Being from right outside of Pittsburgh, I have never had to fly to Vassar after breaks. I have always taken a bus or driven a car here. Traveling to or from school is a long seven or eight hours, but it has always been manageable and I’ve never had to worry about shifting through different time zones. For a lot of my friends here, this is not the case. My roommate for the last three years is from outside Dallas, and traveling home for her seems like a hassle. From getting into the city, taking a bus to the airport, shifting through thousands of people and making it to her gate to fly hours home, I don’t know how she does it. On top of that, Dallas is an hour behind New York time, so she has to adjust a little to the time zone. This time zone shift may be small, but it can really take a toll on the body and fatigue her.
With students here being from all over the world, traveling during breaks, particularly short breaks such as Thanksgiving, can be a real hassle. Besides the trouble as it is making arrangements to get to an airport and fly home, they also have to deal with these different time zones. New York to California takes you back three hours, and New York to Hawaii takes you back six hours. Internationally, we have even bigger gaps in time; New York to Hong Kong brings you a whole 12 hours ahead, turning night into day. A research team at the University of Michigan has noted that many people don’t realize how drastic even a one-hour time shift is on a person’s ability to adjust. “The conventional wisdom is for every hour you’re shifting, it’s about a day of adjustment. So Washington D.C. travelers going to Hong Kong—a 12-hour time difference—could take up to 12 days to adjust” (NPR, “This jet lag app does the math so you’ll feel better faster,” 04.11.2014).
With students already feeling wiped out from the many tests and papers that usually occur right before a break, traveling with an added time zone shift certainly makes it even harder to enjoy some rest and relaxation once finally off campus. It’s shocking that it can take almost two weeks for some students to adjust.
This all ultimately has to do with the internal “clock” in our bodies known as their circadian rhythm. Danny Forger, Professor of Mathematics and Computational Medicine at the University of Michigan, elaborates, saying, “In your brain, you have a central circadian clock…[that] sends signals all throughout the body, and that central clock controls all of the body’s biological functions.”
So how can one get back on track? Olivia Walch, a graduate student at the University of Michigan, has created an app for the iPhone that helps people adjust to the fatigue from timezone shifts. By using mathematical analyses of human’s daily rhythms, Walch’s app calculates the quickest way to adjust to new time zones (Science News, “App could cut jet lag short,” 04.10.14). The app, Entrain, does all the calculations before your flight even occurs. You simply put in your flight information and the app with provide you with a schedule to help you get back on track. Walch goes into great detail on her app and its scheduling system, saying, “Users plug in the time zone they’re traveling to, and the app will do the calculations before spitting out a schedule specifying when the user should stay in bright light, low light or be in the dark.” These changes in light are what help make the transition process a little easier for the jet-lagged.
In reviewing the app Entrain, which can be downloaded for free from the Apple App Store, I have to say that this app looks promising, but is still in need of a bit more advancement. I do like the app; the app in itself is very professional-looking and the math behind it is backed by top-notch research published in the scientific journal PLoS Computational Biology. The scheduling system is also fairly simple—you just input where you are going and what time you will arrive, and the app provides a schedule of when you should be in the light or dark and when you should be sleeping. You are able to make alterations to their provided schedule, and it shows how it will affect the amount of time needed to get your regular circadian rhythm back.
The really surprising part of the app is seeing how long it truly takes ones to fully get back into sync with their cycle. As stated earlier by the research team, it talks about a day for each hour in the time zone shift, and if one were to alter their provided schedule, it prolongs the process of fixing the skewed circadian rhythm. Ideally, this app is to be used for multiple days when one travels such a far distance. I am not sure if it will really help Vassar students when they travel into drastically different time zones for short amounts of time, but it may be very helpful when students return to Vassar.
Overall, though, it is a really cool, scientifically-based app that I suggest travelers check out. It’s just a quick download and is worth at least giving it a try.
—Delaney Fischer ’16 is a neuroscience major.