Imagine if the lighting in your hotel room could fix your jet lag. It’s not such a crazy thought, according to Dr Russell Foster, the professor of neuroscience credited with discovering the ganglion cells that set our bodies' daily circadian rhythms.
The concept is simple: as you walk into your hotel room, your key card tells the control system where you’ve arrived from, and the lights change to the ideal colour temperature to adjust your body to the new time zone.
The lighting prescribed by the system would differ depending on where in the world you were, and where you had travelled from.
‘If you’re travelling east from London across more than eight time zones, you need to avoid morning light and actively seek out afternoon light for the first three or four days because dusk light delays the circadian clock, while morning light advances it,’ explains Foster.
‘Light does different things at dawn and dusk and the problem is, when you’re on London time and travelling east, you’re going to hit morning light there and you’re actually going to delay the clock, shifting it back towards Europe rather than advancing it towards Australia or wherever you are.’
Together with a colleague, Foster has taken the first step and developed a smartphone app, which uses the phone's GPS to track where the person is, and where they've travelled from. The app, which has not yet been released to the public, can tell users what type of light to seek out in order to acclimatise to a new time zone.
‘We’ve done all the formulations and I think we’ve patented it. I suppose it does have quite a few commercial applications when you think about it,’ Foster told Lux after the ILP International Year of Light lecture last week, where he spoke about his research into the effect of lighting on human health and productivity.
Foster also recommends that bathrooms – be they in hotels or in people’s homes – ought to be equipped with light temperature controls.
‘The rule of thumb with alertness is that 30 minutes before you want to go to bed, you should minimise light exposure. But what’s the last thing most of us do before we go to bed? We stand in the most brightly lit room, the bathroom, looking into the mirror cleaning our teeth,’ Foster says.
‘What you need is a dial by the bathroom mirror which can change the lighting from blue-enriched to red-enriched before you go to bed. Now, that would be useful.’
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