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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Jet lag? There's an app for that

If you’ve flown large distances, chances are you’ve experienced jet lag. This condition occurs when a person’s internal clock does not align with the environment. Until the traveler readjusts his circadian rhythm, he may not be hungry when it’s time to eat or sleepy when it’s time to sleep. But it’s not just travelers who are affected by jet lag. Shift workers too must adjust to being productive at times when their bodies think it’s time to sleep.

Needless to say, it can be quite disruptive to live this way for long. For most people, readjusting, or ‘entrainment’ takes about one day per hour shifted. The recovery process can be sped up by exposure to bright light, but only if that exposure occurs at the right times. So, how does one know what those times are? Wouldn’t it be great if there were an app for that?

Enter Kirill Serkh of Yale University and Daniel Forger from the University of Michigan. They created a mathematical model for optimally scheduling anti-jet lag light periods. Then Olivia Walch made it an app:

To follow the apps recommendations, a person should experience one block of light and one block of darkness per day (and they should be very bright and very dim respectively) starting and ending at specified hours. For example, the app might tell the person to turn on the lights at 5:00 am and turn them off 7:20 pm. If you follow the recommendations, you should be able to knock a couple of days off your recovery time.

Serkh, K., & Forger, D. (2014). Optimal Schedules of Light Exposure for Rapidly Correcting Circadian Misalignment PLoS Computational Biology, 10 (4) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1003523.

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