Episode 84 – Sleep Toolkit: Tools For Optimizing Sleep & Sleep-Wake Timing | Huberman Lab

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Key Takeaways

  • High-quality sleep is critical! Sleep is the foundation of mental health, cognitive health, and performance
  • Viewing direct morning sunlight within 30-60 minutes of waking will help you fall asleep and stay asleep at night, and optimize cortisol & adenosine levels
  • Layer in multiple levers to be more alert: morning sunlight viewing, increasing body temperature, delaying caffeine, movement/exercise upon waking, light breakfast
  • Stack the deck to give your body predictable autonomic timing and properly set circadian rhythm to optimize sleep and wakefulness – even if you’re tired, exercise a little (doesn’t have to be intense) and eat a light breakfast, etc.
  • Avoid overhead fluorescent light as much as possible between 10pm-4am – these lights will eliminate melatonin circulating in brain & body and will hinder ability to fall and stay asleep (instead, try soft lamps and dim screens as much as possible without straining eyes)
  • Viewing afternoon sunlight from sunset can help offset some of the negative effects of light viewing in the evening (10 pm-4 am)
  • Try to maintain a consistent sleep/wake schedule (+/- 1 hour) 7 days a week!
  • When all else fails, try this sleep stack cocktail (buy single ingredient supplements so you can use what works, ditch what doesn’t): magnesium threonate (145mg, 30-60 minutes before bed) + theanine (100-400mg, 30-60 minutes before bed) + apigenin (50mg, 30-60 minutes before bed)
  • Sleep apnea can have very damaging effects on sleep and health – train nasal breathing with these methods: (1) use medical tape to tape mouth shut during sleep; (2) practice nasal breathing only during light exercise/cardio bouts

Introduction

Dr. Andrew Huberman, Ph.D. is a Professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford University School of Medicine. His lab focuses on neural regeneration, neuroplasticity, and brain states such as stress, focus, fear, and optimal performance.

In this episode of the Huberman Lab podcast, Andrew Huberman takes a deep dive into all things related to optimizing sleep. He describes behavioral and supplement-based approaches to enhance sleep quality, duration, and impact of sleep and wakefulness practices.

Host: Andrew Huberman (@hubermanlab)

Levers Of Sleep & Wakefulness

  • Brain & body cues: light, dark, temperature, food, exercise, caffeine, supplements, digital tools
  • Temperature: a drop in temperature (1-3 degrees) is required for your body to enter a state of sleep; the opposite is also true – you will wake up if your body temperature rises 1-3 degrees
  • Caffeine prevents the actions of adenosine and limits sleepiness

View Morning Sunlight

  • An increase in body temperature triggers waking up and is accompanied by an increase in cortisol
  • When elevated at the right time (first thing in the morning) cortisol enhances your immune system, metabolism, ability to focus, ability to move your body
  • You want cortisol to reach its peak right about the time when you wake up
  • Viewing bright sunlight within 30-60 minutes after waking triggers cortisol increase early in the day (when we want it peaked) and sets your body for sleep later that night
  • If there’s cloud cover and you can’t see the sun, you still want to get outside and get the natural light
  • Look toward the sun without sunglasses (corrective lenses are ok even if they have UV protection) & don’t look directly at the sun view in any way that causes pain
  • Three critical tips for viewing bright light early in the day: (1) viewing in the first 30-60 minutes of waking has a powerful impact on the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep at night; (2) if it’s dark because of cloudiness or time of day you wake up, flip on artificial lights in your house (but go outside as soon as the sun it out); (3) get outside on cloudy days – you need even more light than a clear day
  • Light paradox: artificial light or phone light cannot replace sunlight when trying to turn on the cortisol mechanism – but – it is disruptive enough to disturb sleep at night
  • Morning sunlight dose:
    • On a clear day: about 5 minutes of sunlight exposure to eyes per day
    • On a cloudy day: about 10 minutes of sunlight exposure to the eyes per day
    • Densely overcast or minimal sun: about 20-30 minutes of sunlight exposure to eyes per day
  • For this purpose, you cannot view sunlight through sunglasses or a windshield
  • If you do not have access to any sunlight, explore ring lights
  • Goal: view sunlight first thing in the morning 80% of the time – if you miss a day, get twice as much duration of light the next day
  • Measuring sunlight: Light Meter (App Store) or Light Meter (Google Play)
  • An increase in body temperature triggers waking up and is accompanied by an increase in cortisol
  • When elevated at the right time (first thing in the morning) cortisol enhances your immune system, metabolism, ability to focus, ability to move your body
  • You want cortisol to reach its peak right about the time when you wake up
  • Viewing bright sunlight within 30-60 minutes after waking triggers cortisol increase early in the day (when we want it peaked) and sets your body for sleep later that night
  • If there’s cloud cover and you can’t see the sun, you still want to get outside and get the natural light
  • Look toward the sun without sunglasses (corrective lenses are ok even if they have UV protection) & don’t look directly at the sun view in any way that causes pain
  • Three critical tips for viewing bright light early in the day: (1) viewing in the first 30-60 minutes of waking has a powerful impact on the ability to fall asleep and stay asleep at night; (2) if it’s dark because of cloudiness or time of day you wake up, flip on artificial lights in your house (but go outside as soon as the sun it out); (3) get outside on cloudy days – you need even more light than a clear day
  • Light paradox: artificial light or phone light cannot replace sunlight when trying to turn on the cortisol mechanism – but – it is disruptive enough to disturb sleep at night
  • Morning sunlight dose:
    • On a clear day: about 5 minutes of sunlight exposure to eyes per day
    • On a cloudy day: about 10 minutes of sunlight exposure to the eyes per day
    • Densely overcast or minimal sun: about 20-30 minutes of sunlight exposure to eyes per day
  • For this purpose, you cannot view sunlight through sunglasses or a windshield
  • If you do not have access to any sunlight, explore ring lights
  • Goal: view sunlight first thing in the morning 80% of the time – if you miss a day, get twice as much duration of light the next day
  • Measuring sunlight: Light Meter (App Store) or Light Meter (Google Play)

Temperature

  • To leverage temperature for wakefulness: increase core body temperature quickly by taking a cold shower or ice bath for 1-3 minutes – this will trigger adrenaline and dopamine release and increase core body temperature (remember, our brain functions as a thermostat)
  • Exercise (any movement, doesn’t have to be full-blown exercise) will increase core body temperature early in the day (the best time to exercise if your goal is to optimize gains is immediately after waking, 3 hours after waking, 11 hours after waking)
  • If you workout in the afternoon (also relevant if you have late caffeine): take a hot shower or bath after exercise to decrease body temperature and help prepare your body for sleep
  • Huberman’s recipe for increasing core body temperature: jump rope 10-20 minutes each morning while viewing the sun, then a cold shower

Caffeine

  • Delay caffeine intake for 90-120 minutes after waking to avoid the afternoon crash
  • Avoid drinking caffeine after 4 pm – if you must have some, limit to 100mg or less
  • If you want your caffeine first thing in the morning before exercising, you will likely get an early afternoon dip in energy so plan accordingly

Food

  • Eating early in the day makes you more alert and triggers an increase in metabolism and temperature that will make you feel more alert
  • What about fasting? Do what feels right for you
  • If you eat a large meal first thing in the morning, it will divert blood & resources away from the brain to digest the food and you will feel tired immediately after
  • Eating first thing in the morning helps set & train a circadian clock

Leveraging Phases Of The Day For Optimal Wakefulness

  • Leverage the natural rhythms of brain & body hormones to make it more likely that you will engage or maintain habits
  • In the first 0-8 hours after waking, your brain and body are more active and focus-oriented – you can more easily overcome things with high limbic friction
  • In the 9-15 hours after waking, leverage high serotonin and keep stress low by engaging in habits that don’t require a lot of limbic overrides
  • Naps: don’t nap if it impacts your ability to sleep at night or causes you to wake up groggy
  • Phase 1: 0-8 hours after waking up
    • This phase comes with a more alert state which can be heightened by sunlight viewing, caffeine delaying, fasting, etc.
    • Norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine are elevated during this phase
    • Healthy cortisol is also elevated in the brain and bloodstream
  • Phase 2: 9-15 hours after waking up
    • Levels of dopamine, epinephrine, and cortisol start to come down
    • Avoid caffeine or limit to 100mg max
    • Serotonin starts to rise and lends itself to a relaxed state of being – can be enhanced with a warm bath, yoga nidra, ashwagandha, Reveri, Madefor NSDR
    • Taper the amount of artificial bright light (unless it’s sunlight which is helpful in the later afternoon/evening when the sun is low and optimizes transition to sleep) & start dimming house lights a bit
    • Be cautious of strenuous exercise or ingesting caffeine to perform the exercise as these habits will delay the circadian clock which will make you want to sleep and wake up later
  • Phase 3: 16-24 hours after waking up
    • This is when you want to prepare for sleep and achieve high-quality sleep
    • Avoid bright, artificial light of any color – it takes very little light exposure to disrupt the brain and body’s readiness for sleep
    • Place lights low (not overhead if possible) & dim screens as low as possible without strain
    • Take a warm bath or shower and drop body temperature to make it easier to fall asleep
    • Keep the environment very dark or dim & room temperature low (lower room temperature by 3 degrees)
    • The body needs to drop in temperature to fall asleep & stay asleep
    • If you wake up in the middle of the night, use as little light as possible
    • Deep sleep is critical to wiring neural circuits required for building habits
    • If you’re waking up because you’re warm, be sure not to wear socks while sleeping and stick out hand(s) and foot/feet from under the covers

THC & CBD

  • While THC & CBD may help you fall asleep, the quality of sleep is suboptimal versus no THC & CBD
  • Caveat: if the reasons you have trouble falling and staying asleep are related to anxiety, it’s possible THC or CBD may help reduce the anxiety and assist with sleep

Sleep Supplements

  • As always, try behavioral tools before diving into supplements
  • Do NOT use melatonin – it’s an endogenous hormone and over-the-counter doses are way too high for the body, especially for kids or for chronic use
  • Sleep stack ingredients:
    •  Magnesium Threonate or Glycinate, 145mg, 30-60 minutes before sleep
      • Pro-tip: 5% of people have stomach issues with this form of magnesium, so be careful when starting
    • Theanine: 100-400mg, 30-60 minutes before sleep
      • Pro-tip: Do NOT take Theanine if you are prone to night terrors or sleepwalking
    • Apigenin: 50mg daily, 30-60 minutes before sleep
  • Sleep stack enhancements every 3rd or 4th night:
    • Glycine: 2 grams 30-60 minutes before sleep
    • GABA: 100 mg, 30-60 minutes before sleep
    • Myo-inositol (particularly helpful for falling asleep again if you wake up): 900mg, 30-60 minutes before sleep – but only every other night (not on the nights of glycine and GABA)
  • Read our full summary of Andrew Huberman’s sleep cocktail & routine here.

Behavioral Tools

  • Reveri app may help you fall back asleep (there’s a specific protocol for it) if you wake up at night but be sure to dim your phone screen
  • Eye masks: effective if the mask is not too tight and the room is cool enough
  • Ear plugs: some find them effective because of the sound blocking but others can’t stand hearing their own heartbeat, etc. – personal
  • Elevating the foot of your bed a few degrees and help with lymphatic drainage
  • Sleep apnea: if you train yourself to breathe through your nose, you may be able to get rid of your apnea – use medical tape to keep your mouth shut while sleeping
  • Tip for apnea: to train nose breathing, try doing your low-intensity cardio exercise while breathing through the nose only
  • Navigating weekends: try not to sleep or wake up more than an hour beyond the normal schedule; instead of sleeping in, take a short nap or use nonsleep deep rest protocol later in the day
  • If you wake up at a regular time but slept late: wait to ingest caffeine 90-120 minutes after waking to avoid disruption of compensatory sleep
  • Tips for managing jet lag, waking up because of children, etc.:
    • Leverage “temperature minimum” – count two hours backward from natural wake-up time (the body will be at the lowest temperature)& force yourself to do the activity that will advance your clock (view bight light, exercise)
  • If you do shiftwork, try to stay on the same schedule for a minimum of two weeks at a time
  • If you need to be awake during the sleep cycle (e.g., wake up early for travel, feed baby), use red light – this will not disrupt the circadian rhythm
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Notes By Maryann

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