UMEM Educational Pearls

Category: Misc

Title: Jet lag in athletes

Keywords: Travel, jet lag, circadian (PubMed Search)

Posted: 7/28/2012 by Brian Corwell, MD (Updated: 9/22/2023)
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Travel across time zones is regularly required of profession and collegiate athletes (in addition to the some of us professionally)

Jet lag is defined as insomnia or excessive daytime sleepiness/malaise following travel across at least 2 time zones

                Symptoms usually persist 1 day for each time zone crossed

The sleep schedule is primarily modulated by light and melatonin

Secretion of melatonin helps induce sleep

Exposure to light stimulates arousal and inhibits melatonin secretion

Who is at risk?

Those with more rigid sleep habits have more symptoms

“Morning” people have less difficulty flying eastward

“Evening” people have less difficulty flying west

However, overall, eastward travel causes the most severe symptoms which persist for up to 7 days (versus <3 days with westward travel)

                (The length of the day gets shortened and the circadian system must shorten to reestablish a normal rhythm. The human body demonstrates a natural tendency toward periods longer than 24 hours)

Those with higher levels of physical fitness adjust more quickly

Effects similar in men and women

Midday arrivals experience fewer symptoms than morning arrivals

Symptoms are less in those who have traveled the journey previously

Symptoms are less in those who had a shorter interval their last full nocturnal sleep in the departure city and their first full nocturnal sleep in the destination city