Talk of Circadian rhythms, to paraphrase REM’s “Daysleeper”

Circadian rhythms are biological cycles that last approximately 24 hours, they are more commonly known as the body clock and as trans-Atlantic cross-pollination of sports leagues becomes increasingly de rigueur they become increasingly relevant.

Recently there have been 2 rumours attracting public scrutiny, the first and almost certainly the biggest news is that the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are considering playing a “series” on the Eastern side of the pond which would seem a huge undertaking and the archetypal logistical nightmare (but if they think it’ll make money then it may very well happen).  Playing a series of games is pretty run of the mill stuff to MLB teams even though you would imagine most other sports (outside of basketball and ice hockey) would shudder at the prospect of travelling to and staying in a foreign city for at least 3 days (more if they are playing more than twice).

OK, now concentrate, here comes the science bit (well loosely speaking, as close as I get to science anyway); according to the National Centre for Biotechnology Information “Prolonged transmeridian air travel can impart a physical and emotional burden on athletes”.  They go on to state that “Jet lag may negatively affect the performance of athletes”.  Circadian rhythms are controlled in the body by the hypothalamus (the suprachiasmatic nucleus to be precise, nope, me neither) located more or less in the centre of the brain.  Circadian rhythms affect many biological factors including core body temperature but they are vitally important to the sleep-wake cycle, the brain uses exposure to light and the resulting secretion of the hormone melatonin to determine whether the body should be asleep or awake.  So really any long haul flight will cause disruption to an athlete’s sleep pattern and, as a result, their performance.  North American athlete’s in particular are habituated to long haul flights (the Seahawks have to fly for 6 hours every time they play in Florida, so don’t expect them to be in London anytime soon) but they rarely have to fly for over 6 hours and they never have to attend fan rally’s the day before the game as they do in London.  It’s widely accepted that travelling East produces more lasting effects than Westward travel as there is excessive exposure light and more melatonin production, so any trans-Atlantic journey will be arduous and the 10 plus hour flight from Los Angeles the Rams face would be more like torture.  The NCIB states that the optimum way to deal with jet lag is to adapt behaviour rather with rely on pharmaceutical products.  It is believed that it takes approximately 1 day to adjust to crossing 1 time zone (so the Rams would need 9 days in early October, they really didn’t think the whole LA move through, did they?) So if the Red Sox and the Yankees did attempt to play more than 1 game on this side of the pond it could be quite a long road trip for both teams.

The second and more pertinent whispering involves the NFL reconsidering the early kick off times (1:30 pm BST or 2:30pm GMT) that recent International Series games have had to a more traditional (and the original International Series) kick off time of 6pm BST or 5pm GMT (1pm Eastern Time).

This was surprisingly met with a fairly negative response from fans on social media, largely due to the fact a lot of them travel to deepest, darkest North London to watch the games (not as far as the LA Rams travel to play mind you).  Fans concerns may well be one of the factors that the organisers take into consideration when they finalise kick off times but it has to be said that the effects of playing well and truly out of not just their time-zone but also their comfort zone (the Bengals played in front of 84,448 fans at Wembley 13,000 more than their average home attendance and despite twice taking the lead, and, at one stage opening a 10 point lead they finished by tying a game that they could have easily lost).  Both the Bengals and Redskins suffered from a slow start as they amassed 17 points between them in the first half and a far more impressive 37 points in a breathless second half.  Like the Bengals the Colts struggled early on at Wembley (where they were playing in front of around 18,000 more people than their average home attendance) against an unconvincing Jaguars team who were 0-3, Andrew Luck and his Offence didn’t register a touchdown until the 4th Quarter but once they scored 1 they added another 2 in about 11 minutes.  The Rams who played against the New York Giants at (historic) Twickenham Stadium (which has a capacity almost 12,000 smaller than the Coliseum) managed the impressive feat of starting like a house on fire (very impressive considering it was 5:30 am where they had come from) until the Giants scored a touchdown and then the Rams managed to produce 3 scoreless quarters, while the Giants Offence didn’t register their first touchdown until the 4th Quarter to finally put the game to bed.

So, disruption of circadian rhythms, jetlag, call it what you will certainly appear to be a factor in how NFL players perform and since the NFL use the International Series to showcase the game to not just the UK but all of Europe (and to a certain extent the rest of the world) their primary concern is providing a spectacle that is not just convenient to attend but also entertaining to watch.

Purely from a personal perspective I think that Wembley under floodlights is a pretty spectacular venue, the pre-game shows inside a dark stadium are mesmeric.  This year the atmosphere when the Bengals and Redskins finished playing was absolutely electric (it’s pretty difficult to get “rowdy” at 1pm, the bars will have been open longer if they don’t kick off until 5pm or 6pm) so if the NFL feel that changing kick off times will benefit the players and provide entertaining games from the off it can only be a positive.

3 thoughts on “Talk of Circadian rhythms, to paraphrase REM’s “Daysleeper”

  1. Much has been made about the logistics of possibly locating an NFL team in London and how jetlag would play into that. Surely a case worth studying is the University of Hawaii Rainbow Warriors American Football team who regularly have to fly for seven hours for in conference games. Three of their seven wins this season were recorded on mainland USA. Hawaii likes travel so much it even played its season opener, a loss to the University of California, in Sydney, Australia.

    1. It’s kind of difficult to compare College football and pro football, beyond the flight time in this case. The Rainbow warriors also suffered their 2 biggest defeats away from home at Michigan 3-63 and San Diego State 0-55. The Michigan game kicked off at 6am Hawaii Time too and was their earliest of all their but with Michigan being one of the top teams in the NCAA who knows how much impact time difference had on that game?

      Personally I think the biggest problem for a UK based franchise would be a logistical one, I presume they would have to play their 8 home games in 1 8 week block (or naybe a 10 week block if they okayed 2 pre-season games at home) because flying back and forth would be a severe impediment. Then if they finished the season in a home playoff berth they’d have another obstacle to overcome.

      1. Yep that’s why I didn’t dwell further on the Rainbow Warriors’ record, I think Michigan could have achieved the same result in Hawaii, with the time factor issue, and all the other distractions the island offers.

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