Andrew Huberman: Sleep, Dreams, Creativity, Fasting, and Neuroplasticity (#164) | Lex Fridman Podcast

Key Takeaways

  • The combination of a low core temperature in the circadian cycle coupled with high levels of adenosine leads to the feeling of sleepiness
    • Misalignment of nap duration with sleep cycles is why longer naps (1+ hours) tend to leave people waking up groggy whereas a 20-minute nap can leave you feeling refreshed
  • “The major effect of testosterone is to make effort feel good”Andrew Huberman
    • “The testosterone molecule is synthesized from cholesterol. Cholesterol can either be made into cortisol, a stress hormone, or testosterone, but not both.”
  • “We know for sure that when you’re fasted or when you have low amounts of complex carbohydrates in your system, your alertness is going to go up. Fasting increases alertness and epinephrine for the sole purpose of getting you to go out and find food.”Andrew Huberman
  • It’s clear that if you deprive yourself of REM sleep, even if you get enough hours, you will become more irritable and start linking negative thoughts to innocuous events
    • The brain also seems to unlearn fear and uncouple emotions from traumatic events during this stage 
  • One of the biggest developments in psychedelics recently is the discovery that we can remove the hallucinogenic component from psychedelics while retaining the neuroplasticity
  • “It’s clear that the communication of science cannot be left to the existing institutions”Andrew Huberman

Intro

  • Andrew Huberman (@hubermanlab) is a neuroscientist and tenured professor in the Department of Neurobiology at the Stanford University School of Medicine
  • Host: Lex Fridman (@lexfridman)

Why Do We Get Sleepy?

  • The organic compound adenosine naturally builds up in your brain the longer you’re awake regardless of whether it’s day or night
    • “How sleepy we get for a given amount of adenosine depends on where we are in the circadian cycle” – Andrew Huberman 
  • “The circadian cycle is just this very well-conserved temperature oscillation” – Andrew Huberman
    • Your core temperature will be at its lowest 2 hours before you wake up and gradually start to increase. Your temperature will peak around late afternoon and then gradually decrease towards the evening thus repeating the cycle.
  • The combination of a low core temperature in the circadian cycle coupled with high levels of adenosine leads to the feeling of sleepiness
    • This is also why if you make yourself stay awake despite being sleepy, you will eventually feel alert again. It’s because your core temperature is increasing again and the synchronization required to feel sleepy isn’t occurring.
    • It’s also why it’s easier to fall asleep in a cool environment 
  • While we sleep our body goes through 90-minute cycles of different levels of brain activity
    • You will feel more alert when waking up at the end of a cycle rather than sleeping an extra hour and waking up in the middle of a cycle

Sleep & Health

  • “People who are strictly nocturnal do far worse on immune function, metabolic function, etc. than people who are diurnal” – Andrew Huberman
  • The circadian cycle is useful not just for sleep, but also for cell regulation
    • “It’s clear that having these very regular oscillations every 24 hours is essential to everything from metabolism to reproduction” – Andrew Huberman
  • “The entirety of the picture of sleep is similar to nutrition in that there are so many variables involved and it’s so person specific”Lex Fridman
    • Just like the nutritional needs of an athlete is different, the sleep needs of a high-performer will also be different
  • If you sleep a respectable amount but still feel fatigued throughout the day it does NOT mean you need more sleep; it means you’re excessively stressing your body by other means

Naps

  • The grogginess that many people feel in the afternoon is associated with the drop from peak core temperatures due to the circadian cycle 
    • The Spanish have created an ingenious cultural solution to this with siestas
    • But if you’re not a napper then Andrew recommends trying non-sleep deep-rest (NSDR)
  • “NSDR is allowing your system to drop into states of real calm, and it can be very restorative for cognitive and motor function” – Andrew Huberman
    • Militaries have incorporated this and started teaching their personal methods. The general trick is to release tension in your body such as with clenched jaws, hunched shoulders, or shallow breaths.
  • Misalignment of nap duration with sleep cycles is why longer naps (1+ hours) tend to leave people waking up groggy whereas a 20-minute nap can leave you feeling refreshed

Hypnosis

  • Hypnosis is real, but it’s not the mind-control gimmick you see in the media
    • “Hypnosis is just a matter of deepening relaxation and narrowing context. It’s all self-imposed.”Andrew Huberman
  • Hypnosis is quite effective at helping people who struggle to fall asleep
    • There are many free hypnosis scripts for sleep online
    • Susceptibility to hypnosis varies by person, but most people are quite susceptible 

Hormones

  • Andrew explains that there is a not yet fully understood feedback loop between your nervous system and your hormones
    • Your hormones can completely alter your thought patterns without your knowledge, and to a degree, your thought patterns can affect hormonal levels
  • “The major effect of testosterone is to make effort feel good”Andrew Huberman
    • “The testosterone molecule is synthesized from cholesterol. Cholesterol can either be made into cortisol, a stress hormone, or testosterone, but not both.”
    • “To me, that’s the Holy Grail. When effort feels good, life just gets way better. And I’m not talking about achieving the award, I’m talking about the process of it.”
  • Prolactin is the mammalian hormone that signals lactation in females and a general feeling of sloth

Fasting

  • There are many studies linking the limiting of food intake to a certain time-frame with a myriad of health benefits 
    • While we call this ‘intermittent fasting today, this was more or less the standard for the vast majority of people to ever live
    • It was simply wasn’t possible to be able to constantly eat throughout the day before modern times 
  • Multiple animal studies have shown that eating the same amount of food spread throughout the day, as opposed to within a time-frame, led to the animals being fatter than average
  • “We know for sure that when you’re fasted or when you have low amounts of complex carbohydrates in your system, your alertness is going to go up. Fasting increases alertness and epinephrine for the sole purpose of getting you to go out and find food.”Andrew Huberman
  • If you want to become sleepy you should eat foods with a lot of tryptophan, which is the chemical precursor to serotonin
    • Turkey, white meat, rice, grains

Dreams

  • “The dreams that happen early in the night when slow-wave or non-REM sleep dominates tend to be about general themes and locations” – Andrew Huberman
    • “That phase of dreaming is associated with the occasional jolting yourself out of sleep because it’s a lighter sleep” 
    • “Those dreams tend to not have a lot of emotional content”
  • “The dreams that occur during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep that dominates towards the morning are very different”
    • “There is very little epinephrine available in the brain at that time, epinephrine being a molecule associated with stress, fear, excitement. You are paralyzed during these REM dreams.”
    • REM sleep is the most emotionally intense stage where you often dream about what you’re thinking about in life
  • It’s clear that if you deprive yourself of REM sleep, even if you get enough hours, you will become more irritable and start linking negative thoughts to innocuous events
    • The brain also seems to unlearn fear and uncouple emotions from traumatic events during this stage 
    • “So they recount the event and they can describe it without it triggering the same somatic experience of terror” – Andrew Huberman
  • “Sometimes people will wake up suddenly while in a REM dream and their heart will be beating really, really fast. That’s a surge of epinephrine that occurs as you exit REM sleep.” – Andrew Huberman
  • Language inherently requires a logical structure, but dreams communicate in a far more abstract manner that doesn’t require words

Psychedelics

  • Universities and research departments have just recently started to receive permission to study the effects of psychedelics
  • “It’s a complicated space because psychedelics are always looked at through the lens of the 60’s” – Andrew Huberman
    • “I think it’s clear that there’s a very close relationship between hallucinogenic states and dreaming of the sort that’s described in REM dreaming”
  • Andrew’s issue with psychedelics:
    • “One is that people talk about plasticity as if plasticity is the goal. But plasticity is a state in which you can direct neurology, and the question is what changes are you trying to get? People are just taking psychedelics to unveil plasticity without thinking about what circuits they want to modify and how.”
    • When the plasticity window opens, you need to know 
  • One of the biggest developments in psychedelics recently is the discovery that we can remove the hallucinogenic component from psychedelics while retaining the neuroplasticity
  • MDMA is a unique psychedelic in that it causes the release of both dopamine and serotonin to go through the roof at the same time
    • “Why MDMA may have particularly high potential for the treatment of certain forms of depression is an interesting question” – Andrew Huberman

Creativity

  • “Creativity is in the non-linearities, but productivity is in the implementation of linearities” Andrew Huberman
    • “For someone who’s very structured and regimented the anxiety comes from letting go of those linearities, and for the person who’s very creative the anxiety comes from trying to impose linearity”
  • Neither mode is inherently superior, but the ability to consciously alternate between the two is a superpower
  • “The really creative artist or musician: they seem nuts, they seem like they can’t get their life together and it’s because they can’t” – Andrew Huberman
    • “When we look at people who have Aspergers or some form of autism, they are so hyper linear that when you take away those linearities they freak out”

Information Revolution

  • “It’s clear that the communication of science cannot be left to the existing institutions”Andrew Huberman
    • This includes politicians, universities, and even scientific journals themselves
  • With the platform given to individuals through technology, we can now hear directly from those working on the cutting edge rather than having an institution filter and distribute such information
  • One of the factors that differentiate audio formats is the increased intimacy and familiarity compared to text or video
    • Hearing someone’s voice adds an element of humanity not found within the borders of a camera or in lines of text
  • Clubhouse:
    • A new technology but the same problem: who has the time? Podcast Notes solves this as well for your reading pleasure.
  • It’s essential to recognize that online communities have different customs and manners than real-life communities
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Notes By TD

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