body it's Paris time and another group of neurons telling your body it's New York time you get, well, desynchronized!

Circadian Rhythm Importance

You have heard of our circadian rhythm? It helps us to keep up with our body's functions of like when it's time to eat, wake up or sleep. The researchers studied the small part of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nucleus that controls these circadian rhythms.

What they found is that one group of neurons adjusts just fine to the time change. However, another group of neurons that's in charge of those lovely dreams in our REM sleep can take up to a week to catch up to the first group. As a result we are out of sync.

Two Kinds of Brain Cells Groups: Ventral and Dorsel Neurons

A bit of detail about those neurons who can't get their act together at the same time...

There is a group of brain cells known as ventral (bottom) neurons that are synchronized with the deep sleep of physical fatigue. Deep sleep is tied to light-dark cycles. These ventral neurons get their information directly from the eyes and are in charge of getting the rhythm right from the light-dark cycles.

The second group of brain cells known as dorsel (top) neurons are not so sensitive to changes in light. The dorsel neurons are tied to the dream state of Rapid Eye Movement called REM sleep.

The Study's Conclusions

What did the study find out? Basically, the deep sleep ventral neurons adjusted just fine to the change while the dorsel REM neurons took from six to eights days to make their adjustment.

So, how does this new study help us? Well, for one thing, you now know it really is located in your head, your brain to be exact.

What do researchers find valuable in this new information? Of various treatments for jet lag considered to be effective, medical folks can go back and take a look at where they are acting in the circuitry of these neuron centers. This new knowledge can go a long way to helping refine those treatments to become far more effective.

Written by Denny Lyon

Neuron photo by KiyoshiTakahaseSegundo @ istockphoto.com

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