If your travel plans often take you across times zones, you’ve probably already got your own favorite hacks to help fight jet lag. But a new study at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) may have found a way to hack jet lag with science, mathematics, and the technology you already use each day.
How does it work?
Researchers associated with RPI’s Lighting Enabled Systems & Applications (LESA) center have found a way to harness information from our wearable smart technology to make travel better. They published their findings in a series of reports in PLOS ONE.
Using algorithms to sort through biometric information, the researchers found they can make personalized recommendations about how much sleep and light exposure to get to best adjust yourself (and your circadian rhythm) to a new location.
“Using these algorithms and a mathematical model of a person’s circadian rhythm, we have the ability to compute the best light to adjust your circadian rhythm and foster your well-being,” said Agung Julius, Ph.D., one of the paper’s authors and a professor at RPI.
While circadian rhythm is often tracked by testing blood or saliva for hormone levels and melatonin, the researchers on this project found a way to assess it based on information, like heart rate and body temperature, that is collected by wearable tech. They can then make estimates of the wearer’s circadian rhythm, which helps plan for fighting the fatigue associated with jet lag. They found that their method provided similar answers to traditional medical tests.
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How can it help those that are sleep-deprived?
Essentially, it comes down to planning. Strategic light exposure and sleep times will help reset your rhythm to better adjust to the new locale and therefore kick jet lag before it can take hold.
“By developing biosensing analytics to characterize circadian phase, it is now possible to optimize the efficient use of light,” said Robert Karlicek, the director of the LESA center, “to help optimize and maintain human health and performance.”
Our exposure to light is the strongest controlling factor in regulating circadian rhythm, so by providing recommendations both for sleep routine and for light exposure, this process takes into account the two major factors in adjusting to a new time zone.
Personalized recommendations, taking into account your predisposed natural rhythm and the new location, will be used to recommend amounts of light and when (and how long) you should sleep.
But this process won’t just be used to hack out travel plans: It could help shift workers, overnight staff, and more plan more healthy sleep routines.
“Disruption of the circadian rhythm is known to have negative impacts on health…ranging from fatigue in travelers with jet lag to an increased risk of cancer in rotating shift workers,” says the study.
Unfortunately, their algorithm probably won’t be able to help you manage jet lag this holiday season, but here’s to hoping it may be ready for next year. There’s still plenty you can do to improve your travel experience and maximize your trip.
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