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CQUni researchers shed light on jetlag solutions

Published:30 January 2017

Dr Charli Sargent and her team specialise in chronobiology.

Avoidance and/or exposure to sunlight can help to overcome jetlag, according to new findings from CQUniversity researchers Dr Charli Sargent and Professor Greg Roach.

This method has already been successfully applied to hundreds of Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) athletes in preparation for major events, including the Olympic Games, the Commonwealth Games and the World Championships.

AIS Senior Recovery Physiologist Shona Halson said that, traditionally, athletes relied on pharmacological interventions such as sleeping tablets to cope with the effects of jetlag.

“Sleeping tablets, however, can be problematic because they do not provide good-quality sleep; which can result in impaired performance the following day, and overuse can lead to intolerance and addiction,” Ms Halson said.

“The AIS recognises the importance of sleep in securing sports performance success for elite athletes, and Dr Sargent and her team have played an integral role in providing AIS with expert advice regarding the management of jetlag and sleep disruption following international travel.”

Dr Sargent said the team’s area of expertise was chronobiology.

“In our research, we observe how the body’s natural cycles — physical, mental, and emotional — change depending on whether it is day or night,” she explained.

“By either avoiding sunlight or exposing an individual to it, we’re able to speed up the body’s ability to adapt to a new time zone effectively.

“During this research, we’ve engaged with some of the best sporting teams in the country, including the Australian Olympic Swimming Team (2016 Olympic Games, Rio de Janeiro), the Australian Socceroos (2016 World Cup Campaign, Brazil), and the Australian Hockeyroos (2013 London World League Series), to name just a few.”

Their work with the Australian Olympic Swimming Team was so outstanding, it was recognised with a prestigious CQUniversity 2016 Opal Award for Engaged Research and Innovation.

Dr Sargent has also provided assistance to the West End Redbacks via a sleep-monitoring project deemed “invaluable” by the South Australian Cricket Association’s (SACA) Physical Performance Coach Stephen Schwerdt.

The program requires players to wear an activity monitor (small watch-like device that tracks sleep) and complete a sleep diary for two weeks.

Dr Sargent then extracts this information to identify the good and problematic behaviours of sleep, and provides strategic, individual sleep-management advice (such as sunlight exposure and/or avoidance, playing at night, travelling interstate, caffeine use, etc) as appropriate.

Mr Schwerdt said SACA looked forward to continuing the “productive and beneficial collaboration with Dr Sargent and her team”.