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Outside commentary adds clarity to story on potential jet lag therapy


5 Star


Flashing night-lights may help lessen jet lag, circadian problems

Our Review Summary

Jet lagged womanThis study of flashing light therapy enrolled 39 people, and exposed 31 of them to a series of two-millisecond light flashes with changing intervals while sleeping. The other eight were exposed to 60 minutes of continuous bright light. Those who experienced the flashing light were more quickly able to alter their circadian clock and thus, in theory, more quickly adapt to a new time zone.  The report covered the main bases found in the published research and, unlike a CNN article on the same study, included the helpful commentary of an outside observer who was able to add context to the meaning and impact of the study.


Why This Matters

Jet lag is a significant concern for many people who have to travel distances that span multiple time zones, where their ability to work effectively is compromised as the body struggles to adjust to a new time zone. This means a simple, but effective light therapy session could bring much-needed relief to those who have to travel but also, possibly, to those who do shift work and are frequently forced into combat against the body’s natural circadian rhythms. People who work in important jobs where alertness and quick adaptability to changing sleep schedules are required (airline pilots, doctors, nurses, ambulance attendants, truck drivers, etc) may benefit from such a therapy.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?


While no costs were discussed, the suggestion that the device might be expensive was made: “The night flashes require special technology and equipment, beyond just a smartphone, which are still in development, Zeitzer said.” We’ll consider this nod in the direction of cost sufficient for a Satisfactory rating, since it would be difficult to say exactly how much such a device would cost at this stage.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


Benefits of those who experience the flashing light therapy over those who have the continuous light therapy were described this way: “A series of flashes similar to a camera flash delivered every 10 seconds over a 60-minute period delayed sleepiness by two hours, compared to a 36-minute delay for those exposed to continuous light for an hour.”

These quotes were also helpful in quantifying and understanding the benefits:

“In essence, using the night before you traveled from California to N.Y. would move your circadian system two-thirds of the way there before you even left,” Zeitzer said.

Arriving in New York, you would be synced to the local time after one day, he said.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?


The report indicated there was no harm involved:  “In a previous study, the short flashes of light at night did not interrupt sleep or reduce its quality.” This report also indicated helpful additional information from an outside observer, Anna Wirz-Justice, professor emeritus at the Center for Chronobiology at the University of Basel in Switzerland, who was not part of the new study, who said: “Mistiming light therapy can make jet lag worse.”

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?


This report rates satisfactory on the quality of evidence by including cautionary advice from an outside observer saying that independent verification needs to happen: It is “far too early – neither the methodology is available [to] outside research, nor any guidance about safety, nor tests of simulated jet lag in an appropriate ‘realistic’ protocol,”  according to Anna Wirz-Justice.

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


The report included this helpful phrase to indicate that this isn’t a ‘real’ disease: “’Jet lag itself is really a nuisance syndrome as it is self-resolving,’ said senior author Jamie Zeitzer, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Stanford University School of Medicine in California.”

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?


This article scores well on consulting an independent source by quoting a researcher who was not part of the study, Anna Wirz-Justice, professor emeritus at the Center for Chronobiology at the University of Basel in Switzerland.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?

Not Satisfactory

The study could have made reference to other systematic reviews of therapies used to treat jet lag, such as Cochrane Reviews on caffeine or melatonin.

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


This article made it fairly clear that this technology wasn’t ready for consumers by mentioning that further research needed to happen and that frequent flyers shouldn’t try this on their own.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The article is clear that the study is based on substantial theory about the effects of light on circadian rhythms and mentions previous research that the team had carried out, so there is no misleading representation as to the technique’s novelty.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


Given the helpful comments from an outside (not involved in the study) researcher, we would say the report did not substantially rely on a news release.

Total Score: 9 of 10 Satisfactory


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