Is it difficult for you to achieve a good night’s sleep? Do you struggle to wake up and feel properly rested and ready for your day?
If you do, you’re not alone. Many people struggle to sleep comfortably and effectively, and most of them don’t understand why. Cell phones and televisions are just some of the reasons for this, and they are just the tip of the iceberg.
Understanding why your body reacts the way it does to external stimuli — and why it affects your sleep quality — is the key to taking control of your life. There are so many factors involved that contribute to your quality of sleep, and here to help us understand all these factors and effects is Dr. Andrew Huberman.
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 work on discovering 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 important 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. 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 so excited to share with you what Dr. Huberman had to say in our episode together — let’s dive right in!
If you’re a normal person in today’s society, chances are you bring your phone with you to bed. It’s a tough thing to avoid, especially when our phones and televisions are what keep us connected to our world and the events unfolding around us. While there is definitely truth in that these influence our ability to achieve a good night’s sleep, Dr. Huberman explains that proper sleep actually begins in the morning.
“Really an excellent night’s sleep begins in the morning. First thing in the morning — 10 to 30 minutes outside, depending on how bright it is. If you can do it safely, if you wake up before the sun rises, turn on bright lights, then go outside. Once the sun rises, if you have no access to sunlight, use a daytime simulator or similar like a ring light and get that light in your eyes.” – Andrew Huberman
Who knew that the key to proper rest is a solid morning routine that involves sunlight in the eyes? I don’t know about you guys, but a morning with the sun on my face gets no complaints from me!
Andrew goes on to explain the importance of understanding how your body reacts to caffeine. Caffeine is such a regular part of our lives, it’s easy to overlook it when you try to understand why you aren’t sleeping well.
Some people have no problem drinking a cup of coffee at four in the afternoon and go on to sleep soundly. Others, however, may struggle to get to sleep when they last had caffeine at 10 in the morning. All bodies are different and have varying reactions, so you must know where your body lies in its reaction to caffeine and plan accordingly.
Are you someone who enjoys napping or someone who hates to nap? It can be a polarizing topic, but new research may indicate there are important benefits to getting a midday nap in.
According to research being done right now at the University of South Carolina, there may even be some important benefits to napping with your ankles elevated above your chin. A recently-discovered macrosystem in the body called the glymphatic system involves clearing waste and debris from the pathways in the brain, and this new research seems to tell us that this system works best when your ankles are elevated.
“The glymphatic system is a kind of an equivalent system. It exists in the area of the brain that has what’s called glial cells — which are support cells— but also do many things actively. They’re not just doing support; the glymphatic system is like a washout of the brain’s debris. That system seems to function best when feet are slightly elevated above the brain. There’s some interesting data from the University of South Carolina coming out now that show that if you can get your ankles elevated a little bit higher than your chin… it increases the lymphatic clearance.” – Andrew Huberman
If you’re like me, you feel a spike of anxiety an hour or two before you go to bed. There is some research that shows this is a normal and healthy cycle, speculating it goes back to our ancestors ensuring their safety while they slept and were vulnerable to predators.
It makes sense that we want to have a plan for our day ahead and wake up ready for success, but many times people experience this anxiety spike and think, Oh gosh, I’m wide awake and I need to be asleep soon to get enough sleep! Is there a way to channel this anxiety into productivity or something beneficial? Andrew has an answer for us: yes.
One of the most challenging parts of getting your body to settle down for sleep is turning off your thoughts. It’s hard to get any rest at all if your mind is racing about work and a million other stressors in your life. Andrew is a big proponent of Yoga Nidra, which is a form of guided meditation that aims to turn your thoughts off and aid with relaxation.
“There are free scripts available on YouTube. They’re yoga Nidra scripts that last about 20 minutes and they involve some breathing and some meditation-type stuff. They teach you to turn your thoughts off, which is really wonderful.” – Andrew Huberman
Andrew also suggests doing cardio workouts in the evening as opposed to weight training. Ultimately, he says you should do what you’re most comfortable with, but there may be some benefits to getting your workout done in the morning and saving cardio for the evening. More important than workout times is what you’re putting into your body.
“…You then have to ask yourself what’s happening around that workout. So are you going into a brightly lit gym at 11 o’clock at night and blasting music, drinking three espressos, or an energy drink before you go? You’re gonna be awake — you’re gonna have a hard time going to sleep. It’s not just the workout — It’s the context around the workout… My preference is always to work out as early in the day as possible.” -Andrew Huberman
It takes a lot of energy for your body to digest food, and ensuring you take your last bite of food two hours before laying down for bed is recommended. Andrew adheres to his own rules when it comes to what and when he eats. He has found a system that works well for him and gives him optimal rest.
“I’m not a nutritionist or nutrition expert, but what I’ve found works for me personally is I tend to fast until about noon each day, and then my lunch is low carb. So I tend to eat some grass-fed meat, some veggies, maybe some starches if I trained and a piece of fruit. Then I have an afternoon snack, but in the evening my meals tend to be relatively low in meat and protein and higher in starches, which activates the tryptophan system and the serotonin system and makes it easier to fall asleep.” – Andrew Huberman
Exercise and proper diet are two of the biggest things to look at when assessing your sleep quality. Dr. Huberman does an excellent job outlining what a successful diet looks like. It’s not always easy to make adjustments like these to your lifestyle, but we’re not done yet!
It’s the question on everyone’s minds — does sex before bed give you better sleep, or worse?
Andrew is here to lay all of your suspicions to rest with a resounding answer: intercourse does in fact increase your quality of sleep. Orgasms in men and women are directly related to the sympathetic nervous system which is responsible for stress. In the post-coital period after sex, the parasympathetic nervous system comes back on and promotes a state of deep relaxation.
“Sexual activity involves an increase at first in the so-called parasympathetic arm of the autonomic nervous system — the relaxation system. Then it involves increases in the sympathetic arm of the autonomic nervous system and orgasm in men and women is actually purely driven by the sympathetic nervous system — the stress system… After sex, there’s a rebound in the parasympathetic nervous system, which is a deeply relaxing component of the nervous system.” – Andrew Huberman
So there it is, folks — an age-old question finally laid to rest! It’s so interesting to learn about how all these things we take for granted are affecting not only our health but our sleep quality as well.
Guys, this episode was packed full of so much information it was impossible for me to include it all in this post. A good night’s rest is one of the most important things you can get in your daily life.
There are so many different factors that contribute to your sleep quality, so making a few key adjustments can really alter the course of your life for the better. What are you waiting for? Check out the full episode here.
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 so we can help more people to tap into and unleash their greatness within.