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Exercise Physiology: Understanding Jet Lag

How many times have you or a player flown to a tournament and experienced fatigue, irritability, or decreases in your mental or physical performance after your arrival?  If you, or one of your players, have felt this way after traveling it is likely you have experienced jet lag.  Jet lag is characterized by the symptoms listed above and occurs as your body tries to adjust it's "internal clock" to a new time zone.  While jet lag is an unavoidable part of travel there are certain things you can do to help you and your players cut down on the negative effects that jet lag might produce.

Jet Lag Facts:
• Jet lag is more severe and lasts longer when traveling from West to East (e.g. from California to New York) compared to flying East to West (from NY to CA).
• Jet lag becomes worse the more time zones you cross.
• It takes about 1 day for each time zone you cross to fully recover from jet lag (e.g. It will take 3 days to fully recover from that trip from California to New York).
• Other stresses, like heat, humidity, pollution, or mental stress, will make jet lag worse.

Tips to Prevent Jet Lag:
• Wear comfortable, loose fitting clothes when traveling.
• Consider wearing compression stockings when flying to prevent blood from pooling in your legs.  These stockings can be purchased at a drug store or a medical store.
• When traveling, be sure to hydrate yourself regularly with non-caffeinated, alcohol-free beverages.
• When flying, get up regularly (at least once every two hours) to stretch and walk around.
• When traveling to a new time zone, set your watch to reflect the time where you will be landing when you get on the plane.  It is important for the body to physically and mentally adjust to the new time zone as early as possible.  So start on the plane.
• Adapt your schedule to match the new time zone as quickly as possible.  This may mean staying awake even when you are tired or going to be early when you are not tired.  In the long run this will help your body combat against jet lag.  One word of caution: DO NOT use ergogenic aids like caffeine to keep you awake or sleeping pills to help you fall asleep.  These will only interfere with the body’s normal mechanisms for adjusting to a new time zone and may do more harm than good.
• Getting regular exposure to sunlight and/or bright light during daytime hours is very important for overcoming jet-lag.  A combination of exposure to bright light and getting into a regular work-out routine will speed up the process of adjusting to a new time zone.

The information for this summary was taken from an article entitled "Jet lag: Preparation for Athens 2004" by US Olympic Committee Physiologist Randy Wilber.  A complete copy of the article can be downloaded from this site.

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