Researchers funded by the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI) have developed software that uses mathematical models to help astronauts and ground support personnel better adjust to shifting work and sleep schedules. Outside the space program, the software could help people who do shift or night work or who experience jet lag due to travel across time zones.

"The best methods that we know to help people operate at peak performance are first to ensure that they get adequate sleep, and second that their work schedules are designed to be aligned with the natural body clock," said project leader Dr Elizabeth Klerman, associate team leader for NSBRI’s Human Factors and Performance Team.

According to Klerman, a physician in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and associate professor at Harvard Medical School, the software has two components. The Circadian Performance Simulation Software (CPSS) uses complex mathematical formulas to predict how an individual will react to specific conditions. CPSS also allows users to interactively design a schedule, such as shifting sleep/wake to a different time, and predicts when they would be expected to perform well or poorly.

The second component, known as Shifter, then "prescribes" the optimal times in the schedule to use light to shift a person’s circadian rhythm in order to improve performance at critical times during the schedule.

With the basic software program complete, the researchers are now working to individualize the model. They want to determine what personal data are needed in order to provide recommendations for individuals. Klerman said the information needed could be as simple as age, or it could require more complicated data.