What is jet lag?
Jet lag results from rapid long-distance trans-meridian (east–west or west–east) travel, where time zones are crossed, such as the journey that European Athletes will have going to Rio Olympics 2016, for example. Trans-meridian travel produces a desynchronization of the internal body clock (circadian rhythm), which can affect the athletes’ performance negatively.
There are some strategies, before, during and after the travel, that international athletes can adopt to reduce the negative effects of jet lag.
Practical tips to reduce the negative effects of jet lag
Prior to travel, athletes should gain information regarding jet lag side effects, in order to modify their training, schedules and transfers. Furthermore, according to the time zone differences, they should adopt a gradual shift of the sleeping and eating schedule by 30-60 minutes each day towards the time zone of the destination for a few days prior to departure, accompanied by appropriately timed light avoidance and exposure.
During the journey, athletes should attempt to minimize the dehydrating effects of flying by drinking fluids, in addition to performing stretching exercises to prevent muscle stiffness and soreness.
Light is important
Light is the most powerful adjusting stimulus for the circadian clock, therefore, after the travel, light exposure in the early evening and in the first part of the night is recommended for westward travel.
Conversely, exposure to light in the second half of the night and early morning is recommended for eastward travel.
Another important key factor that can reduce the jet lag symptoms is that of the use of Chrono biotics such as melatonin. Melatonin is produced naturally by the body during the onset of sleep and is thought to promote sleep. It can be ingested to stimulate adaptation.
However, there are some concerns considering its legal status in some countries and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
Train when ready
After a long flight, athletes should avoid heavy training for the first few days due to the negative effects of jet lag being more apparent in that and therefore the risk of injury is much greater.
Short-acting sleeping pills
Lastly, short-acting sleeping pills are often recommended to businessmen more than athletes, to induce sleep pharmacologically during the new destination night-time.
However, the same recommendations made for athletes can also be made for businessmen, keeping in mind that no adjustment should be made if the duration of the stay is short, because there would not be enough time to acclimate and thus to enjoy the benefits of readjustment.