Researchers have identified a protein that is involved in the body's internal 24-hour clock, known as the circadian rhythm. The protein, however, appears to get disrupted in shift workers and those experiencing jet lag.
Interruptions in the circadian rhythm make it difficult for some individuals to sleep when they are supposed to do so. Shift workers and people who fly across different time zones are especially vulnerable. Sleep is frequently disrupted until the workers adjust to a late night schedule or travelers to the new time zone. Experts say the process can take days or weeks, causing fatigue, indigestion, and poor cognitive performance in addition to sleep disruption.
An international team of British and American researchers identified the protein, SIK1, which is involved in the body's response to daylight. About 100 genes are switched on, signaling it is time to wake up after a night's sleep. SIK1, however, can interfere with the body's ability to adapt with that process.
When researchers blocked the activity of SIK1 in a group of laboratory mice whose 24-hour clock was disrupted, the animals adjusted faster to changes in the light-dark cycle.
Scientists believe it may now be possible to develop a drug that helps shift workers and travelers recover sooner from disruptions of their circadian rhythms so they can get a good night's rest.
An article on the body's 24-hour internal clock in published in the journal The Lancet.