New study reveals Celtics may be unfairly impacted by NBA finals scheduling

A landmark study by Australian researchers into jet lag and its impact on NBA performance reveals the Boston Celtics may have a distinct disadvantage in the NBA Finals home games because of jet lag.

Senior author Dr Elise Facer-Childs, and her team from the Monash University Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health in Melbourne, studied the impact of travel-related jet lag on performance. The study has been published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.

The authors argue the effects of jet lag are significant and suggest that the NBA – and other sporting codes – should factor this in when scheduling games where teams have to travel long distances over a number of time zones in a short time period.

“NBA teams are often exposed to jet lag due to frequent travel across multiple time zones, with some teams being disproportionately affected based on their geographical location,” the authors state in the study. “Travelling eastward could be of particular concern to teams located on the east coast who have to travel back to play home games without adequate recovery time.”

“Eastward travel—where the destination time is later than the origin time—requires the athlete to shorten their day (known as a phase advance). During phase advance, athletes often struggle to fall asleep at an earlier bedtime, leading to sleep loss and, consequently, potential impaired physiological performance and motivation the next day”.

“Schedulers could mitigate these effects by compensating eastward travel with increased recovery time to allow athletes to resynchronise to the new time zone.”

The researchers looked at data from 10 regular seasons of 11,481 games of NBA from the 2011-2012 to 2020-2021 season. They found that eastward (but not westward) jet lag was associated with impaired performance for home (but not away) teams. In detail, compared to home teams with no jet lag, home teams that travelled eastward and experienced jet lag had a:

  • reduced chance of winning by 6.03 per cent
  • reduced points differential by 1.29 points
  • reduced rebounding differential by 1.29 rebounds
  • reduced effective goal percentage by 1.2 per cent

As the magnitude of eastward jet lag increased, so too did the detrimental impact on home team performance. When playing with 1 hr eastward jet lag (e.g., travel from San Francisco to Boston (3 time zones) with only 2 recovery days), home teams point differential dropped 0.72 points. When playing with 2 hr eastward jet lag, home teams point differential dropped 4.53 points.

The research data showed that when eastward travel was followed by an adequate recovery window, home teams performed similarly to when they did not travel at all.

“Allowing time for the circadian system to realign naturally to the destination’s light-dark cycle could, therefore, mitigate the observed eastward travel disadvantage.”

However, if schedules can’t be altered to ensure a level playing field between teams that may have jet lag compared to those who do not, then the research paper recommends that team doctors and sleep specialists implement evidence-based interventions to manage eastward jet lag including specifically timed light exposure and avoidance and/or melatonin supplementation via tablets.

Read the full story on Monday News here.

To read the full research paper, please visit: 10.3389/fphys.2022.892681