In Professor Jamie Zietzer’s recent research on light and the timing of biological rhythms, he noticed something curious: brief flashes of light have a greater ability to adjust body clock timing than continuous light exposure.
For instance, let’s say you wanted to adjust your body clock to wake up earlier than you typically do in the coming days (a common scenario for those who travel across time zones). In order to make this adjustment, on the morning before you leave, you could wake up at 4:00am, turn on the room light and go back to sleep. This technique can adjust your clock by about 35 minutes, which means that if you typically awake at 7:30am, you could naturally wake up tomorrow around 6:55am (and the timing of all your other body processes would shift accordingly, too).
On the other hand, if you were to get 2 millisecond flash of light every 10 seconds starting at 4:00am (instead of laying in a room with the light on) – something Jamie’s research has demonstrated you can sleep through – you could advance your clock by about 120 minutes – over 3x more than continuous light.
What does this mean? Well, one thing it means is that it would be a heck of a lot easier to be up and ready before your typical natural wake time in those moments when you have an early start to your day (e.g., early plane flight). The ability to affect your body timing in this manner is more than a mere luxury; it’s also about personal safety and performance. None of us want to be on the road with sleepy drivers, and likewise, no one wants to have to perform at a time when you’re too sleepy to keep your eyes open. This is pretty exciting technology!