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Using mathematics to beat jetlag effectively

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Our “internal clock” is predicted to shift more rapidly than previously thought. In a study published in PLOS Computational Biology , researchers present schedules of light exposure that may shift our circadian clock in the minimum time, simply by adjusting the timing of the beginning and end of each day.

The authors calculated optimal schedules for thousands of different situations, and condensed their findings into four general principles of optimal circadian shifting.

“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, USA. “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 percent of the American workforce.

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

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