A new study into jet lag and its impact on NBA performance has found the Boston Celtics could be at a significant disadvantage at the 2022 NBA Finals.
The study, “Eastward Jet Lag is Associated with Impaired Performance and Game Outcome in the National Basketball Association” was published June 16 in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.
Expressed as a percentage the authors write, “Eastbound jet lag was associated with a 6.03% decrease in home team win share, which equates to 2.47 fewer home wins in a full NBA regular season.”
This disadvantage increased as the degree of jetlag eastward increased, to the point where home teams playing eastward with 2 hours of jetlag, despite the robust and well-documented advantages usually associated with home games, had a negative points difference of had almost three points (e.g. home audience, familiarity with the venue and rice en of the opponent).”
Jet lag primarily affects teams traveling east.
The study’s authors say that the impact of jet lag is significant and suggest that the NBA and other sports leagues should take this into account when planning games, particularly when teams travel long distances across multiple stadiums in a short period of time have to cross time zones.
Some teams have been disproportionately affected due to their geographic location, said lead author Elise Facer-Childs, a professor at Monash University.
This issue is of “particular concern to East Coast teams traveling back to home games without adequate recovery time,” she said.
Eastbound journeys – where the target time is after the start time – require the athlete to shorten their day, known as “phase progression”.
During a phase advance, athletes often have a hard time falling asleep at an earlier bedtime. This leads to sleep loss, which in turn can lead to impaired physiological performance and motivation the next day, explains Facer-Childs.
A dataset of 11,481 games over ten years
The researchers examined data from 10 seasons of NBA games from 2011 to 2021, totaling 11,481 games.
They found that East (but not West) jet lag was associated with it has been impaired performance for home teams (but not for away teams).
In particular, home teams that traveled east and were jet lagged (compared to home teams without jet lag) had a 6% reduced chance of winning.
And as the level of jetlag increased eastward, so did the adverse impact on home team performance.
In other words, the effect was stronger when teams traveled across three time zones (e.g. from San Francisco back to Boston) than when they only crossed one or two time zones.
How to Reduce the Impact of Jet Lag on Athletes
Planners could mitigate this impact by compensating for the eastbound journey with an increased recovery time to allow athletes to re-synchronize with the new time zone, Professor Facer said -Childs.
In fact, her team’s research shows that when traveling east was followed by a reasonable recovery window, teams performed similarly to if they had not traveled at all.
“Giving the circadian system time to naturally adjust to the travel destination’s light-dark cycle could mitigate the observed disadvantage of eastbound travel,” she said.
However, if schedules cannot be changed to ensure a level playing field, team doctors and sleep specialists may use other techniques to reduce the effects.
These include exposure to light at specific times and Avoidance routines as well as melatonin supplementation via pills.
Other techniques include maintaining a structured schedule during the trip, such as transportation, meal times, and exercise times.
Private jets can’t do much
Although private jets can make cross-country flights less of a hassle for players, they do not protect against circadian disruptions caused by crossing multiple time zones.
This is especially true when teams don’t have enough time to adjust to the new environment, which is about a day every hour time difference.
Particularly relevant to the current NBA Finals
The research could have implications for the NBA Finals currently being played between the Golden State Warriors and the Boston Celtics.
In this particular case, Professor Facer-Childs said the Celtics could benefit from some of the “chronobiology-based strategies” discussed above aimed at reducing the effects of jet lag.
She added that this study has implications for all sports teams that need to travel across time zones to attend games.
Image: via DepositPhotos
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