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Study: Flashing Lights May Ease Jet Lag

Flashing lights may help travelers with time-zone adjustment.

Short flashes of light at night are more effective than using continuous light as therapy to prevent disruptions in people’s circadian rhythms, according to Stanford University researchers.

According to a new study released Monday by Stanford University’s School of Medicine, exposing sleeping people to short flashes of light may prove an efficient way to prevent jet lag.

“This could be a new way of adjusting much more quickly to time changes than other methods in use today,” said Jamie Zeitzer, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, in a press release.

Zeitzer, senior author of the study published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, said researchers worked to develop an optimal technique for light exposure use to help people adjust more quickly to changes in their sleep cycles. Current light-therapy treatments for sleep disturbances include sitting in front of bright lights for hours at a time during the day, which allows the body’s clock to transition to new time zones in small steps prior to taking a trip.

In a previous study, Zeitzer and colleagues found light therapy works best at night because the body’s circadian rhythms, which control sleep cycles, are more sensitive to light than during the day, even through closed eyelids.

In this study, Zeitzer and lead author Raymond Najjar, Ph.D., a former postdoctoral scholar at Stanford now at the Singapore Eye Research Institute, found short flashes of light at night are more effective than continuous light exposure and could speed up time-zone adjustment before travel.

“The transfer of light through the eyes to the brain does more than provide sight; it also changes the biological clock,” the press release said. “A person’s brain can be tricked into adjusting more quickly to disturbances in sleep cycles by increasing how long he or she is exposed to light prior to traveling to a new time zone.”

The research was supported by grants from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the Department of Veterans Affairs Sierra Pacific Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center. Stanford’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences also supported the work.

[Photo: Jamie Zeitzer sets up a flashing light in his lab, Norbert von der Groeben]

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