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Could a pair of glasses help you sleep?

Blog post | 14 Nov 2017

When the Socceroos flew home from their World Cup qualifier in Honduras last week, many of them were sporting a new secret weapon.

They were wearing an innovative type of glasses to combat jet lag - specs that wouldn't look out of place in a sci-fi film. Developed by researchers at Adelaide's Flinders University, the ‘Re-Timer' glasses shine a blue-green light into the eyes of the wearer, which helps suppress the production of melatonin.

Melatonin is the hormone that induces sleep. "Melatonin normally rises in the evening as we get ready to go to sleep, explains Professor Dorothy Bruck, chair of the Sleep Health Foundation. "With a normal circadian rhythm, melatonin peaks while we are asleep and reduces during the hours before awakening. Morning melatonin suppression makes it more likely that melatonin will rise earlier the next evening, making it slightly easier to sleep earlier."

Image of the Re-Timer glasses shining blue-green light.
The glasses emit a blue-green light to suppress melatonin production.

But at the average cost of one week's rent for Australians, do the glasses actually work?

"The glasses are evidence-based, with a wide range of international studies all showing that light in the blue area of the light spectrum will suppress melatonin," says Professor Bruck.

They're not for everyone, she adds. "The Re-Timer glasses are designed for people who have a circadian rhythm disorder; in particular, those who have a rhythm that delays them feeling sleepy. Their body clock might be delayed by 4 hours, for example, with a 3am to 11am desired sleep period, rather than 11pm to 7am. This is called Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder (DSPD)."

In this case, says Professor Bruck, the high-tech glasses would need to be worn in the morning for a certain period of time, such as 30 minutes, to cut melatonin production. This will eventually make it easier to fall asleep at night.

But buyer beware: "I would suggest the person first ensures they actually have a body clock problem, verified by a sleep expert. I've had people with insomnia in my clinic who have wasted money on bright light therapy devices, such as these glasses, without having had a proper diagnosis of their sleep problem. If their insomnia is not a result of a body clock issue, such as DSPD, then they won't help their sleep."

Will it work for the Socceroos? We'll find out in June.

If you suffer from jet lag, try these tips from the Sleep Health Foundation:

  • For short trips, stay on home time. If away for only 1-2 days, try to eat when you would usually eat at home, sleep when you would usually sleep at home and try to not go outside when it's dark at home.
  • For longer trips, change your time as soon as possible. If away for more than 2-3 days, start adhering to the time at your destination ASAP, even on the plane. Change your watch on the flight, and try to eat and sleep on the plane at times when you would eat and sleep at your destination.
  • Give yourself time. You'll still have a 'slump time' when your body is telling you that you should be asleep as if you were at home. Adjusting to a new time zone usually takes at least 2 or 3 days.
  • Take short naps. While adapting to your new time zone, short naps may help you feel more alert and perform better. But don't sleep longer than 30 minutes and stay awake for at least 4 hours before you go to bed.
  • Caffeine may be helpful but... Do not overdo it. Tea and coffee can help improve alertness, but they take about 20 minutes to have an effect, which can last up to 4 hours.
  • Alcohol is not the solution. Although it may help you to get off to sleep, you will not sleep as well during the night.
  • Minimise use of sedatives and sleeping tablets. They can become a habit, giving you more problems than temporary jet lag.
  • Consider artificial melatonin. Taking it may help reset your body clock. Take it just before your planned sleep time.
  • Go outside. Walk or exercise outdoors. Sunlight is important to help your body adjust to the local time zone.

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