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Airbus’s new planes feature technology to ease jet lag

Airbus invested $15 billion developing its new A350 XWB line of jets, and they are lighter, more fuel-efficient, and more aerodynamically engineered than previous generations of commercial aircraft. But for a prospective passenger, none of that matters as much as this: They’re also designed to mitigate jet lag.

The planes debuted earlier this year and have now landed in the US as part of the Qatar Airways fleet. And while there’s no total fix for the fact that we simply travel across the world faster than we can adapt to local time, ending up wide awake and ready for breakfast at 3am, the A350 XWB boasts a few key innovations that target the disagreeable consequences of long flights, from new lighting systems to different construction materials.

One strategy to lessen jet lag from the outset is to try taking control of the body’s natural sleep-wake cycle, which corresponds to sunrise and sunset. During the day, the body produces only trace amounts of melatonin, a hormone that makes you feel tired. As light diminishes, melatonin rises. Because that rhythm gets thrown out of whack when you’re enclosed in a plane and crossing multiple time zones, the A350 XWB is outfitted with LED lighting that changes color temperature during the flight to imitate the normal shifts of sunlight.

A spokesperson for Airbus tells Quartz the system is capable of producing 16.7 million different light color combinations that can be set for any flight length or change of time zones, helping your body to sync faster with your destination in the compressed timeframe of the flight. It makes a difference, according to the company, when you’re flying back and forth among the US, Asia, and Europe, which is where Qatar Airways’ fleet of A350s currently travels.

(Quartz asked Airbus how it measured any actual reduction of jet lag’s symptoms, but has not received a reply. This post will be updated with any response.)

Some research has also found that changes in pressure and low humidity also exacerbate the ill-effects of jet lag. But the A350 XWB has ways to reduce these problems as well.

About 53% of the jet’s frame is strong but lightweight carbon fiber-reinforced plastic. As Fast Company reported, that’s a higher proportion of the material than planes have used in the past, which for one thing makes for a more fuel-efficient craft. But it has another benefit: it’s less prone to corrosion than aluminum, the traditional material of airplanes. That attribute means moisture is less problematic. The plane, consequently, can be pressurized to 6,000 feet, which allows for more humidity in the air and is closer to the pressure on the ground than the 8,000-feet that Airbus says is typical in most planes.

Lastly, the plane has an air filtration system that turns over the air in the plane every two to three minutes. The Airbus spokesperson says this feature doesn’t target jet lag, per se, but it improves air quality, which can help you sleep a little better. Anything that does that can help a bit as well.

There are other comforts designed by Alain De Zotti, the chief engineer of the A350 XWB program, and the other engineers behind the plane. The wider fuselage means seats are about an inch wider than the standard in economy class, and the wing design—inspired by a bird’s—reduces noise. But as a selling point, it’s tough to beat the prospect that you’ll feel as good in the hours after you arrive as when you first got on the plane.

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