Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology

Phase shifting two coupled circadian pacemakers: implications for jet lag

P. H. Gander, R. E. Kronauer, R. C. Graeber


Flights across time zones produce an abrupt displacement of the environmental time cues (zeitgebers), and the endogenous circadian timing system resynchronizes only gradually to the new schedule. A coupled two-oscillator model can simulate the human circadian system in temporal isolation and in artificial zeitgeber cycles. The model is here shown to explain the major features of resynchronization of circadian rhythms after time zone shifts, i.e., the rate of adjustment depends on the rhythm being measured, the number of time zones crossed, the flight direction (eastward or westward), and the strength of the zeitgebers in the new time zone. Investigations of the contribution of different model parameters to system performances suggest that intersubject differences in pacemaker periods may be a major factor in the observed variability in the effects of time zone shifts on circadian rhythms. With individualized period estimate the models can simulate case studies in which four subjects recorded their sleep-wake and core body temperature rhythms throughout simple and complex patterns of transmeridian flights.