Episode 8: Optimize Your Brain With Science-Based Tools | Huberman Lab

Key Takeaways

  • Achieving plasticity is the first step in optimizing your brain, not the end goal
  • Leverage periods of natural wakefulness and sleepiness anchored to core biology
  • The goal is to have energy and focus to pursue and energy and focus to suppress action – not flow state
  • For learning while alert, the ideal background is quiet or silent  
  • For learning while sleepy or tired:  the best scenario is some background noise to trigger autonomic arousal
  • Eating shifts us toward state of calm; fasting shifts us toward a state of alertness
  • Creativity has two parts: (1) creative discovery mode – more random, facilitated by relaxed and sleepy states; (2) linear implementation mode – facilitated by alertness
  • Some tips for more wakefulness everyday: get sunlight exposure first thing in the morning, delay caffeine intake for two hours to give endogenous hormones a chance, drink water upon waking, exercise within the first three hours of waking


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 this episode of Huberman Lab, Dr. Huberman discusses how to leverage neuroplasticity. He breaks down how to optimize our daily 24-hour cycle to access flow state, creativity, and clear mindedness. Dr. Huberman also reviews biological factors that are within our control and those outside our control, the science of psychedelics, and visualization practices.

Host: Andrew Huberman (@hubermanlab)


  • Plasticity is not the goal, it’s the capacity for our nervous system to change
  • Achieving plasticity is the first step in optimizing your brain, not the end goal
  • We want to figure out how to access plasticity and direct it towards goals and changes

Plasticity Systems

  • Short-term plasticity: any shift you want to achieve in the moment or day but not looking to hold on to forever (e.g., use coffee to become more alert when you need to wake up early for a flight)
  • Medium-term plasticity: “the undergraduate premed phenomenon” – memorizing for an exam; you don’t want something to be embedded in memory too long but need it for a specified period of time, then discard it
  • Long-term plasticity: speaking a new language, recalling a new skill without much effort

Autonomic Arousal (Level Of Alertness) System

  • Neuroplasticity rides on the foundation of autonomic arousal 24-hour cycles
  • Trigger for plasticity and learning occurs during high focus, high alertness states (not sleep)
  • Rewiring and connections happen during non-sleep deep rest and deep sleep
  • We cannot access plasticity and rewire our brain if we’re not sleeping well
  • We have natural, hard-wired sleep and wake cycles that are not the same across all people
  • We may consider shifting to an early to bed, early to rise bedtime if we wake up in the middle of the night frequently, or in the early hours and have difficulty sleeping again
  • We have light-detecting cells in our eyes, that’s why we tend to wake up with sunlight and bright light even if we don’t feel fully rested  
  • If you view light in the morning, connections between the circadian clock and adrenals that trigger cortisol is optimized and helps you wake up
  • If you have caffeine right when you wake up, there’s a mechanism that induces a mid-morning crash because endogenous mechanisms for suppressing adenosine are blocked

Steps To More Wakefulness

  • (1) Get sunlight exposure first thing in the morning
  • (2) Delay caffeine intake for the first two hours in the day
  • (3) Drink water upon waking
  • (4) Early morning exercise (within 3 hours of waking) will increase bias toward action throughout the day
  • (5) Fasted and low carb states lend themselves to alertness
  • Note: fasting increases alertness but if you are so hungry you are constantly thinking about food, it’s not good for learning
  • (6) Non-sleep deep rest protocol (30-90 minutes) in the afternoon when you hit a wall
  • (7) Minimize bright light exposure 10pm-4am

Optimizing Time Of Day For Tasks

  • People tend to feel ready to tackle tough tasks around mid-morning but the peak of alertness varies by person
  • Rule of thumb for background noise: identify the source of lack of focus
  • If we need to quiet autonomic arousal, silence is best for learning
  • If you are feeling groggy, background noise (music, coffee shop, etc.) could help facilitate action
  • In alert states, you are biased toward action and bias toward suppressing non-action
  • In clear, calm, focused state, we’re ready to tackle difficult tasks
  • The goal is to have energy and focus to pursue the necessary steps and energy and focus to suppress any distractions
  • Eating shifts us toward a state of calm; fasting shifts us toward a state of alertness

Evening Bouts Of Alertness

  • The peak of wakefulness and suppression of sleep signal actually happens late in the day
  • Many people experience a blip of wakefulness late in the evening, towards bedtime
  • The late peak in alertness and activity can last about 45-60 minutes
  • People often confuse this bout with insomnia or inability to sleep
  • Use this peak for mundane tasks – preparing for the next day, cleaning, etc. – instead of worrying that you aren’t tired and won’t sleep which can set off a vicious cycle

Go/No Go Pathway

  • Circuit related to basal ganglia
  • Forebrain involved in rational thought, planning, action
  • The forebrain is always trying to decide what do I do, how do I do it
  • Basal ganglia has one set of connections to the cortex to facilitate action (“go”)
  • “No go” pathway suppresses action and involves dopamine binding to D2 receptors

Two Stage Creative Process

  • Creativity is taking existing elements and rearranging them in novel ways
  • Two parts to creativity: (1) creative discovery mode; (2) linear implementation mode
  • Creative discovery mode is more random and facilitated by relaxed, almost sleepy states
  • Linear implementation mode is accessible in alert stages
  • Using substances to access creativity can be good for creative discovery mode but not translating that into linear implementation mode
  • Many people are good at accessing one of the creativity states but not the other


  • Psychedelics were thought to unleash sensory processing and make it less filtered
  • In principle, psychedelics do allow different areas of the brain to communicate more broadly than they would otherwise
  • Psychedelics can be hazardous if not working with a certified practitioner
  • Psychedelics are not good for children  
  • Psychedelics may open the user to creative discovery mode but not linear implementation mode
  • There may be roles for psychedelics in a clinical context under the guidance of psychiatrist


  • The brain has associated networks that are typically suppressed and can be released, but it’s challenging to optimize 
  • If you can be linear in the way you visualize, it can be powerful
  • Many people are challenged to have linear focus while visualizing so it’s not leveraged properly
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Notes By Maryann

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