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Random Thoughts on Sports Performance Training: Installment 40

I'm long overdue for a new installment of this long-term series, so hopefully I've got a bit of something for everyone in this.

1. Strength and conditioning is a supportive discipline.

Skill almost always trumps fitness, but fitness is what allows you to optimize skill. You can't get in high quality reps if you're broken, and we have evidence to suggest that regular exercise optimizes cognition and motor learning. I think this is actually one more avenue via which early sports specialization eventually falls short after the initial gains of specificity wears off: you need more general fitness capacity to get in higher quality specific work.

The absolute best strength and conditioning coaches I know are awesome at understanding their role is to set skill coaches up for success with athletes. However, at the same time, they know how to recognize when fitness is the limiting factor and speak up to advocate for the appropriate physiological adaptation to take an athlete to the next level.

2. Maybe your sleep habits aren't so terrible - or maybe everyone's actually are that terrible?

This Brazilian systemic review of 11 studies looking at the sleep quality of Olympic athletes was pretty eye-opening (bad pun, huh?). The takeaways begin with this: "over half of the athletes have poor sleep quality and complaints." More specifically:

  • Total sleep time averaged 6 hours, 10 minutes per night
  • Sleep efficiency averaged 84%
  • Sleep onset latency averaged 28 minutes
  • Awakenings after sleep onset averaged 49 minutes

After I got over my initial shock that so many Olympic athletes are this bad with their sleep, I had to admit that this made me feel a bit better about myself as a 43-year-old father of three who's trying to fight off the dad bod in spite of my lack of sleeping prowess. However, it didn't make me feel great about today's athletes' (not just Olympians) prioritization of sleep. Travel for Olympic athletes isn't nearly as extensive as it is for in-season professional athletes, so it's fascinating to me that this class of athletes could struggle so much while typically being in one place to train. That said, I'm sure there are other factors - most notably the economic hardship of being an amateur - that could impact this dynamic, but that's a discussion for another day.

With respect to sleep, there's some very low hanging fruit for athletes who want to pick it and get a massive competitive advantage over their competition:

  • Make your room cold and dark.
  • Limit heavy meals in the hours right before bed.
  • Stop staring at phones, tablets, computers, and TVs in the hour before bed.
  • Wind down in the hours before bed: meditate, read, etc.
  • Limit caffeine intake after noon.

If you're looking for a detailed podcast on this topic, here's a great listen:

 

3. Strength and conditioning "spacing" is a lot like soccer.

A lot of young coaches struggle to make the adjustment from one-on-one coaching to scenarios in which they need to handle more than one athlete at a time, especially in large facilities/spaces. If you're not careful, you can get locked in to one conversation with an athlete while there's chaos - poor weight selection, bad technique, insufficient effort, etc. - all around you. A cue I'll often give to younger coaches is one that was always shouted in my youth soccer days: find space.

In other words, go to where other players aren't, and you'll be able to see the field better and provide an open passing option for your teammates. When everyone bunches up, you miss the big picture and limit your options to contribute.

4. Adductors have far reaching implications.

I wish more people had a true appreciation for what massive implications adductor (groin) length and strength has on overall lower extremity and lumbopelvic health. Adductor longus, adductor brevis, adductor magnus, pectineus, and gracilis make up a huge portion of the cross-sectional area of the thigh, but they also have direct attachments on the pelvis, entire length of the femur, and lower leg (gracilis insertion on pes anserine as a conjoined tendon with sartorius and semitendinosis):

We've got research that shows that folks can get hurt when adductors are weak (hockey players) and if they're too strong (relative to weaker abductors in knee patients). There are implications in terms of sports hernia challenges in light of the adductor longus insertion on the pubis, and adductor density/length restrictions are clearly part of the bigger challenge that is anterior pelvic tilt/limited hip internal rotation/femoroacetabular impingement. The solution for most people is relatively simple, though: spend more time in the frontal plane.

Roll them out (or get some decent manual therapy in there).

Add some mobility drills.

Build some strength through a sizable range-of-motion.

Note: I talk about this a lot in Functional Stability Training of the Lower Body.

Once you've done all that, mix in some "movement fun:" side shuffles, carioca, lateral runs, and sprinting and change-of-direction to preserve your frontal plane athleticism. Classic strength and conditioning programs spend far too much time in the sagittal plane, so the more you can mix it up with frontal and transverse plane work, the better your long-term health and performance outcomes will be.

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Individualization and the College Baseball Athlete

Training little kids - 9-12-year-olds - isn't that challenging. Most are hypermobile and weak, so the foundational programs can larger look the same. Keep things fun and maintain their attention, and good things happen. This population can do amazingly with one program on the dry erase board.

In the 13-15-year-old group, things can get a little tougher because some kids have hit a huge growth, spurt, and others look more like the "gumby" 11-year-old. Most kids do fine with twice a week strength and conditioning work.

At ages 16-18, the training frequency ramps up. By junior and senior years, we see kids who are at the facility 4-6 times per week in some capacity. If they've been consistent over the years, there should be a great strength foundation, so they can start to do some cool stuff with force-velocity profiling, prioritizing different aspects of speed and rotational development, etc. I wrote an entire article about this previously: Strength in the Teenage Years: An Overlooked Long-Term Athletic Development Competitive Advantage.

The previous three paragraphs shouldn't seem revolutionary to anyone, but what's often overlooked are the challenges that come on the college front in the years that follow. The 17-18 year-olds that report to a college campus are not a homogenous group. Some have no strength and conditioning experience, and others have a ton. A college strength coach who's on his/her own with 30+ athletes of all training and chronological ages has a tall task if individualization is the goal, especially if they have to all train in narrow scheduling windows (e.g., right after practice).

As a result, you'll often see players who thrive in the first year or two on campus. They put on 15 pounds, get a ton stronger, and start throwing harder. Then, in years 3-4, they actually regress. What initially worked great (often heavy, bilateral loading) shifts to diminishing and even negative returns, leaving athletes banged up and with a loss of range of motion. It's not a knock on college strength and conditioning coaches; it's actually more of an acknowledgement that they're put in a really hard situation with too many athletes with many different needs all in the same limited time windows.

My own research has shown that in pro ball across all levels, MLB organizations range from roughly 11 athletes per strength and conditioning coach to ~27 athletes per coach. In other words, the least staffed MLB organization still has a better ratio than the most well staffed college setup, and the somewhat "staggered" daily pro schedule is more accommodating to individualization with varied training times.

In the private sector (at least at Cressey Sports Performance), our athlete-to-coach ratios are even smaller, so we are able to chase a significant degree of individualization based on the results of evaluations across multiple departments.

There's a ton of flexibility on scheduling and adjusting training times on the fly. And, perhaps most importantly, it can take place across departments, with communication among strength and conditioning coaches, pitching coaches, hitting coaches, analysts, physical therapists, and massage therapists. When communication is streamlined, individualization success skyrockets.

I think this is one reason why you have seen more and more pitchers step away from playing summer baseball to chase development. During the school year, they get an education, high level competition, and dedicated skill development work while sacrificing a bit on the strength and conditioning side of things, as well as overall continuity (you don't necessarily know when you're going to pitch). With a summer of training, you get a high level of strength and conditioning individualization, continuity (predictable plans), and dedicated skill work (e.g., pitch design) while sacrificing on the competition and education sides of things (although I'd argue that it's a different kind of education).

Unfortunately, outside of very select opportunities, summer ball doesn't really give you a high level of anything: strength and conditioning, skill development, nutrition, travel dynamics, continuity, education, or even competition. Rather, you get a bit of each, and there may be some that fall well short of expectations.

If you want to develop more than the rest, you need to prioritize certain adaptations. Maybe that's gaining 20 pounds, developing an outlier pitch, adding 4mph, or building overall work capacity. If you chase five rabbits at once, they all get away.

This is one reason why we rolled out our 10-week college summer pitching development programs at our Florida and Massachusetts facilities. We saw a need to help college arms structure their summers in individualized ways that were more conducive to development - and the results have been outstanding, with participants averaging 4+ mph fastball velocity gains in both locations. You can learn more about how we attack development in these programs at the following links:

Florida: The CSP Pro Experience

Massachusetts: CSP Collegiate Elite Baseball Development

 

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“Designer” Pitches, Horizontal Movement, and the Pitching Injury Epidemic

Just a few weeks ago, Texas Rangers team doctor and renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. Keith Meister gave a fantastic interview about the current state of arm injuries in baseball. He made a lot of good points, but one that particularly intrigued me was his commentary on how "designer pitches" were to blame for some of the challenges we're facing in today's game. In case you missed the interview, tune in starting around the 2:00 mark to get his take.

Sure enough, if you examine Major League Baseball injured lists right now, you'll see a lot of players who recently added a lot of horizontal movement on injured lists. In particular, the sweeper (a newer designation for a slider with considerable horizontal movement) seems to at least have a loose association with increased injured risk to the naked eye. In Dr. Meister's words, "to create horizontal ball movement, you've got to grip the crap out of the baseball, and then you have to cut it. Either pronate it hard, or supinate it hard with a very, very firm grip. And it's causing this eccentric load on the muscles on the inner side of the elbow and then everywhere up the kinetic chain."

To reframe this, new movement patterns are stressors. Go do five sets of ten reps on stiff-leg deadlifts, and let me know how your hamstrings feel 36 hours later. Try to do it again - or sprint at full velocity - in the days that follow, and it's probably not going to work out well for you. Eccentric stress involves a lot of muscle damage, and that stress is magnified when you layer novelty and the stress of competition in the single fastest motion in all of sports (pitching) on top of it.

In a real-world example that might resonate a bit more, check out this NY Times article about Lance Armstrong's first marathon in 2006: In Under Three Hours, Armstrong Learns Anew About Pain and Racing. Here's a key excerpt:

Exhausted and nearly walking, Armstrong crossed the finish line in 2 hours 59 minutes 36 seconds. He was 869th, with a pace of 6:51 a mile.

“I can tell you, 20 years of pro sports, endurance sports, from triathlons to cycling, all of the Tours — even the worst days on the Tours — nothing was as hard as that, and nothing left me feeling the way I feel now, in terms of just sheer fatigue and soreness,” he said, looking spent, at a news conference.

The marathon was Armstrong’s first major athletic endeavor since retiring from cycling in 2005, and he said he had not prepared for the race as he should have.

In less than a year, arguably the most accomplished cyclist of all time had become an absolute injury risk in a different athletic endeavor: running. He was able to gut his way through it with mental fortitude and (likely) the fact that his aerobic base stuck around really well. However, localized muscular endurance and tissue resilience was what faltered first.

Do you think an 18-year-old college freshman learning a sweeper on Twitter and then throwing it in a competitive game at a 40% usage clip the next day is any different? I do - because it's actually far worse.

High velocity pitching with dozens of safeguards - pitch counts, meticulous arm care programs, manual therapy, close technological scrutinization of mechanics - is still very high risk. But the risk profile becomes astronomically higher when you can learn a new pitch/approach quickly and roll it out in games at the highest levels of competition before you've had a chance to build up sufficient tissue strength and extensibility - and skill-specific work capacity.

I've had a number of conversations with Max Scherzer over the years about how he developed his curveball. It was a year of conversations with teammates about their grips; experimenting with grips; and playing catch with it before it appeared in bullpens and, in turn, games. He adjusted his training to incorporate a bit more direct eccentric biceps work to account for the slightly different movement pattern. His usage over the years:

2012: 3%
2013: 6%
2014: 10%
2015: 8%
2016: 8%
2017: 8%
2018: 8%
2019: 9%
2020: 9%
2021: 10%
2022: 9%
2023: 13%

It was a gradual, calculated process to determine not only how his body responded, but how its inclusion impacted the rest of his pitching arsenal. To this day, he's never thrown more than 23 curveballs in a game. The process had to be gradual, in part, because there wasn't technology available to accelerated the learning curve.

In contrast, thanks to advanced modern technology (namely ball tracking devices like Trackman and Rapsodo; high-speed cameras; and increased access to biomechanical analysis), pitchers can now pick up new pitches extremely quickly.

And, teams can better evaluate just how nasty these pitches are in their pitch grading models. As a result, when a team identifies an outlier pitch, they're going to want players to roll them out much more frequently. This creates a perfect storm: pitchers throwing brand new pitches at high usage rates at the highest level of competition.

Sometimes, however, these are not big adjustments. If the mentality of the pitch is the same context as an existing pitch, but with a subtle seam adjustment, I have less concern:

"Just think of getting to the front of the baseball exactly like you have with your long-time curveball."

"Just offset the grip here and throw it exactly like your fastball."

However, if you're giving someone a brand new grip and encouraging them to "grip it and rip it" in a way that's foreign to them, that's a recipe for injury. These dramatic changes require longer timelines and more calculated approaches to preparing the affected tissues. Additionally, players may need a gradual onboarding from a usage standpoint, and increased recovery between "pitch design" bouts.

I don't think "designer pitches" involving increased horizontal movement are the devil - but I do think the way that pitch design is taking place industry-wide is flawed. As I've written before, 

[bctt tweet="You can't truly evaluate a method or device without considering its application."]

The problem is exacerbated by a number of issues (and this is not an exhaustive list, by any means):

1. Early sports specialization and high velocity pitching in adolescents is leading to a generation of broken arms entering pro ball

2. Higher velocity (which is, to me, the single biggest contributing factor)

3. An increasingly specialized game (shorter outings with higher velocity and outlier pitches taking place at high usages)

4. Grip concerns ("tack" on a slippery baseball)

5. Reduced recovery time (pitch clock concerns)

6. Shorter, more specialized offseasons (more pitchers continuing to throw when the season ends - and initiating bullpens/live BPs earlier)

It goes without saying that the modern era of pitching injuries is out of control, and we can't overlook Dr. Meister's observations that this is a serious component of the challenges we face. If you're looking to dig in a little deeper on the topic, here's a podcast - How Pitching Injuries Occur - that I recorded on the topic:

 

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CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast: Justin Su’a on Establishing Processes, Solidifying Confidence, and Failing Forward

We welcome process and development coach Justin Su'a to the podcast for a deep dive into how athletes can establish good processes, separate out bad outcomes, and build unshakable confidence. Justin brings a wealth of knowledge from his work with a variety of sports and the military, so there's something for everyone in this discussion. I found myself intrigued as a coach, business owner, father, and husband throughout the entire conversation.

A special thanks to this show's sponsor, AG1. Head to https://www.DrinkAG1.com/cressey and you'll receive a free 10-pack of AG1 travel packets with your first order.

 

You can find Justin on Instagram at @JustinSua.

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by AG1. AG1 (formerly Athletic Greens) is your daily foundational nutrition; it has 75 whole-food sourced ingredients designed to support your body’s foundational nutrition needs across five critical areas of health: 1) energy, 2) immunity, 3) gut health, 4) hormonal support, and 5) healthy aging. It is the new and future way of getting a multivitamin, and a whole lot more. Head to www.DrinkAG1.com/cressey and claim my special offer today – 10 FREE travel packs – with your first purchase. I use AG1 daily myself and highly recommend it to our athletes as well. I’d encourage you to give it a shot, too – especially with this great offer.

Podcast Feedback

If you like what you hear, we'd be thrilled if you'd consider subscribing to the podcast and leaving us an iTunes review. You can do so HERE.

And, we welcome your suggestions for future guests and questions. Just email elitebaseballpodcast@gmail.com.

Thank you for your continued support!

Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive Instant Access to a 47-minute Presentation from Eric Cressey on Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes!

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CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast: Luka Hocevar on Strength and Conditioning Non-Negotiables

We welcome strength and conditioning coach Luka Hocevar to the podcast for a thorough discussion on a variety of physical preparation topics, ranging from coach development, to program design, to athlete assessment. Luka also spoke to some key factors that contribute to so much athletic success in his native country of Slovenia as well. If you're an up-and-coming coach, you'll find this to be an extremely beneficial episode. And, if you're a player, Luka's story will yield a lot of perspective on how hard you have to chase your dreams.

A special thanks to this show's sponsor, AG1. Head to https://www.DrinkAG1.com/cressey and you'll receive a free 10-pack of AG1 travel packets with your first order.

 

You can find Luka on Instagram at @LukaHocevar and YouTube HERE.

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by AG1. AG1 (formerly Athletic Greens) is your daily foundational nutrition; it has 75 whole-food sourced ingredients designed to support your body’s foundational nutrition needs across five critical areas of health: 1) energy, 2) immunity, 3) gut health, 4) hormonal support, and 5) healthy aging. It is the new and future way of getting a multivitamin, and a whole lot more. Head to www.DrinkAG1.com/cressey and claim my special offer today – 10 FREE travel packs – with your first purchase. I use AG1 daily myself and highly recommend it to our athletes as well. I’d encourage you to give it a shot, too – especially with this great offer.

Podcast Feedback

If you like what you hear, we'd be thrilled if you'd consider subscribing to the podcast and leaving us an iTunes review. You can do so HERE.

And, we welcome your suggestions for future guests and questions. Just email elitebaseballpodcast@gmail.com.

Thank you for your continued support!

Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive Instant Access to a 47-minute Presentation from Eric Cressey on Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes!

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CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast: 31 Questions to Ask During the College Recruiting/Selection Process

This week's podcast might be the most important one that I've ever done, as it outlines a list of questions that I think every baseball family should have in the back of their minds as they approach the college recruiting/selection process. At Cressey Sports Performance, we've worked with countless high school kids who've gone through this process, and we've learned a lot of the norms, seen a lot of the common mistakes, and helped a lot of folks navigate these challenging times.

A special thanks to this show's sponsor, AG1. Head to https://www.DrinkAG1.com/cressey and you'll receive a free 10-pack of Athletic Greens travel packets with your first order.

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by AG1. AG1 is your daily foundational nutrition; it has 75 whole-food sourced ingredients designed to support your body’s foundational nutrition needs across five critical areas of health: 1) energy, 2) immunity, 3) gut health, 4) hormonal support, and 5) healthy aging. It is the new and future way of getting a multivitamin, and a whole lot more. Head to www.DrinkAG1.com/cressey and claim my special offer today – 10 FREE travel packs – with your first purchase. I use AG1 daily myself and highly recommend it to our athletes as well. I’d encourage you to give it a shot, too – especially with this great offer.

Podcast Feedback

If you like what you hear, we'd be thrilled if you'd consider subscribing to the podcast and leaving us an iTunes review. You can do so HERE.

And, we welcome your suggestions for future guests and questions. Just email elitebaseballpodcast@gmail.com.

Thank you for your continued support!

Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive Instant Access to a 47-minute Presentation from Eric Cressey on Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes!

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Cressey Sports Performance – Florida Job Posting: Social Media Coordinator (3/31/24)

Cressey Sports Performance – Florida is looking for the newest member of our team: a Social Media Coordinator.

This position will be heavily involved in CSP’s marketing efforts related to both our in-person training offering and online presence (newsletter, podcast, distance-based coaching). This is a full-time salaried position with benefits, and would require a regular presence in Palm Beach Gardens, FL.

Responsibilities:

• Oversee Social Media accounts for Cressey Sports Performance
• Assist in creating the overall marketing plan for Cressey Sports Performance and related entities
• Organize Cressey Sports Performance newsletter
• Develop and implement new, fresh ideas to promote the CSP Experience
• Organize content to be used for corporate sponsorship fulfillment
• Assist in community outreach and coordinating events at CSP
• Editing and graphic design for the CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast
• Be constantly looking for new ideas and ways to help improve the CSP experience for our clients!
• Other duties as assigned

Qualifications:

• Experience in commercial social media and marketing experience is preferred
• Excellent communication and organization skills
• Familiarity with the game of baseball, preferably at the collegiate or professional level
• A “can-do” attitude that is willing to put in the work to set a high standard
• Graphic design and podcast editing experience is preferred

Applicants can submit resumes and cover letters as a single PDF document to CareersatCSP@gmail.com. The deadline for applications is April 20, 2024.


Cressey Sports Performance is an equal opportunity employer. Applicants will be considered regardless of race, gender, creed, sexual orientation, marital status, citizenship status, color, religion, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, or any other status protected under local, state, or federal laws.

 

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Exercise of the Week: Half-Kneeling Wall Press 1-arm Kettlebell Thoracic Rotations

With this week's 25% off sale on Sturdy Shoulder Solutions, I thought it would be a good time to share one of my favorite thoracic spine mobility drils. The Half-kneeling Wall Press 1-arm Kettlebell Thoracic Rotation is a great example of how the best way to train rotation is from a neutral platform.

You'll notice that the rib cage is perfectly stacked over the pelvis, and the legs and feet are perfectly in alignment so that he can rotate in a narrow hallway. Further up the chain, the push of the left hand against the wall at 90 degrees of flexion gets us some serratus anterior recruitment, and left serratus activation actually facilitates right thoracic rotation. In other words, the more he pushes into the wall with his left hand, the more he can rotate to the right.

If you're looking for more insights on how I evaluate, program, and coach at the shoulder, be sure to visit www.SturdyShoulders.com and enter coupon code MLB2024 to get 25% off during our spring sale. It wraps up this Tuesday night at midnight.

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CSP Elite Baseball Development Podcast: Mike Boyle on Long-Term Athletic Development, Inseason Training, and Training Your Own Kids

We welcome accomplished strength and conditioning coach, author, and presenter Michael Boyle to the podcast for an expansive discussion on strength and conditioning both specific to baseball, and universal across all sports. Mike has a wealth of experience across many sports, and also in private, college, and pro settings. He shares great insights on how his thought processes have evolved, and also some lessons learned from training his own kids.

A special thanks to this show's sponsor, AG1. Head to https://www.DrinkAG1.com/cressey and you'll receive a free 10-pack of Athletic Greens travel packets with your first order.

 

Sponsor Reminder

This episode is brought to you by AG1. AG1 is your daily foundational nutrition; it has 75 whole-food sourced ingredients designed to support your body’s foundational nutrition needs across five critical areas of health: 1) energy, 2) immunity, 3) gut health, 4) hormonal support, and 5) healthy aging. It is the new and future way of getting a multivitamin, and a whole lot more. Head to www.DrinkAG1.com/cressey and claim my special offer today – 10 FREE travel packs – with your first purchase. I use AG1 daily myself and highly recommend it to our athletes as well. I’d encourage you to give it a shot, too – especially with this great offer.

Podcast Feedback

If you like what you hear, we'd be thrilled if you'd consider subscribing to the podcast and leaving us an iTunes review. You can do so HERE.

And, we welcome your suggestions for future guests and questions. Just email elitebaseballpodcast@gmail.com.

Thank you for your continued support!

Sign-up Today for our FREE Baseball Newsletter and Receive Instant Access to a 47-minute Presentation from Eric Cressey on Individualizing the Management of Overhead Athletes!

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Artificial Light at Night: What You Need to Know

Today, I have a guest contribution from Examine.com researcher, Lucas Roldos. This is an adaptation of an Editor’s Pick from Examine (1), and it's especially timely, as Examine is celebrating their 13th anniversary with some great sales HERE.

The study in question: Artificial light at night suppresses the day-night cardiovascular variability: evidence from humans and rats

The 24-hour light/dark cycle is the most important factor affecting our circadian rhythm. As our exposure to light changes throughout the day, a region of the brain called the “suprachiasmatic nucleus” responds by modifying the release of hormones (like cortisol and melatonin), body temperature, blood pressure, and mental alertness. This physiological responsiveness to light makes sure that we are alert and ready to take on the day when the sun is out, and that we are able to rest when the sun is down. Of course, the sun isn’t our only source of light anymore. Exposure to light sources like computer screens and light pollution can cause our bodies to “feel” like it’s daytime, even when it’s late at night.

This study (2) was a narrative review that investigated whether exposure to artificial light at night (ALAN) had any negative effects on cardiovascular health or cortisol levels in adults (some of whom were night shift workers).

The included studies differed slightly in their findings (and certain confounders were hard to control for), but generally speaking, the more ALAN exposure a person had, the stronger their risk for high blood pressure, heart rate, autonomic nervous system activity, and carotid artery intima-media thickness (which can indicate higher risk of subclinical atherosclerosis) (3), as well as lower day-night heart rate variability and disrupted cortisol levels.

We still need more research to confirm the details of this relationship, but it’s worth paying attention to these results. If ALAN is as problematic as it appears in this study, it would certainly make a good case for reducing exposure to things like smartphones, computers, and televisions at night. What’s more concerning, however, is the implications it has for areas with light pollution. The Earth’s artificial light area and brightness has been increasing by 2% per year in recent decades (4), and it’s estimated that 83% of the world’s population lives in areas that have light pollution. (5) It’s recommended that people avoid exposure to light intensities above 10 lux in the evening, and even basic light pollution from sources like streetlamps, cars, and building lights can easily exceed this amount. (6,7)

Data from Brown et al. (2022) (7), Gaston et al. (2013) (8), and Wood et al. (2013). (9)

So how specifically does ALAN (and light generally) affect our circadian rhythms? As mentioned previously, the central pacemaker of the circadian system is the *suprachiasmatic nucleus* (SCN) found within the hypothalamus, which plays a role in the synchronization of almost all physiological activity (e.g., blood pressure, temperature, mental alertness).10 It is directly connected to the retina in the eye to ensure synchronization with the 24-hour light-dark cycle and projects to various internal “clocks”. Internal or local clocks are run by *transcriptional-translational feedback loop* (TTFL) mechanisms, which are essentially on/off switches that are triggered by certain cues, such as level of light exposure or quantity and timing of food intake, and generally oscillate between two states (e.g., wake/sleep, feed/fast).

The primary mechanism by which ALAN affects circadian rhythm is likely via the inhibition of [melatonin] secretion and downregulation of circadian-related genes involved in TTFLs that are both closely related to wake/sleep behavior. (11) In the specific case of cardiovascular disease, ALAN seems to inhibit melatonin secretion, which reduces mitochondrial recycling (mitophagy) and efficiency (e.g., fusion) (12), and circadian clock gene expression that disregulates the circadian rhythm and can lead to systemic inflammation and oxidative stress. Given that several cardiovascular parameters, like blood pressure and heart rate, are modulated by the circadian system and show clear 24-hour rhythms, it is not surprising that exposure to a cue that alters the rhythm will influence the cardiovascular parameter, especially when the external cue conflicts with internal clocks. (13) However, it should be noted that ALAN is not the only factor involved in circadian disruption, as exposure to cues like activity, temperature, or food intake outside of circadian rhythms could also contribute to circadian rhythm abnormalities and any associated health issues.

Adapted from Poggiogalle, Jamshed & Peterson, 2018. (14)

The general recommendation is to maintain consistent lifestyle habits and behavioral patterns that align with the circadian rhythm for better health, including timing of wake/sleep, feed/fast, and exertion/recovery, as well as light exposure, because life is full of events that will periodically disrupt the natural rhythm. (15) If consistency is the norm, a few acute stresses of ALAN or a late night snack should be straightforward for the body to recover from and shouldn’t lead to cardiovascular disease. For people with cardiovascular disease, ALAN management fits into stress reduction, along with sleeping well and avoidance of tobacco and alcohol within a bigger picture prevention/treatment plan that includes exercise, weight management, and dietary management. (16)

If you liked what you read here, then you'll love the full offering at Examine.com. It's my go-to resource for staying on top of the latest research relating to health and human performance. They've got a great 13th anniversary sale going on right now; you can check it out HERE.

Note: references for this article are posted as the first comment below.

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