Circadian rhythms and athletic performance

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1985 Oct;17(5):498-516.


Daily or circadian rhythmical oscillations occur in several physiological and behavioral functions that contribute to athletic performance. These functions include resting levels of sensory motor, perceptual, and cognitive performance and several neuromuscular, behavioral, cardiovascular, and metabolic variables. In addition, circadian rhythms have been reported in many indices of aerobic capacity, in certain physiological variables at different exercise levels, and, in a few studies, in actual athletic performance proficiency. Circadian rhythmicity in components of athletic performance can be modulated by workload, psychological stressors, motivation, "morningness/eveningness" differences, social interaction, lighting, sleep disturbances, the "postlunch dip" phenomenon, altitude, dietary constituents, gender, and age. These rhythms can significantly influence performance depending upon the time of day at which the athletic endeavor takes place. Disturbance of circadian rhythmicity resulting from transmeridian flight across several time zones can result in fatigue, malaise, sleep disturbance, gastrointestinal problems, and performance deterioration in susceptible individuals (circadian dysrhythmia or "jet-lag"). Factors influencing the degree of impairment and duration of readaptation include direction of flight, rhythm synchronizer intensity, dietary constituents and timing of meals, and individual factors such as morningness/eveningness, personality traits, and motivation. It is the intent of the authors to increase awareness of circadian rhythmic influences upon physiology and performance and to provide a scientific data base for the human circadian system so that coaches and athletes can make reasonable decisions to reduce the negative impact of jet-lag and facilitate readaptation following transmeridian travel.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Altitude
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Body Temperature
  • Cardiovascular Physiological Phenomena
  • Circadian Rhythm*
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Diet
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Light
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Personality
  • Physical Education and Training
  • Physical Exertion
  • Psychophysiology
  • Sports*