A pill could "reset" the body clock, curing jet lag and easing the strain of working nights, scientists have discovered.
Researchers at Manchester University found that an enzyme keeps the body operating on a 24-hour rhythm. When it is suppressed, this effectively resets itself, making it easier for the body to adapt to being up at night or asleep in the daytime.
Previous studies have shown that when the body's clock is out of sync for long periods of time it can lead to serious, and even fatal, health problems.
Dr David Bechtold, who led the study, said the findings - published in the Current Biology journal - could lead to the invention of a pill to inhibit the enzyme, CK1epsilon, in humans. He added: "We already know that modern society poses many challenges to our health and well-being. Things that are viewed as commonplace - shift work, sleep deprivation and jet lag - disrupt our bodies' clocks.
"It is now becoming clear that clock disruption is increasing the incidence and severity of diseases including obesity and diabetes. We are not genetically predisposed to quickly adapt to shift work or long-haul flights, and so our bodies' clocks are built to resist such rapid changes." Researchers studied how well mice coped when their cage lights were turned on and off at times outside their natural day-night pattern.
The study found mice lacking CK1epsilon could adjust to a new light-dark cycle much faster than normal, as could normal mice fed drugs to counter CK1.
Scientists have discovered that a pill could 'reset' the body's clock. Photo / Thinkstock
A drug which inhibits the same enzyme could help the body clock adapt to changes, helping people to recover from jet lag and night shifts. Researchers said it could be available in five years.
Studies have shown that disrupting the body clock has a serious impact on health, raising the risk of heart attacks and strokes by more than 40 per cent.
Night shifts are thought to be responsible for 500 women dying from breast cancer each year. Specialists believe that disruption of the normal sleep-wake cycle affects production of melatonin, the so-called sleep hormone, which is thought to have anti-cancer qualities.
In January, scientists at the Sleep Research Centre at the University of Surrey discovered that jet lag and night shifts damage the body because important genes are not switched on.
Some of these genes were responsible for releasing "products" which keep the immune system functioning properly.