Have I mentioned that I’m a health freak and that I like optimizing my workday to get things done as efficiently as possible to avoid overwork and anxiety about work? I recently found a YouTube channel that talks about these types of topics. I’ve only watched one video (episode 28), a kind of summary of the videos shown since the channel started earlier this year. Having watched it, I believe I will follow up with the other episodes, to get a more in-depth view of the main ideas. The channel belongs to Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist at Stanford University: Huberman Lab.
Huberman has what he calls protocols to incorporate scientific insights into daily life, 17 of which he mentions in the contest of a day (because the circadian rhythm is crucial for a healthy and productive life). I’m going to list the gist of them and how I may or may not be able to integrate them into my life (some of them I’m doing already anyway and others would have to be tweaked – Huberman encourages personal tweaking). But the full video / podcast is very interesting, and I encourage you to watch it (it’s quite long but well worth your time).
1) Record your daily wake-up time to determine your temperature minimum.
What’s the temperature minimum? It’s the time in each 24 hours that the body temperature is lowest and typically occurs 2 hours before your wake-up time. The temperature itself is not important in this context.
This sounds interesting and I will do it (it’s also easy to do). I usually wake up between 5 and 6 a.m. but I’ve never taken note of it. This info will be needed for at least one of the later protocols.
2) After waking up, take a walk.
When you walk (or move forward on a bike, for instance) you get something called optic flow. You see your surroundings moving past and you get lateral eye movements. The optic flow has a calming effect on your nervous system (specifically the amygdala).
I don’t walk straight after getting up, but I do walk with Curious Dog straight after breakfast. Huberman says 10 to 15 minutes is enough, but CD likes a longer walks so it’s usually around 45 minutes for me.
3) Get morning sunlight (basically, you already get if you follow protocol 2).
This is good for your circadian rhythm and specially needed to trigger a small but important rise in cortisol. It makes you alert.
Don’t use blue light filters in the morning, as blue light serves to wake you up if you can’t get sunlight (although sunlight is better).
4) Hydrate properly.
Huberman drinks 0.5 to 0.9 litres of water with a little salt straight off after returning from his morning walk. It’s supposed to improve cognitive performance.
Well, because I know that one gets dehydrated during the night, I drink a cup of herbal tea or water before I get up, but that’s only about 250 ml. I can try to up this and see how it works out, but I think I’ll stay with 0.5 litres.
5) Delay tea or coffee until 90 to 120 minutes after getting up.
This is to avoid a caffeine crash in the early afternoon that you may get if you drink black tea or coffee early in the day.
I usually have my first cup of black tea at breakfast. I guess I could try postponing it and see if it has any effect. I don’t usually have a pronounced afternoon slump.
6) Fast until noon.
This is supposed to make you alert, calm and focused, with a better learning experience. Huberman drinks Yerba Mate and Guayusa tea (whatever that is) and some kind of smoothie that I didn’t quite catch.
Definitively not going there. I have porridge with fruits and nuts for breakfast and would probably drop dead on the morning walk with Curious Dog if I didn’t eat anything beforehand. And I usually need a snack midmorning (I could try going without).
7) Facilitate “deep work” – a kind of flow state.
You should do 90-minute bouts of work because the brain goes through 90-minute so-called ultradian cycles. 90 minutes is about the normal length of time you can work in a focused way, although there are ups and downs in that time. It’s useful to set a timer and keep distractions to a minimum. Maybe use low-level white noise to get into the flow state. And here’s also where your temperature minimum comes in: Your best 90 minutes will come 4 to 6 hours after your temperature minimum.
Some of Huberman’s tips: looking up makes you more alert therefore you should place your monitor (if you are an office worker) so that you look up at it or at least straight at it, not down. I’ve gone and sat my monitor on a few large books to elevate it. Looking down all day is supposed to make you sleepy and the same goes for reclining: sit up instead.
In the afternoon you will be most alert during the time of steepest temperature rise (although I can’t remember if Huberman said how to find out when that is. I’m guessing it’s after lunch).
Huberman believes that we can only do two 90-minute cycles of real deep work each day. The rest of the workday can be spent on less taxing jobs (replying to emails, meetings, and such). I tend to agree with him from my work experience. The trick is to make sure that those 90-minute slots aren’t filled with busy work or annoying meetings (sometimes hard to do at work – people aren’t going to cater to my predilections). I’m going to try if I can do this at least some of the time (well, I kind of try it already, but sometimes lose sight of it). I’ve heard this theory about the 90-minute slots before.
8) Get optimal exercise.
This is apparently a ratio of 3:2 strength training to endurance training for 12 weeks and then the other way round for the next 12 weeks. You should exercise for about an hour every day for at least 5 days a week. Huberman talked a lot about the ins and outs of this protocol, but I’m not doing it.
Walking with Curious Dog twice a day is enough exercise for me. It’s more than an hour and I haven’t got time for more – and if I did try to do something else, I’d do yoga.
9) Have your first meal around noon.
And then don’t eat too much, especially not starchy carbohydrates, as that will make you sleepy in the early afternoon.
Lunch is my second meal of the day and it’s usually fairly light, because we cook dinner at night. As I mentioned above, I’m not dropping breakfast. Huberman mentions that a short walk after lunch is good for one’s metabolism. I used to do this when I still went to the office, but now that I walk with Curious Dog twice a day, I’ve dropped the after-lunch walk. I don’t think I’ll start it again.
10) Make sure your testosterone and estrogen are in balance.
I’ve no idea about the status of my hormones and am just going to assume that everything is fine (this was too complicated for me).
11) 10 minutes of non-sleep deep rest after lunch (good for everything).
With this Huberman means meditation, yoga nidra, or hypnosis. Apparently, hypnosis allows you to steer your brain towards specific outcomes, like gaining a greater ability to more focus. He mentioned a free-of charge app that you can use to do hypnosis. I’m into meditation already (and will not stop it) and I do think I may try out the hypnosis app (you can find details about it under his YouTube video linked above).
Update, July 14, 2021: The app didn’t work on my Android smartphone. Maybe my phone is too old…
12) Hydrate properly.
See protocol 4. I can’t remember how much one is supposed to drink after lunch, but just do as seems best.
13) View late afternoon and evening light to support sleep.
This help to balance your melatonin and serves as a buffer to mitigate bright light at night (which you should avoid according to Huberman).
I do this anyway on my afternoon walk with Curious Dog.
14) Eat a dinner that promotes calm sleep.
This means eating starchy carbohydrates (potatoes, rice, pasta, etc.) with veggies and protein. The carbohydrates promote the creation of serotonin, which calms you right down.
We do that already. As we are vegan, we eat a lot of carbs. And we have dinner in the evening, so that works out.
15) Optimize falling and staying asleep.
A warm bath or shower (or sauna) helps you to fall asleep faster, as the body then works harder to cool down. Cooling down is a prerequisite for sleep. You should also keep you room dark and cool.
I don’t usually shower at night, but I may try it. My bedroom is dark, but pretty warm in summer (nothing I can do about that). Huberman also mentions a few supplements that one could take to facilitate sleep, but I’ve not noted them down. I don’t need them.
16) Prevent middle of the night waking.
I wake up once or twice each night, but usually don’t have a problem going back to sleep. I don’t think I can change this, so I didn’t take notes about this bit of advice.
17) Use your weekend correctly.
Here he says that you can use the weekend to catch up on rest and relaxation, but you should ideally wake up and go to sleep at the same time as during the week, so as not to disrupt your schedule too much.
I know about this, but I still tend to sleep longer during the weekend. By the end of it, I have trouble falling asleep at the usual time because I’m not at all tired. But I don’t feel that it’s particularly bad so therefore won’t change my behavior.
I’ve really shortened these points. If you are interested in detailed scientific explanations, you should look up Huberman’s channel. He’s got extra videos on each of the topics (or almost all of them, I didn’t check) as well as his summary video.
On another note, it’s been raining all afternoon and I’ve just had a pleasant late afternoon walk with Curious Dog (that’s no. 13 nailed for today). 🙂
Keep safe, world