Carskadon, a leader in the field of sleep research, compared the results of studies that measured sleep patterns and circadian rhythms in children and adolescents in the May 24 issue of Clinics in Sports Medicine. While it's widely known that lack of sleep can affect learning, mood and behavior in teenagers, Carskadon suggests that insufficient sleep can also negatively impact teen athletes in a number of ways.
"Young people live in nearly a constant state of chronic insufficient sleep," says Carskadon, "and adolescents who don't get enough sleep on a regular basis are extremely impaired in the morning."
For this reason, she suggests that adolescent travel teams heading westward across time zones have an advantage over home teams early in the day.
While most adults who routinely travel from coast to coast might be well aware of the difficulty adjusting to a different time zone, teens are at even more of a disadvantage.
Evidence suggests that the adolescent circadian rhythm, or internal biological clock, is still adjusting, and their internal day-length is longer than that of adults. This means that teens might not be ready to fall asleep until later in the evening, or may wake up later in the morning.
"For morning games, the home team might still be in the lowest point of alertness,' while the team that headed west will have the advantage of having been awake for an hour or so longer, and thus have more energy."
Additionally, if the eastern team arrives the night before, they would gain an extra hour or two of sleep, which can improve focus, alertness, and better reaction skills.