Competitors are getting ready to head out to major events in 2013 with many of the events requiring cross-country or even trans-atlantic travel. United States competitors heading to Compete Nationals in California the weekend of February 22-24, 2013 may have flights of 3-4 hours in length. Competitors traveling to the Irish Open in March or coming from Europe to the US Open in July will be on planes for eight or more hours at a time.
Upon arrival, these competitors are expected to perform at peak levels. However, these long trips require the competitors to pass through various time zones and passing through several time zones can result in jet lag. Jet lag is a condition characterized by fatigue, headaches, dizziness, low energy and low cognition. Jet lag is basically a disruption of the body’s normal circadian rhythm. A person’s circadian rhythm is the normal activity cycle of the body over a 24-hour period. A circadian rhythm can be modified by bright light, darkness, melatonin and exercise but the light-dark cycle of the environment is the strongest influence.
There are things that athletes can do to reduce and sometimes prevent the effects of jet lag and make trips less taxing – thus resulting in better performance on arrival.
Since light and dark are the most influential on the body, upon arrival at a new destination, trying to get your body to adjust to the new daylight/night time schedule is the first step to helping your body to adjust. There is no evidence that using sleeping pills or other drugs to induce sleep on the flight to your destination will help so leave that out of your solutions. If you can arrive a day or two early at the destination, your body will have more time to prepare and be ready for competition performance. Add some light exercise the first few days and you will be closer to adjustment.
Prior to leaving on the trip, getting a good night’s sleep, drinking extra water and avoiding alcohol is recommended. The air inside planes actually dehydrates passengers. Inhaling dry cabin air makes you lose water from your upper respiratory tract. While on the airplane, try to drink water at least once every hour. Sitting for long periods of time on airplanes, combined with the air pressure from take-off/landing and altitude may lead to blood pooling in your legs. Get up and move around often on the flight (every 2 hours) and do some light stretches.
The joy of traveling to tournaments doesn’t have to be ruined by a poor performance due to jet lag if you prepare and plan appropriately.