Wake Up Call - Travel, Recovery, and the Olympics

Wake Up Call - Travel, Recovery, and the Olympics

Elite athletes have to travel long distances and cross multiple time zone. Tokyo Japan is UTC +9 meaning it is 13 hours ahead of the East Coast, 14 hours ahead of Central Time, and 16 hours ahead of the West Coast. That's a long way!

The first word that comes to mind is jetlag or fatigue that can negatively affect performance and increase the chance of injury. The circadian rhythm, the 24-hour cycle or sleep-wake cycle that synchronizes with the master clock in the brain, gets disrupted. Symptoms may be more pronounced as more time zones are crossed. Interestingly, most people find that jet lag is worse when traveling east than it is when traveling west.

In addition to fatigue, athletes may experience decreased concentration and alertness, sleep disruption, altered mood, general malaise, and gastrointestinal disturbances. It can even affect blood sugar levels.

Causes of travel fatigue and jetlag include: 

  • “Prolonged exposure to mild hypoxia (oxygen deprivation). 
  • Difficulties in standing, walking, and moving around due to limited room inside the air cabin. 
  • Reduced air quality in the cabin, which may impair immune function. 
  • Dry cabin air and low hypobaric pressure potentially causing dehydration. 
  • Prolonged sitting in a cramped position reducing mobility and flexibility. 
  • Disruption of routines (e.g., eating and sleeping). 
  • Noise of plane and cabin (e.g., sleep disturbance). 
  • Formalities of air travel may induce negative mood states.”

What strategies can you use to aid sleep when flying? 

For short trips (1–2 days), attempts to adapt to the new time zone are not recommended. Short naps and coffee may be the best option for these trips. 

For longer trips, getting the most sleep possible is ideal. Use a good pair of eye shades to block out all light while on the plane. Trying melatonin and determining the right dosage for you can be very helpful. Most athletes try too much. Even 1 mg may be too much and leave you drowsy after a short night of sleep. Don’t experiment with new foods. Bring what you know will not irritate your GI system, especially for that first flight. Be properly hydrated before your trip and make sure you stay hydrated the day you travel. Finally deep tissue massage performed while using a vibration percussion gun can help relax your muscles especially given the cramped seating found on planes. The best massage gun will allow you to get into that sleep rhythm.