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IT’S OFTEN said that travel broadens the mind but with long-haul international travel there’s always one big drawback. Jet lag.

Your body just can’t understand why you’re trying to sleep at two-o-clock in the afternoon and often it takes days for the effects of a long flight to wear off.

Now world-first research from Qantas may have the solution…or solutions.

Different lighting and sleep schedules, mealtimes and specific ingredients like chilli and chocolate during long-haul flights have been shown to contribute to improved traveller wellbeing. Movement and exercise are, unsurprisingly, a key element.

The national carrier has been working with the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre since 2015 when it first began preparations to launch Perth to London direct flights.  

The latest research was conducted during test flights for Qantas’ Project Sunrise program, which will connect Sydney directly with New York and London for the first time from late 2025. 

“The early results are promising and it’s given us great momentum to look to the next stage of customer research to support Project Sunrise product and service design,” said Professor Peter Cistulli, Professor of Sleep Medicine at the University of Sydney.

“We have a multi-disciplinary team of more than 10 researchers from medicine, science and engineering backgrounds working together on this project.

“This includes sleep researchers, circadian experts, nutrition and movement experts. No airline has ever done this kind of research before.”

Qantas operated three Project Sunrise research flights from New York and London to Sydney in 2019 in partnership with Australian researchers to collect real-world passenger data.   

Researchers travelled on the aircraft and monitored 23 volunteer customers who were fitted with wearable device technology during the 20-hour flights as they followed a specially designed menu, lighting, sleep and movement sequences.

Tests ranged from monitoring pilot brain waves, melatonin levels and alertness, through to exercise classes for passengers.


Initial findings indicate that, compared to customers on a traditional inflight sequence of eating and sleeping, those on the tailored schedule experienced: 

  • Less severe jet lag (self-reported)
  • Better sleep quality inflight
  • Better cognitive performance in the two days after flight.

The inflight trials involved tailored cabin lighting schedules to facilitate adaption to the destination time zone and integrating simple stretch and movement activities. 

They also adjusted the timing of meal services to align the body clock and encouraged wake and sleep by using specific menu items including fish and chicken paired with fast-acting carbohydrates, as well as comfort foods like soups and milk-based desserts.

The aim was to promote the brain’s production of the amino acid tryptophan (‘Tryp’) to help passengers drift off more easily.

“The early findings have given us optimism that we can make a real difference to the health and wellbeing of international travellers thanks to this partnership with Qantas,” added Professor Cistulli.

Charles Perkins Centre and Qantas will take part in a first ever combined lighting workshop at Airbus’ Hamburg headquarters later this year where specialists will design the lighting settings for the aircraft, including reviewing the optimal brightness and colour tone settings for each part of the flight.