There might be a cure for the misery that comes with long distance travel, according to a new study published in the scientific journal Cell Metabolism. Researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, found that giving mice less oxygen than they’re used to caused them to recover from jet lag faster. When conditions that cause jet lag were simulated, the mice who consumed less oxygen adapted faster than those who consumed a normal amount.
Jet lag, which typically occurs when crossing time zones, is caused by a disruption to the body’s circadian rhythms, or the internal clock that regulates sleeping and waking. The body’s internal clock is directly affected by sunlight and darkness because light affects the production of melatonin, a hormone associated with sleep. Jet lag can cause extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating, stomach problems and mood changes.
Researchers at the Weizmann Institute started out by giving the mice 16 percent oxygen, as opposed to the 21 percent humans usually inhale. After twelve hours of depleted oxygen levels, they simulated jet lag by changing the mice’s light schedule to disrupt their sleep schedules. The researchers found that lowering oxygen levels for the short period of time before changing the light (for humans, this equates to traveling through time zones) increased the mice’s adaptation to jet lag, effectively resetting the body’s circadian rhythms.
It’s unclear if the effects of oxygen deprivation will be mimicked in humans, but since the causes of jet lag are the same as those researched in mice, it’s likely to help. The study’s researchers proposed “oxygen modulation as therapy for jet lag” based on their findings.
“The aviation industry is investing substantial funds and efforts to improve and increase the cabin oxygen levels to 21 percent oxygen,” the researchers wrote. “This should be reconsidered in view of the beneficial effect of reduced oxygen levels in jet lag recovery that are reported here.”