The Airport That Fights Jet Lag
By: Beth Schmidt and Ginger DiFurio
From counting steps, to tracking calories and measuring sleep, we expect health-positive innovations to seamlessly integrate into our lives and surroundings with minimal to no effort. And, demand is only growing—especially as we realize the impact of omnipresent environmental stressors that quietly and often negatively affect our daily well-being.
Air travel presents its own list of adverse symptoms—rarely, if ever does someone get off a cross continental flight feeling better than when they boarded. The considerable stress developed by airports is unsettling to travelers of all experience levels. This is primarily because of the erratic disruptions to the body’s circadian rhythm.
On a normal day, sunlight helps regulate our 24-hour circadian clock. Daylight produces stimulation or circadian entrainment, boosting our energy level, and informing us to be awake. As natural light dims, our biological clock responds with production of melatonin, the onset of tiredness, and need to rest. Travel upsets the pattern. Changes in time zones, stretches of time spent in closed man-made spaces, an out-of-rhythm harsh lighting or darkness throws the passenger’s internal clock for a loop.
Normal Circadian Rhythm vs Disrupted Circadian Rhythm during travel
Corgan’s aviation studio set out to find a solution. As part of our research we conducted an experiment with a goal to collect first-hand data on products designed to reduce disruption of our internal rhythm during travel and think about how to improve this part of the passenger experience.
We tested three individual use products (light box, eyewear, and intracranial illumination earbuds), and documented the results. Surveys were conducted each day after use, highlighting how users experienced changes in mood, sleep quality, alertness, focus, energy, and ability to follow the products’ schedule.
While most participants reported a positive impact, results varied largely because of associated inconvenience, time duration, schedule, maintenance, and/or appearance presented challenges. For light tuning technology to work, we need to remove these barriers and make it accessible to all passengers by seamlessly integrating it into the built environment.
Corgan team testing Light Box, Eyewear and Intracranial Illumination Earbuds
But, how do you provide the most benefit using these tunable lighting strategies when all passengers’ needs differ?
Offering layered lighting through the terminal provides passengers the opportunity to synch their experience with their travel and sleep schedule. Restructuring the lighting to support people at every point of travel can also improve the environment for shift workers facing similar struggles.
Where passengers today arriving in the early morning hours are jolted by bright lights, check-in lighting that automatically matches the color temperature and intensity of its location can help maintain traveler circadian rhythms. Similarly, baggage claims can gradually adjust passengers who have just arrived at their destination to the schedule of their new location even before they leave the building.
Commercial aircraft have already begun to incorporate tunable lighting in their cabins. Light temperature and intensity change throughout international and red-eye flights encouraging passengers to sleep and arrive rested at their destination. Rather than confining the benefits of this practice to flight time, similar technology can be implemented at departure lounges by programming each gate’s lighting to correspond in the lighting temperature of the destination’s time zone to start adjusting internal clocks before take-off.
While lighting of airports may not be able to completely diminish jet lag, the benefits of tunable lighting certainly has the potential to revolutionize how we feel when we travel.
Tunable lighting design in the Corgan Prototype ‘Destination Hold Room’