Mathematicians Have Built An App To Beat Jetlag

David Warner sleeps next to his Baggy Green Cap and a replica Ashes Urn. Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

Mathematicians have developed a free phone app called Entrain which uses schedules of light exposure to beat the effects of jetlag.

It’s all about when and for how long we are exposed to light.

In a study published in the journal PLOS Computational Biology, the researchers look at light exposure to shift our circadian clock simply by adjusting the timing of the beginning and end of each day.

“Overcoming jetlag is fundamentally a math problem and we’ve calculated the optimal way of doing it,” said study author Danny Forger, of the University of Michigan.

“We’re certainly not the first people to offer advice about this, but our predictions show the mathematically best and quickest ways to adjust across time zones.”

The schedules presented are simple to follow, in that they involve only a single daily light exposure and that they are predicted to produce the same results even in the presence of unpredictable factors.

The work could provide insights to help improve the health and quality of life for pilots and flight attendants as well as shift workers, which make up more than 10% of the American work force.

Based on their findings, the authors have created an app, Entrain, which is available free via the Apple store.

The app is explained in this clip:

To show how this new method is different, the researchers illustrate circadian rhythms as a clock with a point at the hour when your body temperature is lowest.

This usually occurs about two hours before you wake up. If the point is usually at 5 am and you travel overseas, it could abruptly swing over to, say, 3 pm in your destination. You’re likely to experience jet lag until your system adjusts and your body is once again at its lowest temperature just a few hours before your alarm goes off.

“The way other approaches get these points to line up again is by inching along on the outside of the circle, sometimes pushing you towards and sometimes pulling you away from the target. But our schedules can just cut through the middle,” said Olivia Walch, a mathematics doctoral student who built the app. “This is almost like a body hack to get yourself entrained faster.”

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