Run­ning the num­bers on jet lag

Modern Healthcare - - OUTLIERS -

Re­cov­er­ing from jet lag is just a num­bers game. That’s the word from re­searchers at the Univer­sity of Michi­gan who’ve cal­cu­lated the op­ti­mal way to help pas­sen­gers ad­just as they jour­ney across time zones. Nat­u­rally, they’ve also cre­ated a re­lated smart­phone app to aid weary trav­el­ers.

Us­ing an in­tri­cate set of equa­tions—in­clud­ing in­di­vid­u­als’ nor­mal cir­ca­dian rhythms and body tem­per­a­tures, the dis­tance trav­eled and the time changes from point A to point B— re­searchers were able to as­cer­tain how much day­light in­di­vid­u­als should ex­pose them­selves to be­fore, dur­ing and af­ter their trip, what time they should wake up and go to bed, and how many days it will likely take them to fully ad­just to a new time zone.

“Light is the big­gest driver to your cir­ca­dian clock. When you travel to a new time zone, light is what’s steer­ing your body’s clock to ad­just to the new sched­ule,” said Olivia Walch, a U-M grad­u­ate stu­dent who worked on the project.

The new study, which de­tails the “ideal ad­just­ment sched­ules” for more than 1,000 pos­si­ble travel sce­nar­ios—as, for ex­am­ple, an overnight trip be­tween Detroit to Lon­don, or a morn­ing flight from Lon­don to Tokyo—was pub­lished this month in the jour­nal PLOS Com­pu­ta­tional Bi­ol­ogy.

U-M math­e­ma­ti­cians, along with a for­mer stu­dent now work­ing on his doc­tor­ate at Yale, also launched a free re­lated iPhone app that helps re­align an in­di­vid­ual’s cir­ca­dian rhythms with the time of day, a tool es­pe­cially use­ful for long-dis­tance fre­quent fly­ers and late-night shift work­ers. The app is called En­train—the sci­en­tific term for the syn­chro­niza­tion of a per­son’s cir­ca­dian rhythm with lo­cal time.

“This is al­most like a body hack, to get yourself en­trained faster,” Walch said.

If jet lag is putting a crimp in your trav­els, some Univer­sity of Michi­gan re­searchers may have your num­ber.

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