Will Valkee's LED earbuds alleviate jet lag?

Soundless earbuds channel light to photosensitive regions of brain through ear canal, supposedly replicating sun's mood-elevating powers. Finnair is conducting a one-month test.

Valkee claims its LED earbuds act as substitutes for the mood-elevating effects of the sun by channeling bright light to photosensitive regions of the brain through the ear canal. Valkee

Finnair business travelers flying between Helsinki and Shanghai will soon have the chance to be test subjects on the effect that "brain stimulation" headphones have on jet lag.

The $240 earbuds, made and tested by Finnish company Valkee, already blast LED lights instead of music into desperate and willing ear canals with the intention of alleviating seasonal affective disorder. (The company has claimed, too, that the light helps improve reaction time --at least in Finnish hockey players.)

Now Valkee is working with the airline Finnair to determine whether the lights may instill a sense of well-being in long-distance airline passengers to help counteract jet lag.

"Introducing the Valkee bright light headset is one way of adding interesting experiences on board Finnair flights," Finnair Vice President Jarkko Konttinen said in a statement. "Finnair is an innovative airline, and we actively look for new ways to improve the well-being and comfort of our passengers."

Beginning at the end of March, business class passengers flying the 4,000-plus miles between Helsinki and Shanghai will have the option to wear the earbuds for an hour or so in the middle of or at the end of the flight (depending on which direction they're traveling).

Participants will then be asked to fill out a questionnaire. Of course--surveys being subjective--it's possible that any positive effect could be attributed to the placebo effect instead of actual light, should people want badly enough to believe the earbuds have helped them.

The Valkee earbuds are certified in Europe as a medical device, but veteran sleep researcher Gary Trock, co-director of Sleep Evaluation Services at Beaumont Hospital in Michigan, told MSNBC earlier this week that he remains skeptical given he's seen nothing in peer-reviewed scientific journals about the device: "Until I see more data, I won't be sticking this in my ear."

Still, passengers who'd rather try anything but sleeping pills to alleviate jet lag certainly have the option of performing their own anecdotal experiment should they want to cough up a few hundred dollars on the Valkee buds before their next long flight.

 

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