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Can a good night's sleep save the Lakers?

June 10, 2008 | 12:37 pm

Kobe500

Placing a bet on the Lakers, Dodgers or Angels? You'd better look at their schedule first. Professional athletes and sports fans understand the importance of home-field advantage, but new research funded by Major League Baseball suggests that circadian rhythm advantage may be important, too.

A study presented today at the annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies showed that baseball teams with the greater circadian advantage are more likely to win. The study assessed the effect on Major League Baseball teams of traveling across more than one time zone during the years 1997 to 2006. Teams with a one-hour or two-hour circadian advantage won 51.7% of the time. Teams with a three-hour advantage won 60.3% of the time.

For every time zone crossed, researchers say, players need one day to to get resynchronized. In the study, teams were assigned a number indicating how many days each team needed to resynchronize body clocks. One time zone difference without a day of rest equals one hour of disadvantage.

Circadian rhythm disorders are a hot topic in the health field. Time-keeping genes are scattered throughout the human body that synchronize physiological functions to the Earth's 24-hour rotation. Studies show humans have optimal times to eat, sleep, reproduce and perform mental or physical tasks. Messing with this cycle can cause such short-term effects as irritability, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, disorientation and gastrointestinal disturbances. In the long-term, constant disruption to the circadian rhythm is linked to heart disease, cancer and some mental illnesses.

The author of the study, Dr. Chris Winter, of the Martha Jefferson Hospital Sleep Medicine Center in Charlottesville, Va., says he will next look at how circadian advantage may add to the strength of the home-field advantage. Home-field advantage is probably more significant than circadian advantage. But, he says:

"It is important to realize that the home-field advantage, as it has been defined in the past, probably includes a fair amount of circadian advantage."

So what does that mean for tonight's lineup? The Celtics and Lakers should be tired, but at least the Lakers are playing in their own arena in front of friendly faces. The Angels should win. They're at home and rested. The Dodgers are rested but they're playing in San Diego. That's the same time zone, of course, but they're still playing in front of hostile fans and, oh, never mind. May the best teams win.

- Shari Roan

Photo: Lori Shepler / Los Angeles Times

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