How to Cut Jet Lag in Half

Author:  Charley Wang
Institution:  University of Toronto

Most frequent travelers have their own home remedies for jet lag, using techniques from light meditation to walking barefoot across a fluffy carpet. Now, a joint effort by researchers at the Brigham & Women's Hospital and the University of Michigan has produced a new remedy that has been proven effective in clinical studies: a computer program.

Jet lag is caused by circadian misalignment, which is when one's circadian rhythm (internal clock) fails to match external day/night cues like the rising and setting of the sun. One way to counteract this phenomenon is periodic exposure to bright light. For example, by turning on a bright light when you're sleepy, it is possible to trick your body into thinking that it is not yet night.

Timed light exposure is not a new technique and has been shown previously to be effective in resetting a person's circadian rhythm. Now, however, these researchers have found a way to optimize the efficiency of light exposure through a program that calculates the optimal schedule for timed exposure.

Their program takes in parameters like the intensity of background light, your desired wake-sleep schedule, and the number of time zones shifted, and outputs a small graph.

How effective is this technique? Currently it takes 1-2 days per time zone to recover from jet lag. With such a schedule, a trip from New York to Beijing across 12 time zones would require up to 24 days to recover without assistance.

According to co-author Daniel Forger, their technique "can cut the number of days needed to adjust to a new time zone by half." For that trip to China, this means bringing your recovery time down from almost a month to just over a week. All of this is done by just by turning on a light at the right times!

The researchers state that their research will now proceed in two directions. First, they intend to build mathematical models that incorporate other jet lag countermeasures. Second, they plan to look for and include other jet lag constraints in their model.

While a one-shot cure for circadian misalignment may not be possible, these scientists are trying their best to make jet lag a little less, well, laggy.

Written By: Charley Wang

Edited by: News and Features Editor Tanya Pekar and Science Journalist Atul Karki

Published by Falishia Sloan