Do You Travel A lot? Take a Couple of Naps and Call LearningRx in the Morning
Chronic jet lag shrinks your brain, making learning and remembering more difficult for up to a month after you return home!
So says a team of psychologists from the University of California, Berkeley. The researchers based their findings on a four week study of jet-lagged hamsters. The psychologists weren't surprised to discover that the hamsters had trouble learning and remembering simple tasks while jet lagged. What surprised the scientists, however, was that the memory and learning deficit lasted an entire month after the critters had been returned to their regular programming.
The answer, they say, seems to lie in the hippocampus, a part of the brain used for processing memory. Even though the brain is constantly creating new neurons, after a month of jet-lag, the hamsters had only half the number of new neurons in the hippocampus region as non-jet-lagged rodents in the study's control group.
Another study, conducted by Dr. Cho Kwangwook of the University of Bristol Medical School, revealed similar findings. Based on a study of flight attendants, Dr. Kwangwook concluded that chronic jet lag shrinks the frontal portion of the brain, resulting in temporary loss of memory and cognitive skills.
For the occasional holiday traveler, these findings may not stop you from flying to Des Moines to visit your family (although they may help explain why you can't remember the name of your second cousin's third child).
For the career or frequent traveler, however, they have greater significance.
If you travel a lot, the author of the blog ParentInProgress recommends cognitive skills training to counteract the impact of jet lag on learning and memory, adding that cognitive skills training "can actually improve the three types of memory (short-term, long-term and working memory)."
Lance Kriegsfeld, an associate professor of psychology and one of the researchers who conducted the jet-lagged hamster study, recommends allowing yourself one full day to rest and recover for every one-hour time zone shift you experience during your trip.
Other common jet-lag tips include doing these things while traveling: Drink lots of water, avoid coffee and alcohol and, if possible, try to sleep during hours that are close to your normal sleeping schedule while on your trip.