MT's Little Ray of Sunshine: A new cure for jet lag

Business travellers, wake up! A drug that resets natural sleep rhythms promises new hope.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The drug, Tasimelteon, works by shifting the natural ebb and flow of melatonin, the body's sleep hormone, which is released by the brain in response to light levels and helps us stay asleep.

In the experiment, the results of which were published in the Lancet, American scientists kept test subjects awake for five hours longer than normal - replicating the time difference of, say, travelling from New York to London. Volunteers who took the drug slept for between 30 minutes and nearly two hours longer than those who received a placebo.

Volunteers on a medium dose of the drug slept for an average of 48 minutes longer. They also spent less time awake during the night: 140 minutes on average for the placebo group; 106 minutes for people who took a medium dose of Tasimelteon.

The news may well be met with beatific smiles by weary business travellers, whose performance at international meetings has long been hampered by the desire to stare vacantly at undefined spots on the boardroom window pane before executing a slow slump across the table. 

Tasimelteon probably has a greater chance of taking off than the jet lag cure suggested by scientists last year: Viagra. Argentinian scientists found that the 'Pfizer riser', when combined with light treatment, helped hamsters recover up to 50% faster from forward shifts in their daily time cycles. It was suggested the treatment would ease jet lag on people going eastwards - considered by many the most disruptive of journeys.

The Tasimelteon research team did not test how well their subjects performed the day after taking the drug - something that would be crucial on a business trip - but suggest that as they felt more normal they would be more productive. And they wouldn't of course suffer the universal faux-pas arising from the side-effects that plagued those hamsters.  

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