The UAE is a nation of travellers, so news of a new trick to get over jet lag will be welcome.
According to a Stanford University doctor, using a flashing alarm clock will make the body think dawn is breaking earlier.
Dr Jamie Zeitzer, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Stanford, called it “biological hacking”.
Jet lag is a disruption to your body’s circadian rhythm and happens when you’ve not adjusted to your new time zone, as light helps set our internal clock to match the sun.
Business travellers are certainly familiar with the feeling – travelling to London, four hours behind, and waking in the early hours of the morning, or to New York, nine hours behind, and day and night turning almost completely around. It can make staying awake for a crucial meeting a challenge.
Jet lag is thought to kick in when you travel through two to three time zones or more (the world is divided into 24 time zones). That could mean you’re affected even by a short hop to Thailand or Egypt.
The body normally adjusts at a rate of one time zone a day, so a trip to Los Angeles could take over a week to recover from – by which time you’re already on a plane home.
But the research, published last month in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, found that being subjected to short flashes of light while asleep could help to fast track the body clock's adjustments.
In the study, 39 participants on the same sleep routine were brought to sleep in the lab; half were exposed to a sequence of flashes of light for an hour.
The result, when the test group received two-millisecond flashes, 10 seconds apart, was a two-hour difference in when the two groups got sleepy.
Dr Zeitzer, senior author on the study, calls it the equivalent of a “false dawn”. Flashing light therapy could, he says, be a great method of helping the biological clock adjust, not just for travellers but “all kinds of sleep cycle disruptions”.
“This could be a new way of adjusting much more quickly to time changes than other methods in use today.”
Dr Graham Simpson, medical director of Intelligent Health Centre in Dubai, says: “Jet lag is a major problem for shift workers and travellers, and increases the risk of cardio metabolic disease, so this light therapy looks promising.”
q&a adjusting to the here and now
Suzanne Locke explains more about the physiological condition also known as time zone change syndrome:
When is jet lag at its worst?
Travelling east to west tends to be an easier adjustment, although it often involves waking up early and getting sleepy early in your new evening. Going east is harder as you have to “speed up” … and bedtime and your morning alarm come early for your poor, confused body. Basically, the body clock copes better with staying up longer than getting up earlier.
Do all countries use time zones?
By 1929, most countries had adopted hourly time zones; Nepal was the last, in 1986. Some countries use half-hour deviations from standard time, such as India, Sri Lanka and Australia; Nepal even uses quarter-hour zones.
What does jet lag do to the body?
It disrupts sleeping and waking patterns, obviously, but it also upsets your appetite, digestion, bowel habits, urine production, body temperature and blood pressure. But the effects are not necessarily long term – the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) says the risk of most cancers is low in commercial airline crew.
What else can I do about jet lag?
Dr Simpson says you should try to mimic sleep patterns by resetting your watch to match daytime and increase your fluids on the flight. His suggested “sleep cocktail” is 3mg slow release (SR) melatonin, 5,000 international units (IU) of Vitamin D3 plus 400 mg magnesium. The NHS website suggests you establish a new routine for the country you have travelled to in terms of eating and sleeping, avoid napping when you arrive, even when you’re tired, and spend time outdoors to let natural daylight help you adjust. Websites such as Web-Blinds and Jet Lag Rooster can also help.
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