Science News

Computing your way out of jet lag

Sun, 5th Jul 2009

A new software programme could help you cut your jetlag in half after a long journey, according to research from Brigham and Women's Hospital and the University of Michigan this week.

A couple of guys sleeping near the Kiosko Alfonso in A Coruña (Galicia, España.)Writing in the journal PloS Computational Biology, Dennis Dean and colleagues describe how their system plans the best times for light interventions, and can dramatically cut down the time it takes to synchronise with a new time zone.

Jet lag happens when your internal body clock is out of synch with the time zone you are in.  It leads to a difficulty sleeping at night and drowsiness during the day.  As a rough guide, it takes about one day per time zone to recover.

The new software attempts to re-synchronise the body by considering factors like the background light level in your location and the amount of time zones you have travelled.  It then uses a mathematical model to prescribe a regime of exposure to bright light at exact times of the day.

It’s been shown before that well timed light exposure works to re-synch the body clock with local time, and this, in turn, can give you more efficient sleep, less fatigue and a boost in cognitive performance.  However, badly timed light exposure can actually have the opposite effect, and make it take even longer to re-synchronise,

They used a complicated mathematical model of sleep patterns to simulate how exposure to light would affect how the sleep-wake cycle ties in with the light-dark cycle.  Using this model, they can prepare an exact plan of light exposure to help you recover.  They predict that following this plan would not only reduce the time it takes to synchronise with a new time zone, but also reduce the symptoms of jetlag, helping you to perform better.

It’s not just people on long haul flights who could benefit from this – shift workers, astronauts, and people working in extreme environments such as in polar regions.

Now they’re planning to include the effect of napping, caffeine and melatonin into their model, to refine the process even further!

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