Do you ever experience brain fog? Would you like to understand how to increase your focus and control your motivation?
I’m sure you can relate to how frustrating it feels when our brain isn’t firing on all cylinders. The good news is there are answers, and we can better understand how our lifestyle choices affect our productivity.
My guest today is Andrew Huberman, it’s his third time in the studio, and I think he’s rapidly becoming our resident neuroscientist! Andrew is a professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at Stanford and primarily studies brain states such as fear, courage, and anxiety. He also examines how we can better move into and out of them through practices like visual cues, breathwork, movement, and supplementation.
In today’s episode, we discuss why we experience brain fog and the best morning routines to get rid of it, the 90-minute focus hack that you need to try, how to manage your dopamine levels to stay motivated, how drugs and alcohol affect your brain and body, and so much more that I’m excited to share with you!
If you haven’t listened to Andrew’s previous interviews, you can click through the links to enjoy them as well. Each episode was jam-packed full of information that we split them into two separate episodes. They are: “Hack Your Brain For Unlimited Potential,“ “The Science of Success Mindset,” “Unlocking the Power of Your Mind,”and “The Science of Positive Thinking and How to Control your Mind.”
Andrew Huberman is a neuroscientist at Stanford University. He also runs the Huberman Lab, which studies brain states such as fear, courage, anxiety, and calm. They also discover how we can better move in and out of these states through visual cues, breathwork, movement, and supplementation.
In his career, Andrew has made many significant contributions to the fields of brain development, brain plasticity, neural regeneration, and repair. He’s received numerous awards and recognitions for his research and publications, including the McKnight Foundation Neuroscience Scholar Award, the Biomedical Scholar Award from the Pew Charitable Trusts, and the Cogan Award for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology.
In addition to being a tenured professor, Dr. Andrew is also a brilliant neuroscientist and teacher — he excellently explains complicated concepts so that everyday people can understand and helps us use neuroscience to improve our lives.
Andrew’s goal is to understand how the brain allows us to sense, evaluate, and respond to the world around us. He’s actively working on methods to re-wire and repair eye-to-brain connections for people who suffer from blinding diseases, as well as investigating emotions and how they drive human behavior.
I’m excited to hear more wisdom from Andrew — so let’s jump straight in!
Yesterday, I woke up with brain fog, which I hardly ever have. I went to my Spanish lessons, everything felt like it was hurting, and I struggled. I wasn’t in a very good space, and after 20 minutes, I called it a day. I’m curious to know — what causes brain fog?
“The most obvious [source of brain fog] would be a poor night’s sleep. Sleep [is] the most fundamental layer of mental and physical health, and [if] you don’t sleep well for one night, you’re probably okay. For two nights, you start to fall apart. Three, four nights — you’re a degraded version of yourself in every aspect.” – Andrew Huberman
Two days before this brain fog day, I was in Vegas for the Canelo fight. I stayed up late, it was daylight savings, and I was on an early flight back. To add to that, I had surgery to put three titanium rod implants where I have missing teeth plus a bone graft in my mouth. Suddenly my brain fog made perfect sense, but other factors contribute to brain fog even without poor sleep.
“One is your breathing patterns [with a big one being] sleep apnea. [People with sleep apnea are] not getting enough oxygen during sleep, or they are mouth breathing. There is excellent evidence that, as long as you’re not speaking, eating, or exercising hard enough to breathe through your mouth, it’s beneficial to be a nasal breather. If you are deliberately nasal breathing during the day, the tendency is you will nasal breathe at night — which leads to less sleep apnea, less mouth breathing during [sleep], and less brain fog.” – Andrew Huberman
Without enough oxygen, your body’s restorative processes cannot work effectively, which means even if you get six to eight hours of sleep, you wake up in the morning feeling groggy and out of it.
“There could be other reasons that you’re experiencing brain fog. People that drink alcohol the night before [or] maybe ate a large meal before sleep [can also experience brain fog]. [Anything that prevents you from] getting adequate oxygenation of the brain during sleep is key, [but if you suffer from brain fog often on days you don’t drink or eat a late meal] — learn to be a nasal breather.” – Andrew Huberman
If you want to do a deep dive, there’s a wonderful book about this called Jaws: The Story of a Hidden Epidemic. The book shares how deliberate nasal breathing during the day leads to better sleep at night.
As a start, focus on closing your mouth while you work, email, or text during the day as a way to improve your nasal breathing. It’s challenging, but on your jogs, treadmill, or any low-level cardio besides swimming, try to go as hard as you can while maintaining nasal breathing. It’s tough for the first few sessions, but you’ll discover a greater capacity to exercise by the second or third week.
The critical thing about brain fog is that you want to get oxygen into the system, ideally mainly through your nose and not through your mouth.
Andrew’s given us a wonderful place to start improving our oxygen intake and becoming a nasal-breather. Now let’s look at how we can improve our morning routine to have better focus throughout the day.
I’m curious to know what Andrew’s morning routine is, considering he knows exactly what sets the brain and mind up for optimal performance.
“I generally get up somewhere between 5:30 AM and 7:00 AM depending on when I went to sleep. I generally [go to sleep] between 10:30 PM and midnight. [After hydrating,] the fundamental layer of health is to set your circadian rhythm, [and] the simplest way is to go outside for 10 minutes and get bright light in your eyes. If you wake up before the sun rises, turn on as many bright lights in your house as possible, but when the sun comes out, get outside and see some sunlight [and try not to] wear sunglasses.” – Andrew Huberman
Once every 24 hours, our cortisol peaks, but you want that peak to happen early in the day because it sets up alertness for the remainder of the day. If our cortisol peak occurs too late, that can lead to depression, so you want your cortisol “stressed out” at the beginning of the day.
“What’s cool is, over time, you’ll start to notice the sunlight waking you up more and more. If you miss a day, it’s not the end of the world because it’s a slow integrating system, but don’t miss more than one day. If you live in a very cloudy [area], know that sunlight [and] the photons coming through the cloud cover are brighter than your brightest indoor lights.” – Andrew Huberman
Sunlight doesn’t only set your circadian rhythm, it also aligns every cell in your body’s 24-hour clock. Imagine if every alarm clock is set to different times, going off non-stop throughout the day? Viewing sunlight helps ensure all the alarms go off simultaneously and prevents you from feeling drained.
Even waiting two or three hours after waking up to get bright light in your eyes is setting yourself up for a complicated sleep-wake cycle — which can lead to insomnia.
Our lifestyle choices affect our sleep, which directly impacts whether we have brain fog. Andrew walks us through the impact some of these choices have on our brains.
Most people are aware of research showing the harmful effects of dopamine from phones and social media on our ability to focus and maintain motivation.
However, there’s also research regarding the effects of smoking, alcohol, and marijuana on dopamine levels. Andrew gives us a breakdown of each substance’s adverse effects on dopamine and, ultimately, our motivation and focus.
“I have a colleague who has a Nobel prize who chooses Nicorette. I asked him, ‘Why?’ And he said, ‘Well, for years [I] was a smoker, and it allowed [me] to focus’ and then he realized [he doesn’t want] lung cancer, so he quit [but] couldn’t focus. He started Nicorette throughout the day, [which] stimulates acetylcholine receptors and increases focus [without the smoking part].” – Andrew Huberman
Dopamine and nicotine increase are the perfect storm of chemicals to allow you to do focused work. The problem is, it’s potentially addictive and hazardous in some cases. There is a safer alternative called Alpha GPC.
“I occasionally take 300 milligrams of Alpha GPC [to] increase focus because it increases acetylcholine release. There is evidence that 600 and 900 milligrams per day can offset some mental decline associated with Alzheimer’s and aging. [Alpha GPC] is an over the counter thing, [so I recommend] people check with their doctor.” – Andrew Huberman
Andrew’s given us a great explanation of why we should avoid nicotine or why we should quit smoking. Next, Andrew shares alcohol and its effects on the mind and body.
“Alcohol’s main effect is to reduce the amount of activity in the forebrain, which is involved in planning and inhibiting. It’s also involved in your self-image [and] who you think you are in the world [and explains why people feel less inhibited] when people have a drink or two. People tend to feel more confident, [but if] they continue drinking, lose their self-image and forget who they are — they can even get blackout drunk. For a small [percentage of the population], maybe 8%, alcohol causes a huge dopamine increase, [and] these are the people that, from the first drink, discover they are an alcoholic or very prone to alcoholism.” – Andrew Huberman
Because alcohol works as a sedative for most people, it does the opposite of helping you focus, and the more you drink, the more alcohol acts like a tranquilizer shutting everything down.
“Some people use alcohol as a way to reduce that level of alertness slightly and get into kind of a groove where they can focus a little better than they would otherwise. Ideally, you would know how to do that without alcohol, but [many] people use alcohol for that reason. I’m going to make some enemies here, but if you say, ‘I need a drink,’ — that is a sign of somebody that can’t regulate their nervous system.” – Andrew Huberman
If you need a drink to relax, Andrew suggests it would be wise to try and develop some behavioral tools to cope better instead. Lastly, Andrew chats about marijuana.
First, we should divide marijuana or cannabis between CBD, the medicinal part of the plant, and THC, which is the main ingredient and gets you high. In recent years, the potency of THC, whether edibles or smoking products, has increased dramatically, which is what creates significant dopamine and serotonin increases and has a mellowing effect to help with anxiety. Many strains, too, range from types with a psychoactive effect for focus and alertness to others that make people sleepy.
“Not surprisingly, a lot of people will smoke cannabis for chronic pain. [Cannabis is] involved in learning, memory, and forgetting, [which means] stimulation of the cannabinoid system makes you more prone to forget things. When it comes to remembering, it’s fair to say that [pot smokers] would be better at remembering if they didn’t use cannabis.” – Andrew Huberman
Many people derive great benefit from marijuana provided it’s done legally, age appropriately, and with knowledge of all the risks. What’s most important is the context, and for example, we know it’s very problematic in the developing brain.
“Up until about age 25, the amount of neuroplasticity that you can get from any single event, chemical, behavioral, or otherwise, is very robust. If people are growing up using a lot of a particular drug, then the brain, those dopamine circuits, and those serotonin circuits are reshaping according to that chemical environment. It’s important to know that.” – Andrew Huberman
Knowledge is essential, but applied knowledge is where our most extraordinary power lies. As Andrew said, context is important, and now that we have a better understanding of how lifestyle choices impact our brain, it’s up to us to implement what we’ve learned.
Guys, this episode is filled with so much information that I just couldn’t fit it all into this post, which is why I recommend listening to the entire interview here to learn even more.
Andrew is such a wealth of information. It’s always such a great pleasure having him on the show. We’re going to do part two, where Andrew will talk about all things regarding sleep — you want to catch that! I highly recommend Andrew has an excellent YouTube channel called Huberman Lab and a great Instagram page where he does informative Instagram lives breaking down the science. I asked Andrew what his definition of greatness is:
“[Greatness is] constant deliberate focus on self-improvement.” – Andrew Huberman
I hope you enjoyed today’s episode and feel inspired to act on what you’ve learned — even if it’s just one thing on your journey towards greatness. And don’t forget to tag Andrew, @hubermanlab, and me, @lewishowes, on Instagram with a screenshot of the episode and your most empowering takeaways. And please go to Apple Podcasts and check The School of Greatness out on YouTube. Subscribe, give a five-star rating, and leave us a comment to help more people tap into and unleash their greatness within.
I want to remind you that you are loved, you are worthy, and you matter. Now it’s time to go out and do something great.
Start saving up to 80% on your prescriptions today. Go to www.goodrx.com/greatness. GoodRx is not insurance but can be used instead of insurance. In 2020, GoodRx users received an average savings of over 70% of retail prices.