How Travelling Athletes Cope with Jet-Lag

By  ,  Onlymyhealth editorial team
Jul 30, 2012

How Travelling Athletes Cope with Jet Lag

Olympics is a global sports event and a lot of sportspersons from across the globe participate and represent their country. While traversing meridians, circadian rhythms may desynchronise. This change in circadian rhythms is known as jet-lag, a condition wherein body is unable to adapt to the shift in time.

How can Jet-lag Influence Performance?

A time-zone shift where morning becomes evening and vice-versa may pose problems for the participants . It may take up to a week for an athlete to adjust to the new time-zone. Jet-lag affects overall well-being of an individual, usually in the form of fatigue.

Jet-lag may lead to several medical conditions that may affect performance of athletes, which include sleep disorders, difficulties to concentrate, irritability, depression, disorientation, loss of appetite and gastrointestinal disturbances.

In comparison to endogenous rhythms, variables with largely exogenous rhythms adjust more quickly. There could be less impact of jet-lag on performance, as the eating pattern matches with existing digestive function and adjust to the time-zone transition before melatonin secretion. The symptoms of jet-lag vanish as soon after sleep pattern returns to normal.

How to Prevent Jet-lags?

  1. Before Departure: Before leaving, find out about the time-zone of the place you’re travelling to. Make slight changes, such as getting to the bed 1—2 hours after/before (as applicable).
  2. While travelling: Make essential changes to you comfortable during the flight. Get some sleep when travelling on the plane. If there is a halt/stop-over in the journey, make sure you eat something nutritious there.
  3. On arrival: Get familiar and adjust to the time-zone as soon as possible. If it is a day when you reach, make sure you have meals on time and catch sleep at night. Even if you’re feeling tired, try not to sleep but retire early in the evening. It is normal to experience sleeping problems on the first few days, but ensure that you sleep until it is daylight. Fitting into the local schedule of meals should be done as soon as possible.

There is no definite connection suggesting that jet-lag impacts athlete’s performance. The symptoms of jet-lag, such as fatigue, headaches, dizziness, fatigue, reduction in energy, cognition and sleeping problems may hamper athlete’s performance .

There could be effects of training on circadian rhythms that might play spoilsport in preparations for the main event. There are pharmacological and behavioural approaches to deal with jet-lag. Health experts advise to plan activities on a chronobiological basis  to ensure that sports performance is not compromised. Training and diet should be based on the chronobiological principles and an understanding of how the body clock operates. For competitive performance, athletes should spend sufficient number of days in the new time-zone to overcome jet-lag symptoms.

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