How to combat jet lag: Apps are offering a digital solution

The idea is to use scheduled exposure to light to “sync” your body clock to your destination time-zone

Trouble getting your 40 winks when you fly long-haul? Sleeping pills and alcohol – traditional antidotes to insomnia and jet lag – now have some digital rivals. Many airlines have relaxed the rules for using phones onboard, and app makers are high-fiving themselves as the market for wellbeing apps flourishes.

But how can an app mitigate the effects of jet lag? Here's a snapshot of the science: light detected by our retinas' ganglion cells sends messages to the suprachiasmatic nucleus – our body clocks. As light fades, melatonin (the “sleep hormone”) is released from the pineal gland. The idea behind jet lag apps is to use scheduled exposure to light to “sync” your body clock to your destination time-zone. Here are four apps worth checking out:

Jet Lag Rooster (iOS), created by the sleep consultancy Swan Medical Group, defines itself as an app “used by frequent travellers and airlines training their pilots and flight crew”. Its developers claim “research shows that light exposure at the right times can shift your body clock to reduce jet lag. Jet Lag Rooster suggests when to expose yourself to sunlight and when to avoid it.”

Entrain (iOS/Android), developed by the University of Michigan, offers passengers a light-exposure regime that's tailored to their travel itinerary.

SkyZen (iOS), the creation of the International Air Transport Association, uses “wearable data from a Jawbone device, blended with flight data to provide insights to the passenger so that they can have a better inflight experience”. 

And there's ANA Takeoff Mode (iOS/Android), designed by Japanese airline ANA to provide a mind-diverting game and “soothing sounds formulated to promote relaxation”.

Or, if you simply don't click with apps, there's one more button you can push: the orange flight-attendant call button to order that gin and tonic.

 

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