If you've ever taken a flight across multiple time zones, you know the feeling. If you travel often for work, it's probably one of your biggest enemies.
Ninety-three percent of travelers have experienced jet lag at some point, according to the American Sleep Association. It's marked by fatigue and disorientation; further symptoms can include nausea, headaches, loss of appetite, and mild depression. Not exactly the best formula for enjoying your vacation or being sharp for your business trip.
That's why Danish entrepreneurs Mickey Beyer-Clausen, Tony Hanna and Jacob Ravn founded Timeshifter, a company that makes an app aimed at mitigating the effects of jet lag. The startup incorporates the research of Dr. Steven Lockley, a neuroscientist and associate professor of medicine at Harvard who serves as the company's chief scientist. Based on a person's normal sleep patterns and flight itinerary, the app prescribes a schedule that will best prepare them for an easy transition to their new time zone. It launched to the public in June.
"Our brains are very sensitive," Beyer-Clausen says. "They like consistency. When you move between different time zones, your brain's sleep-wake cycle gets thrown off, and that's what we call jet lag." Beyer-Clausen, who previously developed Mental Workout, the first mindfulness app to be released in the App Store, met Lockley in 2016. The two soon decided to work together on an app that could bring the scientist's research to the masses.
The driving concept behind Timeshifter is circadian rhythm, essentially the body's 24-hour internal clock. It's become a hot area of research in the scientific community in recent years. Researchers who discovered the genes and proteins that help regulate the body's internal daily schedule won the 2017 Nobel Prize in the Physiology or Medicine category.
Custom travel plans
To use Timeshifter, you input your usual sleep schedule, chronotype (whether you're a morning person or night person), and flight itinerary. An algorithm then produces a plan for the days before and after your flight that advises you when and for how long to sleep, when to avoid caffeine, and when (and in what doses) to consume the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin.
The Timeshifter app also recommends when to expose yourself to light, which Lockley stresses is an important cue for the body's clock. A plan might recommend bright light for 60 minutes while you're on the plane, which is as simple as opening your window's shade--or, if you're in an aisle seat, turning on your overhead light and peering at your phone's screen at maximum brightness. Avoiding light just requires a sleep mask or a pair of sunglasses. The plan spans several days, depending on the distance you travel.
Lockley has been studying circadian rhythms for 25 years, and his research has been put into practice for nearly a decade. As a consultant for contractor Wyle, he provides personalized daily plans for NASA astronauts as well as night shift workers at mission control. The scientist says he's worked with top CEOs and Formula One racers as well--essentially anyone who travels and can't afford to be groggy upon landing.
"The algorithm behind this has been used for many years," says Beyer-Clausen, who serves as CEO of the New York-based startup. "Now we're delivering it by way of an app."
The business model: B2B...2C
Beyer-Clausen thinks the effects of Timeshifter could be wide-reaching. But first, he'll have to get consumers to pay for it. The app, which launched in Apple's App Store and Google Play, costs $10 per individual plan and $25 for an annual subscription. Beyer-Clausen maintains the cost is worthwhile, since a personal plan is the only effective measure. "Pretty much any jet-lag advice that you see out there is wrong, because it's generic," he says. "We all want to create silver bullets and say, 'This is how you deal with jet lag,' but the problem is that something like this has to be dealt with on a very individual level."
Where the founder sees the most revenue potential is in what he calls a "business-to-business-to-consumer" model, in which Timeshifter will strike a deal with companies that would then offer the service to their employees or customers. A company could give its well-traveled employees a subscription, or an airline or cruise line could offer it as a perk. The startup has already struck a deal with international resort chain Six Senses, which now includes the app in its guest packages.
One of Timeshifter's investors is Vagn Sørensen, the chairman of the board of Air Canada and a director of the Royal Caribbean cruise line, which Beyer-Clausen hopes will give the company credibility within those brands' respective industries. The 12-employee startup has $750,000 in funding from angel investors, and Beyer-Clausen says it's looking to begin fundraising again soon.
Beyond everyday travelers, the founder sees a big potential market in athletes. Major League Baseball teams, for example, sometimes play a game, travel 3,000 miles, then play another game the next day. A 2008 study found that MLB teams that traveled across three time zones lost their next game 60 percent of the time--significantly more than those that traversed two or fewer time zones (about 52 percent).
"We can actually apply an extra filter on top based on when you want to peak during that day--are you playing at 2 p.m. or at 6 p.m.?" Beyer-Clausen says. "If you really work with this on an intimate level, you can squeeze a little more out of your circadian rhythm." The startup already has a partnership with Under Armour, which is recommending the app to its roster of athletes. Timeshifter is also creating plans for NBA players, Formula One drivers, professional golfers, and soccer players.
Time will tell whether the various industries Timeshifter is targeting will embrace the app the way Beyer-Clausen expects them to. For now, the founder is working on building more partnerships. He says the company will be announcing more soon, particularly in the realm of business travel. "I think you'll see several of those categories embrace this as people start seeing the benefits of it," he says. "Something like this should be used on every trip you take so you can perform better or enjoy your vacation more."