ganglion cells

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Is there a cure for jet lag? Just set your body clock in advance!

Jet lag is the result of our circadian rhythms – bodily processes working on a roughly 24 hour cycle – being thrown out of sync with the environment we suddenly find ourselves in. On the whole, these cycles regulate themselves pretty well, but they rely on external stimuli, particularly light.

In our eyes, photosensitive ganglion cells (the less well known cousin of rods and cones) detect ambient light levels. In response to light, they fire messages to the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which prompts the pineal gland to secrete melatonin – the ‘sleep hormone’.

So can we use this to counter jet lag? You just need to set your body clock to the right time: Before you travel east, go to bed one hour earlier than normal two days before, and seek out bright lights as soon as you wake up. One day before you travel, go to bed an extra hour earlier than normal. Keep doing this each day, even while you travel, until you hit your usual sleep time. Reverse the process to go west, and you should be jet lag free on your return.

Want to know why astronauts going to Mars need to worry about jet lag? Click here to watch the full video.