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Jet Lag Makes You Soft, Study of Baseball Players Suggests

Flying east was associated with worse pitching and less aggressive hitting and base running.
Jason Miller / Getty Images

Flying across the country can be draining, especially if you're heading east. (Even more so if you booked the red eye—yes, it was that bad the last time you did it.) Now, new research from Northwestern University suggests that flying east hampers the performance of professional baseball players.

For a new study, researchers looked at 20 seasons' worth of Major League Baseball games—more than 46,000 games from 1992 to 2011—and identified about 5,000 instances where jet lag could have affected the home team, away team, or both. (The body can adjust to about a one-hour shift each day, so games where players had to travel through two or three time zones were considered jet-lag games.) Researchers know that the effects of jet lag are most pronounced when someone's day is shorter than it should be; meaning it sucks more after eastward travel. Because of the jam-packed baseball season, jet lag doesn't only affect West Coast teams headed east for an away game; East Coasters flying back for a home game after a road series would experience it, too.

The researchers looked at offensive and defensive stats including stolen bases, base hits, and home runs allowed. They were surprised to find that teams returning home from a western road trip did much worse offensively than away teams: Jet-lagged home teams had fewer stolen bases, fewer doubles and triples, and hit into more double plays. The study wasn't designed to examine why, but it might be because players returning home have family responsibilities and to-do lists versus being solely focused on the game when they're on the road.

Both home and away teams suffered equally on defense; specifically, jet-lagged pitchers allowed more home runs than they would otherwise. The combined effects were large enough to erase home-field advantage. Overall, home teams won 53.9 percent of the 46,000 games, but when home teams were jet-lagged, they were 3.5 percent less likely to win.

"If I were a baseball manager and my team was traveling across time zones—either to home or away—I would send my first starting pitcher a day or two ahead, so he could adjust his clock to the local environment," lead author Ravi Allada, a neurobiologist said in a release. Allada told Gizmodo that he wants to see if he can replicate his findings in the NBA and NFL.

But he thinks this information is useful even for people who aren't trying to throw a ball at 95 mph. "We don't have a cure for jet lag yet but I do hope that this work makes people mindful, even when they're traveling only across two and three time zones, of the potential negative effects of jet lag and to give their body a chance to adjust to the new time zone whenever they're traveling." So if you're traveling east to run a race or even give a big presentation, getting into town earlier might be a good idea.