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Jet Lag and Performance?

Anyone who has traveled between time zones can tell you that air travel can wreak havoc with your internal clock and dramatically decrease your energy level. Now imagine you are traveling across eight time zones and have to compete in the sporting event of a lifetime - the 2000 Olympic Games. Just a little pressure, right? That is exactly why many Olympic Athletes consulted sleep specialists before traveling to Sydney.

The body has mechanisms in the brain (called "neurons") that help time many biologic and physiologic processes. These neurons are located in the hypothalamic region of the brain, and help to regulate hunger, sleep, temperature and other timing mechanisms, such as circadian rhythms. This internal system has difficulty making rapid adjustments, such as skipping ahead 14 hours, that might occur with long distance travel. When this timing is disrupted, we experience the symptoms of jet lag. Generally, the effects of jet lag are worse when traveling from west to east.

Symptoms of Jet Lag:

  • Fatigue

  • Disorientation
  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Stomach distress
  • Prolonged reaction time
  • Decreased short term memory
  • Decreased concentration
  • Reduction in anaerobic power and capacity
  • Higher injury rates
  • Reduced dynamic strength

While there is not a tremendous amount of research on the topic, NASA has suggested that it can take one day for every time zone crossed to regain normal rhythm and energy. Some athletes have reported that they were able to decrease this to a few days by sleeping on the plane and staying up when they arrived. It has also been advised that athletes get back into their training routines the day after arriving in the new time zone. While there is limited research on the topic, the following suggestions do seem to help the body readjust its internal clock most efficiently.

How Can Athletes Combat The Common Effects of Jet Lag?

  • Get seven to eight hours of sleep several nights before you depart

  • Stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water, juices, or sports drinks
  • Use light exercise to stay alert, and avoid prolonged periods of inactivity
  • Do not drink large amounts of alcohol and caffeine
  • Eat light, healthy snacks during long trips
  • Take naps of less than 30 minutes when you feel especially tired
  • Use earplugs to block out noise during sleep
  • Use light and dark to effectly trigger normal sleep/wake cycles.

Women in Motion September 2001