headed to a new time zone? Time to reset your internal clock

May 5, 2015

An effective travel regimen can get you and your CLOCK genes back on track.

As the world continues to globalize and companies look for growth and expansion opportunities, business travel is set to increase by around 4% in 2015. With this comes the growing role of global HR and talent acquisition leaders, and today you find yourself more and more on the road, sometimes weekly, to cover territory and align strategy with local operations across different continents.

As a business traveler, you traverse time zone after time zone, dining on airline meals and crashing in bland, chain hotels. By the time you reach home, you have days of dirty laundry to get through, an out of control email inbox, and deepening bags under your eyes. Ah, such is the life of a road warrior.

While you might think the biggest price of global travel is losing a few hours of sleep and jetlag, scientists have found that disruptions to the human circadian cycle can have lasting consequences. In fact, a gene that regulates this cycle plays a part in skin and hair growth and even how your body metabolizes medication, according to various research. That might explain why after a prolonged trip on the road, you neither look nor feel your best.

CLOCK gene discovery 

The human CLOCK (Circadian Locomotor Output Cycles Kaput) gene – first discovered in 1994 – has been found to regulate a number of genetic functions. One of its most important tasks is controlling the circadian rhythm – the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24-hour cycle in living organisms. Every traveler knows what it’s like to upset his or her rhythm, which can lead to fatigue, an inability to concentrate, irritability, and so on. But aside from outward behavioral changes, disruption to the CLOCK gene's functions and your circadian rhythm can also have an internal effect.

Last year researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine completed a five-year project mapping the 24-hour pattern of expression for thousands of genes, showing how they react to drugs at different times of the day. In other words, taking a prescription during the day may have a slightly different effect than taking the same one at night. As a result, doctors in the future may prescribe not only what you take but also when to take it. Similarly, it has been found that repairs to skin cells damaged by UV daylight occurs at night.

This process helps prevent the signs of premature aging in the skin. Disruptions to the CLOCK function, then, may lead to more wrinkles. Some cosmetic companies have developed products targeting the CLOCK gene to help reset its cycle and help the body enhance skin repair. The scientific journal Aging has also published research that showed a link between the CLOCK gene and the growth cycle of hair. Citing scientific research, it suggested that improper gene function could lead to premature greying and hair loss. So how can you minimize the impact of international travel and maintain a healthy CLOCK gene and circadian rhythm?

get in rhythm

Maintaining a regular sleep cycle on the road might not be possible, but you can control exposure to light, which often triggers genetic activity or inactivity. To help reset your internal clock to a different time zone, ensure exposure to bright light in the morning – open the curtains right away when you wake – and minimize light exposure, especially laptops, in the evening. You can quickly acclimatize to a new time zone by regulating light exposure.

Timing your meals can also help with overcoming jetlag. Having a snack might be one way to break the monotony on a long flight, but fasting until you arrive at your destination might ease the transition, according to WebMD.

Another consideration – and this one is tough – is minimizing caffeine intake. For many, sipping down a strong espresso is the only way to make it through another presentation, but overloading on coffee throughout the day is a sure way to disrupt night-time sleep.

Every seasoned business traveller has his or her own method for preparing and enduring those long trips abroad. By taking steps to minimize the toll on the body’s internal rhythm, you might end up not only feeling better but looking better as well.

Now if only there were a cure for bad airline food!

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