Episode 43 – Dr. Samer Hattar: Timing Your Light, Food, & Exercise for Optimal Sleep, Energy & Mood | Huberman Lab

Key Takeaways

  • To improve mood and optimize sleep-wake cycle: view light in the morning and as much as possible during the day
  • Three components to get in order: mealtimes, light exposure, and sleep
  • Key is doing self-exploration to find ideal timing of meals, light exposure, and sleep that align with circadian rhythm – start by manipulating light exposure because that’s the most powerful driver of the other pieces
  • Daylight saving has a negative impact on sleep & wake cycles – it’s not just an hour per day, it’s a cumulative effect on the rhythm
  • Evening light exposure impacts sleep! Keep your home dim/dark. Keep to the minimum amount of light you need to see comfortably; explore using red light
  • The more we deviate from intrinsic rhythm, the more we see increased rates of depression, anxiety, adverse mental health outcomes
  • Light viewing and feeding behavior interact in ways that support one another: keep feeding times to most active points in circadian rhythm (i.e., during light)

Introduction

Host: Andrew Huberman (@hubermanlab)

Dr. Samer Hattar (@SamerHattar) is Chief and Senior Investigator of Light and Circadian Rhythms at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Dr. Hattar is a world-renowned expert on how viewing light at particular times adjusts our mood, ability to learn, stress and hormone levels, appetite, and mental health.

In this episode of Huberman Lab, Dr. Huberman hosts Dr. Samer Hattar to discuss how to use light to optimize the sleep-wake cycle, the timing of food intake, exercise, and mental and physical health.

Light Controls Circadian Rhythm

  • Light exposure has an unconscious influence on the level of the cell, behavior, circadian cycle
  • Sunlight exposure adjusts circadian rhythm and associated behavior to 24-hour periods
  • One of the strongest adaptations of survival is the adaptation to and anticipation of light
  • Light allows animals to anticipate seasonality
  • A landmark discovery in 2000 found that cells in the eye communicate day and night to the brain
    • Even blind people benefit from viewing light for regulation of circadian rhythm
  • Cones in the eye see color and adapt to varying intensities of light
  • Best way to interact with light: get outside (even on cloudy days it’s enough) 15 minutes daily shortly after waking, ideally without sunglasses
  • The circadian system needs to be synchronized to light/outdoors to know where you are in time
  • There is not enough research on artificial light to know the correct intensity – but it’s likely helpful to have exposure during the day
  • Sleep-wake cycles will suffer if you stay indoors and are not getting natural light
  • Camping experiment: studies have shown that camping for two days with no screens, sleeping and waking whenever feels natural – can adjust circadian rhythms
  • Can’t determine whether you are naturally an early bird or night owl? Get light exposure in the morning and see how you feel
  • Animals have a ‘light hunger’
  • Consider avoiding blue light blocking glasses because it’s changing natural optics of the eye and adaptation properties of the retina – just dim the blue and increase the warmness of the light
  • Evening light viewing tip: keep your home dim/dark, to the minimum amount of light you need to see comfortably; explore using red light

Relationship Between Light & Non-Circadian Effects

  • When you view light, it could make you feel happy/unhappy, stressed/less stressed, enhance learning/decrease learning, etc.
  • If you disrupt light, effects on stress are profound
  • The more we deviate from intrinsic rhythm, the more we see increased rates of depression, anxiety, and adverse mental health outcomes
  • Even if light exposure isn’t affecting the circadian clock, it might be affecting mood, focus, learning, stress, homeostasis
  • Suicide is highest in spring: theory is that lack of light in winter can cause depression so sunlight in spring gives people energy to act on feelings
  • Patients with bipolar disorder have more sensitivity to light

Effects Of Light On Appetite And Behavior

  • Light viewing and feeding behavior interact in ways that support one another
  • Tip: have regular meals times that fit your circadian clock
  • Most of the time we eat, it’s mostly because we just want to – not because we’re hungry
  • Tip #1: We make better food choices when we are not anticipating meals but have a set schedule (+/- 30 minutes)
  • Tip #2: Limit eating to active times of circadian rhythm (i.e., during the day)

Shifting Your Clock

  • Social rhythm affects sleep, how much you eat
  • Repeatedly staying up late can take about two weeks to recover
  • Travel Tip #1: Change mealtimes and adjust light exposure to advance and delay clock according to the time zone you will be traveling to
  • Travel Tip #2: Exercise, view light, and eat a meal first-morning post-travel
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Notes By Maryann

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