Greater circadian disadvantage during evening games for the National Basketball Association (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL) and National Football League (NFL) teams travelling westward

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The highly competitive nature of professional sports ensures that slight differences in athletic performances may lead to a win or a loss. Recent studies have shown that time zone changes and game time may give an advantage to a team at the expense of another (Reilly, 2009; Winter et al., 2009). This may be partly due to the athletes' circadian rhythms, which are characterized by daily fluctuations in cognitive and physical performances (Jehue et al., 1993; Reilly, 2009). Indeed, a performance peak in the late afternoon has been found for some physiological variables, such as strength, flexibility and reaction time (Smith et al., 1997). Consequently, time zone changes may lead to desynchronized internal rhythm, and this has been associated with detrimental athletic performances (Reilly et al., 2005). Moreover, as a consequence of frequent travelling for competition or major sport leagues season games, athletes are often forced to perform at hours that are disadvantageous for their performance. Unfortunately, circadian factors are rarely considered in professional sports (Scheer et al., 2010).
In the same way that home field advantage influences the probability of success (Courneya and Carron, 1992), accumulating evidence suggests that there seems to be a circadian advantage in major sport leagues for teams travelling eastward and a circadian disadvantage for teams travelling westward because of the time zone changes, which impacts the alignment between the scheduled game times and the circadian peak in performance (Jehue et al., 1993; Smith et al., 1997, 2013; Winter et al., 2009). However, these studies have mostly focused on one sport, primarily American football or baseball. Also, most studies have investigated the influence of extreme time zone changes (six time zones or more) on performance (Reilly et al., 2005). However, in professional sport leagues in North America, time zone changes happen on a smaller scale (three time zones or less), but are frequent (sometimes two or three time zones in 1 week). Indeed, in North America, there are four time zones: Pacific Standard Time, Mountain Standard Time, Central Standard Time, and Eastern Standard Time (Winter et al., 2009). It is interesting to note that in recent years, following the increasing evidence of the circadian disadvantage in sport, some efforts have been made to minimize the negative effects of time zone changes. Prevention, such as an increase in awareness regarding the importance of sleep and circadian factors in sport performance, is now promoted among athletes (Erren et al., 2014). On a larger scale, in 2013 for example, the National Hockey League (NHL) proposed a realignment of the league in order to provide each team with the ability to play the majority of their games against teams in the same time zone.
Here we examined regular season games over the past 5 years in three major professional sports leagues in North America: the National Basketball Association (NBA), the NHL and the National Football League (NFL). We hypothesized that there would be a significant advantage for teams playing closer to their circadian peak, which occurs normally in the late afternoon between 15:00 hours and 18:00 hours.
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