Performance protocol is a sequence of steps and activities to stay alert, focused, and creative during the workday.
The Earth spins once on its axis every 24 hours, and every cell and organ in your body and your brain are modulating or changing across these 24 hours in a very predictable rhythm. This means that we all have to exist within the context of the 24-hour rhythm. Performance Protocols help you to synchronize with your rhythm and stay tuned.
This article will explore science-based morning protocols for productivity and creativity that work for Dr Andrew Huberman, professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at Stanford School of Medicine. If you want to try his protocols, you will need to adopt the following practices.
“The first thing I do after I wake up is I take the pen that’s on my nightstand and the pad of paper on my nightstand, and I write down the time in which I woke up.”.
The average wakes up time informs what’s called “temperature minimum” — the time in each 24-hour cycle when your body’s temperature is the lowest. The actual temp is not essential, but the time tends to be two hours before your typical wake-up time. The temp minimum is necessary for several things like shifting your clock, circadian sleep and wake schedule, and moving your eating schedule.
The temperature minimum defines the trough of your temperature across the 24-hour cycle. And immediately after that, your temperature will start to rise. That temperature rise triggers the initial cortisol release that you experience and wakes you up further. In addition to the sunlight that you may want to get, it will further enhance that healthy release of cortisol. That cortisol will then provide fuel for that increase in temperature. And your body will continue to increase in temperature throughout the day toward the afternoon.
Knowing when your temperature is at its lowest point is a valuable thing to know, and we will return to this later on. Just keep in mind for now.
“The second thing I do after I wake up is to get into forward ambulation, which is just nerd speak for taking a walk.”.
After waking up, the next thing you want to do is outdoor walking in a large environment to generate a so-called “optic flow”. Morning walks help reduce the amount of neural activity of the amygdala in your brain and thus decrease anxiety. Forward ambulation also activates many brain areas and is particularly important to push your neurology in an alert and focused direction.
If you feel sleepy in the mornings, walking helps you get to a high degree of focus. Also, getting sunlight in your eyes (even if there’s a cloud cover) first thing in the morning is vital to mental and physical health. It is perhaps the most important thing to promote your hormone system’s metabolic well-being, positive functioning and get your mental health steering in the right direction.
Morning walks and bright lights are also helpful to push a natural bump in the cortisol hormone. You’ve probably heard that stress and cortisol disrupt the immune system, but not the short little pulse of cortisol that you get each morning. This cortisol pulse must arrive early in the day — it is the right way to promote wakefulness and a healthy immune system.
Two minutes without sunglasses would be a minimum, 10 minutes would be even better, and 30 minutes would be fantastic if you can. If you wake up before the sun comes out, it’s okay to turn on artificial lights, but then you would want to get outside as soon as possible to bring natural light stimulation to your eyes. To achieve the magnitude, you want to do it every day at the same time. And doing this each day costs nothing. It’s just time.
“I force myself, essentially, to drink at least 16 and, most days, 32 ounces of water. I also put a little bit of sea salt in the water.”.
Hydration is essential for mental performance. And as you know, we tend to get dehydrated at night. So make sure that you are hydrated early in the day before you begin any work. Some people don’t enjoy drinking big glasses or jugs of water first thing in the morning, and it’s okay. However, drink between 16 and 32 or more ounces of water every day to ensure a high level of your mental performance capacity.
Your neurons also require ionic flow, which means neurons need sodium, magnesium, and potassium to function. To supply your neurons, you may want to add some sea salt to the water. Something about half a teaspoon: it’s not much, but it helps your neurons to function well. The temperature of the water is up to your tastes.
“At that point, I start thinking about and fantasizing about and craving caffeine, but I don’t drink that caffeine yet.”.
We all love to drink coffee, right? Of course, but you want to delay your first caffeine intake to 90 to 120 minutes after you wake up. This is because adenosine, one of the factors that induce a sense of sleepiness in your system, is likely to be very low in the morning. If you do drink caffeine earlier, you will block adenosine from acting on the aficionados receptor. This will help you feel very alerted first, but it will also cause an afternoon crash from caffeine.
One of the best ways to ensure a caffeine crash is to drink a bunch of caffeine early. It blocks all those adenosine receptors. Then, by early or late afternoon, when that caffeine starts to wear off and gets dislodged from the receptors, previously stopped adenosine creates a greater level of sleepiness. Then you will need another cup of caffeine which will cause problems with the sleep quality later today.
What you want to do is to let your cortisol naturally come up in the morning and avoid drinking caffeine until about 90 minutes or two hours after waking. Delaying caffeine intake optimizes the relationship between adenosine and wakefulness and sleepiness in a positive way that provides a friendly, consistent arc of energy throughout the day and brings the energy down as you are headed toward sleep and falling asleep.
“My primary objective early in the day is to get into a mode of being focused yet alert so that I can get work done. I found that the best way for me to achieve that state is through fasting.”.
You don’t want to eat anything until about 11:00 AM or 12:00 noon. There are days when you’ll have a few brazil nuts or a spoonful or three of almond butter, but most days, you are not doing that, and you’re just not eating anything.
Fasting increases levels of adrenaline, also called “epinephrin”, in the brain and body. And when your levels of epinephrine and adrenaline are increased, you learn better, and you can focus better. You don’t want epinephrine, aka adrenaline, too high because that feels like stress and panic, and you get jittery, and you can’t focus. But in its optimal range, the adrenaline provides a heightened sense of focus and the ability to encode, meaning bring in, and retain information.
What breaks a fast and what doesn’t? The fact of the matter is that it’s going to be highly individual because it will depend on how sensitive your blood sugar is. And more accurately, it’s going to depend on things like your insulin sensitivity. So, for instance, if you’re somebody who gets up in the morning, hydrates, and goes out for a six-mile run, you could probably eat a jar of almond butter and still be what’s called fat-fasted. Your insulin levels will still be very low because even though it’s a large volume of calories comes, it is from a source that doesn’t increase blood sugar and insulin very much.
That’s all for today. Next time we will talk about Performance Protocols throughout the day — when and for how long to work, how to set up the workspace and more.
This episode is based on a podcast: “Huberman Lab: Maximizing Productivity, Physical & Mental Health with Daily Tools | Episode 28 on Apple Podcasts”. Please, listen to that if you want to get more details. Many thanks to Dr. Andrew Huberman for sharing his knowledge.