Chronic jet lag produces cognitive deficits

J Neurosci. 2000 Mar 15;20(6):RC66. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.20-06-j0005.2000.


Traveling across time zones causes disruption to the normal circadian rhythms and social schedules because of travelers' shift in time. As the endogenous circadian timing system adapts slowly to new time cues, the phase relationship between biological rhythms and external time cues are out of synchronization for a period of time. This disturbance of circadian rhythms has been shown to impair physical and psychological health (Winget et al., 1984). To test the effects of repeated jet lag on mental abilities, airline cabin crew were compared with ground crew. Salivary cortisol was used as a physiological marker for circadian disruption. The cabin crew group, who had a history of repeated jet lag, had significantly higher salivary cortisol levels in an average working day. In addition, this elevated level of cortisol was only seen in the same subjects when the cabin crew were on transmeridian flights but not domestic flights. Cabin crew also exhibited cognitive deficits, possibly in working memory, that became apparent after several years of chronic disruption of circadian rhythms.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aerospace Medicine*
  • Circadian Rhythm
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Jet Lag Syndrome / metabolism
  • Jet Lag Syndrome / psychology*
  • Memory, Short-Term*
  • Reaction Time
  • Saliva / metabolism


  • Hydrocortisone