Biohacking Lewis Hamilton (Part One)
Jetlag is a serious problem for Formula One teams, Pre-COVID we biohacked Lewis Hamilton and the McLaren Formula One Team to optimise their performance.
Working with Team Doctor Aki Hintsa in the McLaren Pit (Melbourne Formula One GP)
Biohacking can be fun sometimes. We were eating lunch in the McLaren pit break room watching Lewis Hamilton and Jenson Button qualify for the next day's race. The conversation turned to biohacking and their partners Nicole Scherzinger and Jessica Michibata wanted to know how to hack their sleep (subscribe to find out how). Working with a Harvard professor and NASA Flight surgeon we were biohacking the formula one team using technology first developed in the Soviet Union for long term space travel.
Months before I had approached the McLaren team doctor Aki Hinsa with a proposal. We would biohack the drivers' brains' circadian pacemaker to cure jet lag. An orthopaedic and trauma surgeon by training, Hintsa had lived a full life even before he became involved in motor racing, working for many years in challenging circumstances in Africa – as a missionary as well as medical man – and dealing with victims of armed conflict. Hintsa had joined McLaren in the Mika Hakkinen era, quickly establishing himself as a vital presence in the camp, and someone who dealt with far more than just the physical health of the drivers and team members with whom he worked. He was close to fellow countrymen Kimi Raikkonen and Heikki Kovalainen as they passed through the team, and enjoyed a particularly strong relationship with Lewis Hamilton.
Jetlag is a big deal in Space.
Space missions present unique challenges to sleep and circadian rhythms and sleepiness-related accidents in such dangerous environments are of concern. Astronauts require maximum mental and physical performance before dangerous activities like ‘space walks‘ and docking with visiting space craft. Astronauts sleep only ~6 hours per night in space due to excitement, workload, heat, noise and lack of gravity. Sleeping pills are the most commonly used drugs in space and individual caffeine consumption is carefully monitored. Astronauts’ circadian systems can also become disrupted by exposure to unusual light patterns. Orbiting the Earth takes 90 minutes and imposes a 90-minute light-dark cycle as the Sun goes in and out of view. This is too short to synchronize the circadian clock and so an artificial 24-hour light-dark cycle has to be generated.
“Astronauts’ circadian systems can also become disrupted by exposure to unusual light patterns. Orbiting the Earth takes 90 minutes and imposes a 90-minute light-dark cycle as the Sun goes in and out of view.
In addition, astronauts sometimes work challenging schedules including a type of ‘shiftwork’ as they complete 12-hour ‘slam’ shifts to switch their work from day to night. The mission control team on the ground also faces the challenges of providing round-the-clock monitoring of space missions, and therefore have to work day and night. For some missions the mission control team are required to work on even more unusual patterns, such as the Mars Phoenix Lander Mission which required mission controlled to live on, a Martian ‘day’, which lasts 24 hours and 40 minutes, making work shifts even more challenging.
Even before getting to space, the rigorous and intensive training program that astronauts undergo require them to fly frequently from Houston to Moscow, Cologne and Tokyo. They have to hit the ground running given their packed training schedules and so cannot afford to have their performance degraded by jetlag.
Jetlag Shrinks your Brain and Reduces your Lifespan by decades
Image of Flight Attendants Brain, parts has shrunk do to jetlag (Cho, Nature Neurosci 2001)
People think that by minimizing sleep, you’re gaining life. You’re not – you are doubling the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, depression and cancer. You are also impairing your performance to the same level as being legally drunk. More sleep means more life, and better quality life, not less.
The evidence is strong. Shiftwork and jet lag disrupt the circadian clock, which in turn affects many brain and body systems including neuroendocrine and hormonal rhythms, sleep-wake cycles, metabolism efficiency, and overall mood and performance. These effects quickly accumulate: Performance after limiting sleep to 4 hours per night for 7 days is equivalent to that after 24 hours awake, and equivalent to a blood alcohol level of 0.08%. It only takes 2 weeks with 6 hours sleep per night to reach this level of impairment. The connection between lack of sleep and lack of memory is striking – the brain needs to sleep in order to learn and so habitual sleep loss, for example due to frequent international traveller, impairs not only your current performance, but your future abilities.
“Significant decreases in reaction times, track speed, cardiorespiratory functions and muscle strength have been reported following transmeridian travel in human athletes (Lemmer et al., 2002; Loat and Rhodes, 1989; Manfredini et al., 1998; Reilly et al., 2005; Wright et al., 1983),
Long term, a growing body of research shows that shiftwork and jetlag have serious health effects in addition to causing substandard performance. Substantial evidence is building showing that shift work increases the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, sleep disorders, and breast, prostate and colorectal cancers. The World Health Organization concluded that “shiftwork involving circadian desynchrony is a probable carcinogen”, prompting some companies to pay compensation employees who developed breast cancer after a life of shiftwork or jet lag.
Jetlag has a major impact on athletic performance. Study after study shows significant decreases in reaction times, track speed, cardiorespiratory functions and muscle strength have been reported following transmeridian travel in human athletes.
Houston we have a Problem...Let's contact Lewis Hamilton
In part two I discuss how we cured Lewis Hamilton and a number of racehorses from their jetlag.
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