NFL

NFL in London: Cousins' record-breaking day shows how players can combat jet lag

By Sports Desk October 04, 2019

NFL players typically thank colleagues, coaches and God after games, but Kirk Cousins was grateful to his 'brain coach' for a record-breaking day in London three years ago.

British fans are accustomed to watching sluggish, error-prone displays from tired teams in London yet Cousins, then with the Washington Redskins, bucked the trend when it comes to performances across the pond.

Jet lag appeared to be no issue for Cousins as he completed a franchise-record 38 passes for a career-best 458 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-27 tie with the Cincinnati Bengals.

It was no coincidence. Cousins had been preparing for the Transatlantic jaunt with Dr. Tim Royer, a neuropsychologist who had monitored data from around 750 nights of the quarterback's sleep and implemented methods to ensure he could quickly adjust when jumping across multiple time zones.

"I knew when he had too much light sleep, when he had a good amount of deep sleep, how many times he woke up in the night," Dr Royer told Omnisport.

"It was very interesting to see how his performance on gameday directly correlated to his sleep cycle. The quality of your sleep dramatically affects your production of testosterone.

"Testosterone is kind of like the goose that laid the golden egg in sports; if your testosterone is high, it makes you more confident, you have better muscle mass and you're more driven. The overall stamina that you have is incredible."

Dr. Royer had worked with the NBA's Orlando Magic, who travelled to London earlier in 2016, and was able to share his data on the impact of long-haul flights with Cousins and how his methods could speed up the adjustment process by "at least 50 per cent".

"If somebody does a trip like that, you're typically going to see the impact on their testosterone at somewhere around a 15-to-20 per cent drop off," Dr. Royer explained.

Dr. Royer theorised that for every hour travelled from west to east, it would take Cousins a day and a half to adjust, meaning that, without introducing methods to combat jet lag, the quarterback would need around a week from arriving in London to fully acclimatise due to daylight saving time.

Yet Cousins' preparations began the moment Washington's game against the Detroit Lions finished the week before.

"We told him, 'On the bus, stay away from the windows'," Dr. Royer said.

"In a room, get away from any exposed sunlight. Wear sunglasses.

"We introduced light therapy - much like you would use for seasonal-affective disorder - high-volume light.

"We started to move the light that he was exposed to with a bio light in the morning so he started waking up an hour earlier each day.

"It was still dark out in D.C. but we used blue light. In the human body, the circadian rhythm gets set by blue light.

"We increased his EEG [electroencephalogram] feedback so he was getting a lot of feedback on his brain, making sure it was calibrating correctly and introducing a slowing-down response in the body."

Dr. Royer thought Cousins was already "close to London time" by Thursday, the day the team actually boarded their flight for London.

Cousins' sleep cycles from Friday and Saturday night "were identical" to those he had in Washington, setting him up for a record-breaking day on Sunday.

"He was right on. I expected him to do well. It wasn't coincidental," Dr. Royer said.

This weekend the Oakland Raiders face the Chicago Bears in Premier League side Tottenham's stadium in the first of four NFL games in London this season.

Oakland arrived in England on Monday - a change from last year when they touched down in London two days before being beaten by the Seattle Seahawks.

The Bears, meanwhile, only landed in the English capital on Friday. So does the arrival time have an impact?

"The arrival time has very little to do [with it]," Dr. Royer argued.

"It's the work you do behind the scenes. Things like your pancreas, your digestive system, they're very rhythmic. They work on how you're releasing melatonin.

"Once you disturb that, it makes it very difficult to perform at a high, accurate level - whether it's basketball, football, whatever."

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