Mixed Studies

Military Study on Effects of Melatonin
Altitude & Moderate Alcohol Consumption
Feeling Homesick?


Military Study Highlights the Positive Effects of Melatonin
Appropriate for Maritime Use

Among military aviation missions, those involving rapid deployment and night operations are the most disruptive to sleep and performance. (Aviat Space Environ Med 1996;67:520-4.) Mission objectives often require quick response, rapid travel across many time zones, and immediate rotation of work schedules from daylight to either nighttime or early morning duty hours. These manifest themselves in varying degrees of sleep loss, fatigue, alertness degradation, digestive disorders, stress, and performance degradation.

A controlled study showed that melatonin (10 mg prior to bedtime) is useful in preventing sleep disruptions and cognitive degradation. The study was performed in U.S. Army aircrews during a training mission involving rapid deployment to the Middle East (8 time zones away) with an immediate night operation upon landing. The melatonin group exhibited substantially fewer errors than the placebo group in various types of task testing.

Altitude and Moderate Alcohol Consumption

Millions of tourists travel to areas of moderate altitude (6,000 to 9,000 feet, or 2,000 to 3,000 meters) and 60% of them use alcohol. Depending on the criteria used to define altitude sickness, 1 to 24% report symptoms of altitude sickness.

A controlled study showed that drinking 50 mg of alcohol (the amount in one liter of beer, for example) inhibits the initial stages of satisfactory acute ventilatory adaptation to mild hypoxia at about 9,000 feet (3,000 meters). Hyperventilation is the basis of adaptation to high altitude. (Ann Intern Med 1995;122:925-927.) A similar inhibition of satisfactory response of ventilation at moderate altitude was previously reported for persons taking less than 0.1 mg/kg diazepam (Valium), doses which are relatively safe at low altitudes.

Feeling Homesick?

Homesickness is defined as a preoccupation with a longing for the home environment among people who have left home. (Psychological Medicine, 1996,26,899-912.) It often involves somatic symptoms – gastrointestinal, sleep disturbance, appetite loss, headaches, absent mindedness, and fatigue, all of which are symptoms associated with depression. All ages are susceptible but young people are most commonly involved – especially at summer camps, at school, and in the military. Homesickness also occurs among travelers, migrant workers, and refugees. Distance from home is less important than the length of stay and the absence of acquaintances.

The dynamics of homesickness likely involve one or more of the following: separation from friends and family – a form of reversible bereavement; interruption of routines and the ineffectiveness of old ways to cope with new situations; reduced personal control over new environments; a change in perceived roles requiring changes in self concept – for example, the wish to acquire new experiences versus the security and comforts of home.

There is a firm association between homesickness and rigidity, neuroticism, and lack of self confidence. Often the home environment is idealized. Homesick persons seem to have a strong need for social support, but lack the social skills to acquire them. Longing for home creates negative thoughts and apathy about the new environment, further complicating adaptation to that environment. This results in anxiety and disappointments. Homesickness is often perceived as socially undesirable, leading to feelings of shame and withdrawal.

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