Jet lag is nothing to sleep on, so says Dr. John Cunha on the subject. It means that this Sunday, the New York Jets won't just face the Miami Dolphins in London but their own internal clocks.
Dr. Cunha, who has researched and written on the topic of jet lag, is an emergency room physician at Holy Cross Emergency Department in Fort Lauderdale, FL who is also a highly-read medical author at Medicinenet.com. He said that jet lag is a temporary disorder that can cause a variety of symptoms including fatigue and insomnia. This sleep disorder occurs when traveling across time zones and can throw off the body's inner clock and sleep patterns.
With the Jets traveling to London for this Sunday's game, they face a unique situation. Typically when talking about jet lag, the team is concerned about games in the Mountain Time Zone or the West Coast. Here they are going the opposite direction, across the Atlantic.
And it will be a bigger challenge than last year when they played at the San Diego Chargers.
"Jet lag is an inability to adjust to a change in time zones. Flying east, as the Jets are doing going from New York to London will cause more problems than if they were flying west, such as to San Diego," Dr. Cunha said.
"This is because they will 'lose' time on their trip. Meals, sleep, and other daily routines get pushed ahead, in this case five hours. Your body still operates on the time of the place of origin and it can take time to adjust to the time at your destination. When you fly west you 'gain' time and it's often easier to adjust."
The Jets will leave for London on Thursday, giving them two full days by the time they touch down to acclimate their schedule and their bodies to crossing five time zones. Athletes adjust better, Dr. Cunha said, because someone in physical shape has an easier time handling time zone travel.
He'd recommend limiting alcohol intake leading up to travel.
On Monday, head coach Todd Bowles admitted that the team had considered perhaps heading over to London earlier in the week to give his players even more time to adjust.
"Earlier in the spring, we did. If it was a preseason game, yes you can go over. But in the middle of the season that’s kind of hard," Bowles said. "You really get caught back on the time change and you come back and you lose a little bit even if you do get the bye. You try to keep it as normal as possible."
The Jets wanted to get the bulk of their schedule and work in at the team's facility in north Jersey, meaning they will practice on Thursday before boarding their trans-Atlantic flight. Friday they'll be able to practice and take care of anything they need to as they maintain a relatively normal schedule on Saturday before Sunday's game.
Their adjustment in the travel schedule allows that they will be in London two full days, meaning they'll be able to adjust their internal clocks a bit before game day.
"Recovering from jet lag depends on the number of time zones crossed while traveling. In general, the body will adjust to the new time zone at the rate of one or two time zones per day," Dr. Cunha said.
"For example, the Jets will be crossing five time zones, so typically it would take two to five days to adjust to this change. The fact that these are professional athletes works in their favor. People in better physical condition generally tolerate the stresses of jet lag better and should be expected to adjust more rapidly. As long as they continue to exercise, eat right, and get plenty of rest before they leave, their physical stamina and conditioning will enable them to cope better after arrival."
The Jets have brought in a sleep specialist to help them through this process of playing overseas.