Researchers in Michigan believe they have a new way to solve jet lag using mathematical formulas.
They key is light. “If you get light in the wrong time or wrong way, it’ll send you the wrong direction,” said University of Michigan math professor Daniel Forger, who led the research published Thursday.
A master biological clock, called a circadian rhythm, regulates when a person becomes sleepy and when a person is supposed to be alert and awake. If you travel across different time zones, the body clock has to reset itself.
Light is the clock’s regulator. In a study partly funded by the Air Force, the Michigan team used two equations proven to predict someone’s circadian rhythm.
“There are just two key points of focus: dawn and dusk,” says Daniel Forger, PhD, a professor of mathematics and research professor of computational medicine at the University of Michigan. Essentially, adjusting as fast as possible to a time change is simply a matter of knowing when to let in light and when to shut it all out (or off). While other factors like nutrition and activity still need to be explored, light exposure is the most important piece of the puzzle, since it’s the strongest signal to our internal circadian clock, he explains.
Forger, along with grad student Olivia Walch and Yale Ph.D. candidate Kirill Serkh, developed Entrain, an app that uses your body’s natural circadian rhythms to help you figure out when to wake up and when to go sleep in your new time zone so that you get back on schedule as quickly as possible.
“The app tells you when to turn the lights off at night and when to turn them back on,” Forger says.
The free iPhone app hasn’t been tested with travelers to see if it helps more than general advice, such as to seek morning light when traveling eastward. But after using it, travelers will be given a choice of submitting their data to a University of Michigan study.
“It takes longer to fully adjust than people realize, about a day per each hour’s shift,” Forger says. “If I were to fly to Asia from Michigan today, it would take about two weeks for my circadian clock to catch up, but if I really stuck to optimal light schedules, it should only take three to four days.”
Free iPhone App Helps Jet Lag
Entrain is a free app for iOS that connects users to lighting schedules developed by researchers at the University of Michigan. These schedules are mathematically proven to adjust you to new time zones as quickly as possible.