By Dan McCarthy//National Team High Performance Consultant | Wednesday, June 3, 2015
This summer USA Swimming will be represented across the globe by our athletes. Russia, South Korea and Singapore are just some of the countries where they will be competing. Helping the athletes adapt to the time changes and prepare for training and competition has always been important, but the large number of trips and athletes this summer has made it a priority. Tips and ideas for comfort during long plane trips is readily available, but targeted advice about preparing to compete at a high level internationally after crossing multiple time zones is scarce.
- Set your watch to your destination time zone as soon as you board the plane. Be aware what the time is at the destination, so a plan can be made for the flight. Will the flight be during the nighttime at the destination? If so, sleep during the flight. If the flight coincides with daytime at the destination, try hard to stay awake.
- Staying awake is as important as getting sleep. If air travel is taking place during the daytime hours at your destination, make an effort to stay awake. Get up and walk around, play video games or watch movies, and/or have a cup of tea or coffee during the flight.
- Melatonin is not recommended. Some laboratory studies have shown that Melatonin can decrease jet lag and improve sleep, but the timing of ingestion is crucial and the quality of the Melatonin is imperative. Unfortunately, the current state of the supplement industry in the United States makes it impossible to rely on an internet or nutrition store purchase for quality.
- Light exposure and avoidance is a powerful tool. Depending on the direction of the travel (east or west) and the number of time zone changes, manipulating exposure to light and dark can help adapt to the new time zone. For more details please see pages 232-233 in Sleepiness: Causes, Consequences and Treatment (Reilly, T., Atkinson, G & Waterhouse, J). Getting in-sync with the local light-dark cycle at the right time can really help the body clock adapt; however, exposure at the wrong time can actually delay the process.
- Taking naps can be useful; but only with the goal of accounting for lost sleep. Daily naps that avoid exposure to light and hamper nighttime sleep are not advised, and will prolong the time it takes to adapt to the new time zone.
For almost all trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific travel, the time zone change will be at least six hours. Performance and motivation at practice during the initial 24-48 hours after arrival will be at their lowest points. However, by following a few tips and being aware of the time difference, an athlete’s performance and motivation should be expected to improve every day.