Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., is a neuroscientist and professor in the department of neurobiology and psychiatry and behavioural sciences at Stanford School of Medicine. He has made numerous contributions to the fields of brain development, brain function and neural plasticity, which is the ability of our nervous system to rewire and learn new behaviours, skills, and cognitive functioning.
In a recent interview with GQ, Andrew spoke about his daily routine: his morning dose of sunlight, the meditation he uses to recharge, and why he prefers to eat to his carbs in the evening:
What time do you usually wake up in the morning?
Typically, around 6.30 a.m. It really depends on when I go to sleep. Now we’ve learned that having a consistent sleep time, plus-or-minus an hour, maximises growth hormone release. Having a fairly consistent bedtime is almost as important as having a fairly consistent sleep time. We also now know that if you want to know your ideal sleep time or bedtime, it’s going to be about 7 hours after your afternoon dip in energy. Everyone has either a subtle or dramatic trench in energy in the afternoon, depending on what they’re doing correctly or incorrectly. But everyone has one, and that reflects a temperature change. For me, the ideal time to go to sleep would be right about 10 p.m., get into bed at 9.30 and fall asleep by about 10.30.
When I wake up in the morning, if I want to be awake, I flip on bright artificial lights, understanding that the eyes, the retina, plays a critical role in waking up the brain because these neurons respond to light. They have a name: intrinsically photosensitive melanopsin ganglion cells – they wake up the brain and then the brain essentially wakes up the body. Then it also sets a timer on some of the hormones related to sleep.
So, I’ll flip on bright artificial lights, but if the sun is out or if it’s rising, I will go outside and I will intentionally not wear sunglasses. I try and get direct sunlight in my eyes and face toward the sun. You want to do this for about 5-10 minutes. People should not do this through a window or a windshield, thinking it will work. It simply won’t because it filters out too many of the relevant wavelengths.
During your outside time, what is your personal practice? Are you reading? Are you thinking about what’s ahead in your day? Are you just trying to clear your mind?
It really depends on how I wake up – meaning my mental state when I wake up. I am not somebody who lives in the land of constant positivity, but I have my highs and lows.
Here’s something that’s been equally beneficial for me as a practice: non-sleep deep rest, NSDR. It is similar to yoga nidra. There are scripts for this, for example on Youtube. Non-sleep deep rest has now a growing amount of research data to support the fact that it can replace sleep that you’ve lost, can restore energy, and improve mood. It is not a nap, it is not meditation, it is not yoga nidra exactly. It involves deep relaxation and it’s a conscious sleep-like state.
Here's one thing that I do: If I wake up and I feel like I did not get enough rest, or I feel kind of wired but tired, a little bit agitated but exhausted, I will do a 10-minute NSDR before I get out of bed. I will put on that YouTube. I'll put on headphones or just put (my phone) next to my head, and I'll do that for 10-30 minutes. And I emerge from that feeling much more refreshed, with much more positivity. I will sometimes also do it in the afternoon.
What’s going on in your head when you’re getting your morning sunlight?
I will focus on some external object about a foot or two away, and I'll try and anchor my attention to that location. And then I'll look at some more distant location, ideally way off in the distance. And then I will also do it to the horizon if I can see the horizon, the most distant location I can see. And then I imagine myself doing this practice and I think about how I'm existing in the entire globe, which is existing in the universe, right?
There is nothing mystical about this. All I'm doing is deliberately stepping my vision, and therefore my cognition, to different places in physical space. And in doing that, we know that we are allowing the brain to shift to different time domains.
This is one of the most powerful practices for allowing—there's some data to support this now—people to anchor their focus on a given task at some point during the day and task switch. Because nowadays, indeed, many people suffer from ADHD-like symptoms or extensional drift and being yanked all over the place. But what's useful is to be able to focus your attention as long as you need, on one given task.
When do you drink your caffeine?
I'm a big proponent of delaying caffeine intake 90 to 120 minutes after waking because when you wake up, you have an increase in body temperature that's healthy, an increase in a corticosteroid called cortisol, which is a healthy increase. You want that peak in cortisol to happen early in the day. Late-shifted peaks in cortisol are correlated with depression, anxiety, and a bunch of other things. Everyone hears cortisol and thinks it's bad, but you want a big peak in cortisol early in the day. The longer you've been awake, the more a molecule called adenosine builds up in your system. It makes you sleepy. Typically, after a night's sleep, that adenosine is low because you've been asleep, but it's often not zero. And caffeine blocks the adenosine receptor and therefore, makes you feel more alert because that adenosine can't exert its sleepy effects.
If you drink caffeine and you block the adenosine receptor, you disrupt these processes in a way such that by about noon or 1 p.m., you are going to start feeling really sleepy. You're going to get an afternoon crash, sometimes 2, sometimes 3 p.m. It depends on the person and when they wake up, how much caffeine they drink. Delaying morning caffeine for 90-120 minutes after waking allows me and will allow people to avoid that afternoon crash. Or if they do have an afternoon dip in energy, which is totally normal, it won't be as robust as it normally would.
Do you do cold recovery?
I know there's been a lot of interest in deliberate cold exposure and ice baths and cold showers. It's also very clear that doing those ice baths and cold showers after a resistance training workout can prevent the positive adaptations of that workout, strength, and hypertrophy, maybe even endurance.
I've taken to getting into the cold plunge for about 1-3 minutes some time before workout, usually after getting sunlight, but sometime early in the morning. Or taking a cold shower early in the morning. And by the way, I definitely take a hot shower at the end.
What is all of this doing? Big surges in dopamine that are long-lasting that you can induce with deliberate cold exposure are huge elevators for mood and alertness and wellbeing throughout the day. And again, you want all this alertness stuff and focus packed toward the early point in the day. state.
What does your morning workout look like these days?
If I'm going to work out, drink my caffeine and do a hard weight workout for an hour. I do 10 minutes of warmup and 50 to 60 minutes of hard weight training three times in a week, but no more.
I want to leave with energy. I don't want to over-train. I don't recover well if I'm training too long. Maybe 75 minutes if other people are on the equipment, that kind of thing, but get that done. Obviously shower after that and head into the day. On a day where I'm not working out, it's going to be some cardiovascular training or movement.
When do you eat breakfast or lunch?
My first meal typically arrives somewhere around 11 a.m. or noon, and I've been doing that for a long time. It's simply that in the morning, I want to move, I want to focus, occasionally I'll eat breakfast.
What’s a typical lunch look like for you?
Almost always it's going to be some quality protein. So it would be, I don't know, three or four scrambled eggs or a piece of grass-fed meat or a piece of grass-fed chicken, or some fish, because I do want protein. If I couldn't get any of those sources, I would do quality whey protein. I really like the unflavored whey from Momentous. And I'll have some vegetable, usually salads. I like salads with olive oil and lemon juice and vinegar, very basic. Definitely on the days where I'm not resistance training in the morning, that's a low-carb meal, not because I'm ketogenic, but because carbohydrates tend to make people sleepy, especially starches. So I might have an orange with that meal or something, but I'm not eating a lot of starches because that tends to make me sleepy.
There are 2 or 3 hours after that workout typically where I'm focused on work. People say get the hardest task of the day done at that time, but I do something slightly different. I try to do something that's very linear early in the day. I've got a lot of dopamine in my system, adrenaline, and cortisol if I'm doing all the things. I tend to focus on things where there is a correct answer. This is not creative work.
What does that linear work look like?
I'm organizing the structure of a podcast, I'm researching data. I'm looking at things where there's a right and wrong answer. So that morning work block ends up being about two hours ideally, but it's about 90 minutes of really focused work. And during that time, my phone is off, my email, as much as possible, is off. And I'm really forcing myself to learn.
Typically, after lunch, rather than jump right back into work I will do a 10-30 minute NSDR if I have not done it that morning. I emerge feeling very refreshed and redirected towards doing another two very focused bouts of work in the afternoon.
Do you have a preferred form of cardio that you’re doing right now?
I want to get three weight resistance training workouts in per week. I happen to do my leg workout on Monday, take a day or two off. (By the way, the off days usually involve some sauna, with cold alternating. I do that one day a week. I do 20 minutes of sauna, five minutes cold, 20 minutes of sauna, five minutes cold, 20 minutes of sauna, five minutes cold. Back and forth.)
The goal on Sunday is spend as much time outside as possible and move as much as possible. So that can be a really long walk or hike. I'll sometimes throw on a weight vest or I'll throw on a weighted backpack if I'm walking with family members who walk a little bit more slowly because I want to be social. I have a social life too, fortunately, but you can still get a good long walk in: 90 minutes to three hours.
What about during the week?
Then typically on Wednesdays, sometimes I move this around by a day, I will do a sort of more interval type workout. So warm up a bit and then run a mile. Cool down a little bit, maybe do a couple of 800 meters, something like that. Or go out for a 20-30 minute faster clip run. Just try to nasal breathe most of the time. I'm a big believer in nasal breathing, unless you need to breathe hard through the mouth, but nasal breathing because of what it does for the airways and for your immunity. And also, it really can improve a number of things, the aesthetic structure of the face. It can prevent droopy eyes and things of that sort.
I would also say that doing some jumping and landing, some explosive work is critical for longevity. If you look at people who are very fit and very active in their 80s and 90s, their balance is great and they're still jumping. But we know that one of the first things we stop doing after childhood is jumping.
What does your afternoon look like?
I'm doing work of more of a creative type. I'm brainstorming things, I am reading, and I take some walks, I try and I take notes. I'm thinking about the structure of things, how things could mesh. I'm allowing a little bit more of a free association in order to build podcast ideas or ideas for experiments in the lab, things of that sort. Again, all of those, everything I mentioned is because I live in the real world. This is all punctuated by requests from people, calls, a series of things. I do impose structure and I don't live a monk-like existence. But I think one of the biggest challenges people have nowadays is to feel comfortable being inaccessible. And I work hard to defeat the anxiety of being inaccessible for those moments, those hours, for basically two hours of the day.
Do you snack?
Sometimes in the afternoon I'll have a snack. I might have some macadamia nuts or something like that. Or some whey protein. But typically, I start to get hungry for dinner around 6 p.m. and my dinner looks very different from my lunch.
What does dinner look like?
Dinner is typically more starch-heavy, but it's not heavy per se. Meaning I'm not gorging myself with pasta and rice and things of that sort, but I'm going to eat some rice or pasta. Or I do emphasize eating most of my foods from non-processed or minimally processed sources. So, I'm not eating many packaged foods. But I do eat foods that require cooking, like pasta, and then I will have some protein. It's typically a smaller amount of fish. I don't tend to eat much meat at night, I find I don't sleep as well.
I definitely like vegetables, so I eat salads. I love salads and cooked vegetables, cruciferous vegetables and some fish or chicken. Occasionally some beef or lamb or something of that sort. But the idea there is that I'm transitioning towards sleep and those carbohydrates really help me sleep. Now I know there is some data showing that carbohydrates should be eaten early in the day, not late in the day. I think that's true if people are not doing resistance training consistently. And for me, I just sleep better. I feel more alert during the day if I do a low carbohydrate lunch and I sleep far better if I do a more carbohydrate enriched dinner.
What do you do after dinner?
Typically do a little bit of work or just hang out with folks at home. And then I have done something recently that has really helped. Super low-cost: I took a page out of the playbook from my good friend Rick Rubin, who for years in his home, after the sun goes down, he switches over to red lights. Now I'm not talking about a red-light unit. He purchased just red party lights for the evening. There are data that show that it greatly reduces night-time cortisol, even for shift workers. So new parents, shift workers, if you need to be awake at night, try and be under red light if you can. And not those bright artificial lights, because keep in mind those bright artificial lights, or even if you dim them down, if they're very blue, very white, even if you wear blue blockers. Between the hours of 10 p.m. and 4 a.m, they're really going to disrupt your hormones, reduce melatonin, disrupt testosterone, oestrogen, dopamine, that really can cause all sorts of negative effects.
So, in the evening, I'm switching to red lights and it's cool. It gives the house a nice tone and it makes it much easier to fall asleep, much easier to fall asleep.