This series is focused on your performance protocols throughout the day. Performance Protocol is a sequence of steps and activities so that you can stay alert, focused and creative during the workday. We have already covered the morning and the first and second parts of your workday. Read those articles if you missed them! Today we will focus on your evenings and your sleep.
The performance protocols that we are exploring in this series are used by Dr. Andrew Huberman, Professor of Neurobiology and Ophthalmology at Stanford School of Medicine. Those protocols help him to stay focused at work and they could be helpful for you. Read this article and share your comments below.
“A key protocol for sleep health and wakefulness, and metabolism and hormone health, is viewing light in the afternoon.” — Dr. Andrew Huberman.
Your eyes are susceptible to light between 10:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. That’s very disruptive to your dopamine production and can screw up your sleep and your productivity for the next day. More than that, however, bright light between those hours disrupts learning and memory and can also disrupt your immune system and your mood for the long-term. So, avoid seeing a bright light during that time when possible.
However, the bright light at the afternoon is very helpful. As the sun starts to head down, you can benefit from getting outside and seeing some sunlight in the afternoon at about 4:00 p.m. because your melatonin rhythm will stay at an appropriate level. Ideally, you might do 5–30 minutes of reading or walking outside at that time. Now, you might ask how melatonin will not be affected since it is a hormone that is prevented by light.
You already know that beautiful things happen when hormones and the systems of the body are aligned with the planet’s 24-hour schedule. Natural melatonin is the hormone that allows you to fall asleep easily. Getting sunlight in the afternoon is a great way to optimise your circadian rhythms because it will let your body know what time it is then. An optimised circadian rhythm allows you to learn better. It will improve your memory, your focus, your mood and your health overall. It also brings many other benefits, so, push yourself to go outside every day.
“I love eating, but it is also about optimising the transition to sleep.” — Dr. Andrew Huberman.
Did you know that some food can support rest and deep sleep? It’s evident that eating carbohydrates is a great way to increase serotonin, a hormone that helps the transition to sleep and improves your mood. You just need to remember that there are two groups of carbohydrates — sugary and starchy. You also need to be aware that refined sugars can disrupt metabolism and destroy neurons in the gut, fatty acids and amino acids from fats and proteins. More importantly, the same neurons can respond to ingested sugar by triggering a dopamine release in your brain and making you crave even more sugar. Carbohydrates that help with serotonin are from the other group — starchy carbohydrates.
Eating starchy carbohydrates is so vital that some people on low-carbohydrate diets struggle to fall and stay asleep. It’s can be hard to achieve the heightened serotonin levels necessary to enter sleep on a low-carb diet. You probably remember that eating low-carb or no-carb food helps to create a state of alertness and a focus in the morning. However, close to the end of the day your energy and focus will be okay without them. Basically, in the first half of the day, you should refrain from eating food that is high in carbohydrates. While close to the end of the day, you should eat starchy carbohydrates in order to induce evening relaxation and increase serotonin levels.
Suppose you also do five-days-a-week physical training, as discussed in our second article in this series. In that case, carbohydrates will also help to replenish your glycogen stores, one of the primary fuel sources for moving your muscles and doing exercise. Eating carbohydrates and some protein generates a sense of calm, supports glycogen stores and benefits your brain and cognitive function.
“In fact, we can point to sleep as the primary way in which we can ensure our overall health, including our brain health.” — Dr. Andrew Huberman.
You can do other things to enhance the transition to sleep along with your diet and lifestyle. We explained in the first article that your body temperature is rising throughout the day from its lowest point ~ two hours before you wake up. Then, late in the afternoon, your temperature reaches its peak and starts to drop again. That drop in temperature of one to three degrees is vitally essential for falling asleep quickly and you actually can accelerate that drop! Although it’s somewhat counterintuitive, hot baths or showers or a sauna one or two hours before your bedtime will help to decrease your temperature. If you get into a sufficiently high temperature of water for about 15-20 minutes and then get out of it, your body will employ particular mechanisms for cooling itself and your body’s temperature will drop more quickly. That will allow you to fall asleep more easily.
Suppose you also want to release a considerable amount of growth hormone that is involved in muscle growth, growth and metabolism of all tissues, fat metabolism and the repair of various tissues. In that case, you could do the following: 20 minutes in a hot sauna, 10 minutes of cooling, 20 minutes in a hot sauna and then cooling off again, showering and heading to bed. Works with bath, shower and steam rooms as well.
To improve your sleep further, it is essential to keep your room very dark and to decrease any noise which is obvious. Another thing is to keep the room cool. Not many know it, but the reason behind this is that you need to cool off your body at night in order to sleep properly. There are phases of sleep throughout the night where you are paralysed and that is called REM sleep. But your body moves at some portions of the night. One of the movements you do while you sleep is to put your hand, face or foot out from under the covers to cool yourself. Keeping the room’s temperature low allows you to do that. Incredible data shows that proper palmar cooling increases exercise performance, the volume of exercise that one can do and recover and derive benefits from it.
Weekends and Staying up late
“You may want to take one day off per week, not both.” — Dr. Andrew Huberman.
Even if you’re good at maintaining your schedule from Monday to Friday or Saturday, you need to alter the schedule on the weekends in order to recover and get some additional rest. Take one day and do nothing in a structured way. Do not make any plans and be completely free to explore.
If you happen to stay up late, say till 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, it’s still best to get up at your regular wake-up time. If you get a poor night’s sleep, or if you’re up late the previous night for good reasons, don’t go to bed early the next night as it’s not the best thing to do for your immediate and long-term health. That can really be disruptive for your circadian rhythm. Try on most days and nights to wake up at more or less the same time and try to go to sleep at more or less the same time. A daily nap can shore up hard times.
You have probably noticed that the Performance Protocols for optimising your performance and your mental and physical wellness are very simple. Just because they’re simple does not mean they are not powerful. In fact, they are very powerful because they leverage the strongest technology that exists — your nervous system.
Throughout the Performance Protocol series, we’ve essentially travelled around the clock, starting with when you wake up, how to start working, and then exercising and lunch. Following that is NSDR and more about the second half of your workday, how to head off to sleep, how to get to sleep, etc (btw, you also can read another article about sleep: Why do Business Athletes love to sleep). Those fundamental things will steer your neurology and biology in the directions needed to support workflow and intellectual and physical functioning on the highest level of productivity.
People’s schedules vary and most people do more than one or two 90-minute work blocks per day. When should you do yours? It really depends on your everything. That’s why we at Prdikt take a holistic approach. We analyse data about your sleep, mindfulness, exercise and diet. We help you find the best time, when your cognitive capabilities are the greatest, to do the most challenging and important things so that you are productive. Also, we show you when you need to restore your energy and relax.
This series is based on a podcast, Huberman Lab: Maximizing Productivity, Physical & Mental Health with Daily Tools | Episode 28 on Apple Podcasts. Please listen to that podcase if you want to get more details. Many thanks to Dr. Andrew Huberman for sharing his knowledge.