The effect of four-day round trip flights over 10 time zones on the circadian variation of salivary melatonin and cortisol in airline flight attendants

Ergonomics. 1994 Sep;37(9):1479-89. doi: 10.1080/00140139408964927.


The effects of four-day round flights (Helsinki-Los Angeles-Seattle-Helsinki) were studied on the circadian rhythms of salivary melatonin (MT) and cortisol (COR) in 35 flight attendants. The mean age of the subjects was 33 +/- 7 years (median 34, range 21-50). Five 24 h profiles of unstimulated saliva were collected at 2 h intervals (except at 04:00) before, during, and after the four day flight. Salivary MT and COR were determined by radioimmunoassay. Both MT and COR exhibited a clear circadian rhythm with acrophases before the flight at 03:03 (MT) and 09:08 (COR). Two days after the westward flight from Helsinki to Los Angeles, the MT rhythm (circadian acrophase) had delayed 4 h 51 min and the COR rhythm 3 h 55 min compared to the control day before the flight. Two days later, during the last day in the USA, the MT rhythm had delayed 5 h 59 min and the COR rhythm 5 h 29 min as compared to the situation before the flight. After four days of the eastward flight from Seattle to Helsinki, the circadian acrophase of MT was still 1 h 35 min delayed compared to the control day before the westward flight. The results indicate that the restitution time of five days at the home base is on the average proper for recovery, if a four day round flight over 10 time zones takes four days or less. The resynchronization rate of salivary hormones after westward, outgoing flights is faster than the resynchronization rate after the eastward return flights.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aerospace Medicine*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / analysis*
  • Melatonin / analysis*
  • Middle Aged
  • Saliva / chemistry*
  • Time Factors
  • Work Schedule Tolerance / physiology*


  • Melatonin
  • Hydrocortisone