Tips for great sleep

Does Jet Lag Affect Our Learning?

August 1st, 2016

To anyone who’s flown before, the answer to this question is something of a no-brainer. Under the influence of jet lag, your mind and body drift in and out of a haze – a haze sometimes held at bay with stimulants like caffeine – and when it finally comes time to sleep, you crash hard. This fuzzy-headed, fatiguing cycle repeats for a few days until you get “back on track” a few days later.

No quick rebound

Yet scientific research suggests that “getting back on track” may take longer than we think. A lot longer, sometimes more than 28 days to bring our brains back up to speed after disrupting our circadian rhythms with a time change. That’s almost the same amount of time it takes to work off a sleep debt.

Jet lag slows the brain

Scientists set out to see if jet lag had any effects on the brain’s ability to learn. In order to exercise more control in their experiment, they used hamsters instead of your typical frequent flyer. Researchers pushed the hamsters’ sleep schedule ahead to simulate jet lag, but they did not restrict sleep. The hamsters got their normal hamster amount of shut eye every day.
What did scientists discover? Under the simulation of jet lag, hamsters performed poorly on tasks that involved memory and learning throughout the experiment, even long after they had been returned to their “normal” time.

Memory, sleep and learning

We know that a lack of sleep can affect memory and impair learning. We also know that certain types of sleep are responsible for certain types of memory processing and learning.
However, was once assumed that as long as you got enough uninterrupted sleep, your body and brain would continue to function as normal. The poor learning abilities that showed up in the jet-lagged hamsters led researchers to ask:
“Does our internal biological clock influence certain brain functions associated with our intellect?”
Put another way:
“Is there a link between circadian rhythm and learning?”
In the case of the hamster study, the answer is maybe. There’s much more to investigate in order to link learning to circadian rhythms, including using humans to try and duplicate this particular study. But the study of the effects of circadian rhythms on memory, learning, and cognition are a fascinating and growing area of research.

Circadian influences are everywhere

We have a lot to learn about the full implications of circadian function in humans, but there’s already solid research about the effect circadian rhythms have on behavior, regardless of surroundings. Here are a couple intriguing examples:

While science continues to de-code the mysteries of circadian rhythm, we all can do our sleep and our health a favour by maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, to help keep those rhythms working as they should.

* ResMed recorded and analysed 2,000,000 nights of sleep in the development of S+

** Users with average sleep scores between 50-60 improved their sleep by an average of 44.71 minutes per night after one week of use.

*** Below average users are those with an average sleep score below 75. Poor sleep is defined as an average sleep score between 50-60. Very poor sleep is defined as an average sleep score between 30-50. Users with average sleep scores between 30-50 improved their sleep by more than 70 minutes per night after one week of use. Aggregate S+ user data as of 03/19/2015. All data is derived from a sample size of [5932] users as of 03/19/2015. Your results may be different.

Note: S+ is not a medical device. If you are seeking information on how to treat a sleep disorder, you should talk to your healthcare provider.