Uncommon Sleep Problem due to Jet lag

By: Donald Saunders

Although it's not a common problem, about 3 in every 1000 people suffer from a condition known as familial advanced sleep phase syndrome (FASPS) which is a genetic problem causing a shift in the normal sleep pattern so that, in extreme cases, sufferers, who are often referred to as 'morning larks', fall asleep in the late afternoon and then wake again in the very early hours of the morning.

The condition is caused by a mutation in the Period 2 (or Per2) clock gene which is normally triggered by an enzyme produced in response to light and acts to reset the body's internal clock. In its mutated form however this gene does not respond to its triggering enzyme and so does not in turn act to reset the body clock. The power of this gene was recently demonstrated by transplanting the mutated Period 2 clock gene into mice and it was found that the mice woke four to six hours earlier than normal and similarly went to sleep four to six hours earlier.

Very little is known about the human clock or clocks, as it is probably more accurate to say that there are a series of systems responsible for controlling the body's daily rhythm. It is known however that light plays an important role in the sleep/wake cycle and that light falling on the retina of the eye, for example, sets off a chain reaction controlling the release of chemicals into the bloodstream which are responsible for inducing sleep.

It is the fact that light plays such an important role in controlling the sleep/wake cycle that has led to the growing use of light therapy to help to reset the body clock in order to counter jet lag and the effects of shift working. Indeed, a carefully planned program of light therapy in advance of travel can do a great deal to help to prevent jet lag or to reduce its effects considerably.

In the case of those suffering from FASPS, because the body is unable to reset its clock in response to light, researchers are looking at ways around this problem and, while resetting the body clock is proving to be extremely difficult, it is not thought that it is impossible.

The hope is that in time researchers will be able to develop a drug which will target specific enzymes responsible for controlling the body's internal clock and, when this happens, not only will they have a cure for FASPS, but will also have a drug which could be used by shift workersArticle Search, as well as in preventing jet lag.

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