Junking jet lag

It sounds like the lowest setting on a Star Trek phaser, but a photon shower (shown above) is a real device, more akin in appearance to a space-age photo booth, developed by Delta Airlines in the hopes of reducing jet lag.
Introduced this spring, the photon shower bathes the weary traveler in blue LED light, helping readjust her circadian rhythm, which is regulated partly by the amount—and timing—of blue light that strikes a photoreceptor on the retina. Delta partnered with advertising agency Weiden + Kennedy to build a prototype, based on the brainstorm of Oxford neuroscientist Russell Foster.
“I sort of rather flippantly came up with the idea that, in addition to having a shower in the morning, one should have the shower with a big light fitting,” says Foster. “Appropriate light exposure with blue-enriched light will enhance your ability to adapt to a new time zone.”
A side effect, in theory, is that increased light (as little as 90 seconds in the shower) can enhance alertness. But although Delta has discussed rolling out the shower in international airports, it’s just a prototype, and no clinical studies have explored its effect.
What researchers, including Foster, have studied is optimal light exposure for reducing jet lag. Morning light helps your body adjust, acknowledging that it’s time to arise, despite a circadian rhythm that’s slightly longer than 24 hours. Traveling west is straightforward; seeking out light offers your body an indication that it should activate earlier. But if you travel east, a photoreceptor stimulus in the morning will shift your circadian rhythm in the wrong direction. So the photon shower includes a display that indicates when travelers should use the device, and for how long, depending on where they came from.
Meanwhile, Foster is developing a simpler solution—an app that, given a flight schedule, will display optimal times for seeking light exposure versus avoiding it by wearing dark glasses or staying inside.
Photo: Michael Brands
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