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August 28, 2021

Optimize life with 10 neuroscience hacks

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Productivity
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Neuroscience

I've been listening to the Huberman Lab podcast, and it is the best podcast I've ever listened to because it fucking changed my life. It is hosted by a Neuroscience professor from Stanford University named Andrew Huberman, who runs Huberman Labs at Stanford School of Medicine to research and understand the brain. This podcast dives you into the world of neuroscience and gives you concrete ways to optimize your life and reach a peak across various dimensions of your life, including sleep, stress management, productivity, happiness, fitness, and more.

Andrew shares various protocols that are pretty interesting and easy to integrate into your daily routine. Here are a few that I have incorporated that have had an enormous impact on my overall health:

#1: Exercise early in the morning for focus

  • Exercise releases endorphins and epinephrine, which makes you alert.
  • This will increase your alertness in the morning, making it easy to focus on tasks.
  • If you're going to work out late, do it around 4-5pm when your body is at peak balance and strength.
  • Doing it late in the day might interfere with cortisol and epinephrine levels, which might disturb sleeping.

#2: Drink coffee 2 hours after waking up

  • When you drink coffee first thing in the morning, you interfere with the body's cortisol and adenosine levels.
  • By letting your body regulate these levels in the morning, you allow yourself to wake up quickly in the morning.
  • After 2 hours, you can use caffeine because, from a timing perspective, this is when you are generally the most alert in your day, so you're essentially augmenting your alertness levels.
  • Drinking coffee at this time will increase your alertness, which is different from focus.
  • See #9 to learn how to translate alertness into focus.

#3: Look at sunlight for 60-90 seconds every morning

  • We have a clock in our brain called the Circadian cycle.
  • If we want to wake up quickly in the morning, we have to train these clocks through light.
  • When your eye receptors notice light (retinal ganglion cells), it sends a signal to your suprachiasmatic nucleus to set the internal clock to begin working and secreting all the chemicals it needs.
  • This will make waking up at a consistent time easier, especially if you're flying through timezones and are jet-lagged.

#4: Focus and work in a 90-minute interval

  • There are ultradian cycles, similar to circadian cycles, but shorter and happen throughout the 24-hour day.
  • Ultradian cycles are 90 minutes long. Essentially, it's a window of time where you can reach high concentration and focus.
  • The first and last 5-10 minutes are warm-ups/warm downs, but the 60-70 minutes between is when you can be highly concentrated on a task.
  • You're agitated early on (in the first 5-10 minutes) because your body will secrete epinephrine and adrenaline, which increases alertness and agitation, so it's a healthy response.
  • So if you want to get something done, sit down for this amount of time. Give yourself time early for the early resistance. In 10 minutes, you'll be at the peak.

#5: Take NSDR (Non-Sleep Deep Rest) to retain information

  • NSDR is great for your brain to retain information. It is during this time your neural pathways get stronger.
  • After an intense ultradian cycle, you can decide to perform NSDR.
  • This can include napping, laying down, meditating, walking, and even running (whatever we find relaxing and meditating). My favorite is Yoga Nidra.
  • Doing NSDR right after learning something (playing the piano, swimming, reading a book) is the most helpful.
  • NSDRs can be 30-90 minutes long (max 1 ultradian cycle).

#6: Sleep consistently every night

  • Well, touche.
  • Sleeping consistently will make it easier to wake up every morning (and even earlier at times).
  • Once your circadian rhythm is set, you'll start to get tired at a particular time because your body will adapt to secreting melatonin at a consistent time.
  • Sleeping consistently = more consistent sleep. This is healthy for retaining information and staying alert/focus throughout the early part of the day.

#7: Fast in the morning for peak focus

  • When you eat carbs, your body releases serotonin which calms you down.
  • If you want to stay alert, then you need to avoid carbs, so you don't get these calming and relaxing effects.
  • You want to be alert, and being empty stomach — fasting — allows for that.
  • Pairing an empty stomach with coffee will heighten your alertness/focus even further.

#8: Avoid eating carbs during lunch (it leads to crash)

  • As mentioned, carbs = feeling calm = leading to an energy crash.
  • Why? Because it has a compound called tryptophan, which increases the production of serotonin.
  • To avoid this, remove carbs from your lunch. You can have some at night when you want to release serotonin for you to feel calm and relaxed.
  • But if you want to peak focus in the morning and in the afternoon, avoid carbs around this time.
  • Carbs get lousy rap; they're great for increasing serotonin, so eat carbs during dinner so you can get ready to sleep like a baby.

#9: Visual focus leads to actual focus

  • Visual focus can lead to real focus. If you focus on a small object at the center of a screen for 90 seconds, your brain will be tricked into being focused.
  • We have more nerve cells in the center focal point of our eyes (i.e., whatever is at the center gets our most attention).
  • So if you narrow your focus to a small point in the center (visual focus), this will trigger the necessary neuromodulators (like epinephrine) to be released, increasing actual focus.

#10: Use 4-7-8 breathing technique to reduce stress

  • When we inhale, our blood vessels dilate. And when we exhale, it constricts.
  • When we take deep breaths, it triggers the parasympathetic nervous system, which makes us calmer.
  • Contrarily, the sympathetic nervous system is related to "fight or flight."
  • When we exhale for longer than we inhale, we naturally slow the rhythm of our breath, therefore reducing the heartbeat, calming the body. Your brain associates a slow heartbeat with the state of being calm.
  • So if you're stressed, try the 4-7-8 technique. It will calm your brain, lower stress levels, blood pressure, and make you feel better.
  • This one has absolutely changed my life, 100%!

There are at least 20 more protocols that Andrew talks about in his podcasts, and they are dense. But these protocols above (especially the breathing technique) have helped me be in the best shape of my life so far, consume the best nutrition, be less stressed, experience better sleep, and much more. I can't recommend this podcast more to anyone.

I'll create Part 2 for the following 10-15 protocols that I integrate into my life.

Keshav Narula
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