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Andrew Huberman (00:00):
Welcome to the Huberman Lab Podcast, where we discuss science and science-based tools for everyday life.
I’m Andrew Huberman, and I’m a professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology at Stanford School of Medicine. Recently, the Huberman Lab hosted a live event at the Beacon Theater in New York City. The event was entitled The Brain-Body Contract, and it consisted of a lecture, followed by a question and answer session with the audience. We wanted to make the recorded version of that question and answer session available to everybody, regardless of who could attend. So what follows is the question and answer period from The Brain-Body Contract live Huberman Lab event. Want to be sure to thank the sponsors from that event. They were 8Sleep, which makes smart mattress covers with heating and cooling capacity. I started sleeping on an 8Sleep mattress cover about eight months ago, and it has completely transformed my sleep. I sleep so much deeper. I wake up far less during the middle of the night, if at all, and I wake up feeling far better than I ever have, even after the same amount of sleep. In fact, I love my 8Sleep so much that when I travel, now I’m quite bothered that Airbnbs and hotels don’t have 8Sleep mattress covers on them, and I’ve even shipped my 8Sleep mattress cover out to meet me in the location that I arrived to so that I get the best possible sleep. If you want to try 8Sleep, you can go to 8sleep.com slash Huberman to save up to $400 off their SleepFit holiday bundle, which includes their new Pod 3 cover. 8Sleep currently ships in the USA, Canada, United Kingdom, select countries in the EU, and Australia. Again, that’s 8sleep.com slash Huberman. I’d like to also thank our supplement partner, Momentus.
They make the very highest quality supplements. They ship internationally, and they’ve formulated supplements as single ingredient formulations that match what is discussed on the Huberman Lab podcast. If you’re interested in any of those supplements, please go to livemomentus.com slash Huberman. And now without further ado, the question and answer session from the live event held at the Beacon Theater in New York City. And as always, thank you for your interest in science. You’ve said before that stress can be good for us, but how do we know when it’s too much? That’s a good question.
And I should preface that by saying that there’s some incredible work that was done by a colleague of mine, Dr. Alia Crum, Allie is how she goes by, Dr. Allie Crum, who is a, she was a Division I athlete. She has a, she’s a tenured professor of psychology at Stanford.
She’s a licensed clinical psychologist. Like every once in a while, I look around at my colleagues, I’m like, oh my goodness, you know, who are these people? Very humbling place to be. But she’s made some important discoveries, and I wanna just highlight one, which is this notion of mindset. And no, these are not placebo effects, but let me just tell you, when you think about stress, how you think about stress is really important. First of all, you can’t lie to yourself, but if, for instance, you watch a one or three minute video as she’s given subjects in her lab about stress, and it tells you all the terrible things that stress does to your immune system and sleep, then you experience those things, increases in blood pressure, et cetera. However, if you watch a one to three minute video that’s also true about the fact that stress can sharpen your decision-making for certain kinds of things, actually can accentuate your immune system. I wish someone would help me get this narrative right out there. Stress does not deplete your immune system unless it goes on a long, long time. We’ll talk about what long means in a moment. Why would it? Think about it. If you had to fast and move with family or weather a storm of any kind, emotional or physical, and you got sick, that wouldn’t make any sense. It’s usually after you’re stressed. If you’ve ever been go, go, go, or taking care of a loved one, or studying, or working hard, and then you finally go on vacation, you rest, you arrive and you get sick, it’s because your immune system shut down, it stopped. Your immune system is mobilized by that alertness side of your autonomic nervous system, but you do need sleep.
You do need sleep, and it’s actually, we think, the slowing of circulation, and this is why it’s probably not a good idea to exercise if you’re already sick, and if you’re veering towards sick, probably limit the intensity of any kind of interaction as best you can and just still yourself.
Well, Ali’s lab has clearly shown us over and over again that what we know, our knowledge base, really does shape the physiology of those outcomes. Now you know that stress is both bad and good, so which one is it? Does it average to nothing? No. It turns out that you can bias this in one direction or the other, depending on which information you’re listening to more often. I think this is really important. I still am trying to get my head and my mind around what’s happened over the last few years and where it’s placed us. Like, where did it land us? Are we more resilient now, or are we just really beat up? I don’t know. I really don’t know, but I think how we interpret the last few years is gonna make a big difference in terms of how it impacts us.
How do we know if we are… Thanks, yeah. What we’re missing out there, I think, is a narrative from somebody that people listen to, and I’m not saying that person should be me. In fact, it shouldn’t be me, but somebody that can help us frame what’s just happened to us, much like a good… I think that the world needs a good therapist, basically. Needs a very good therapist.
I would call short-term stress, which is very beneficial for us, is the kind of stress that happens on the order of a day, two, or three days. Not a problem, even if you feel torn apart, provided you can get rest afterwards. Long-term stress is the kind of stress that really starts to impede your sleep-wake cycle, make your dreams more stressful and more like nightmares, and they’re not going away. And I can promise you that for those of you that have challenges with sort of a accumulation of stress from the past that’s now compounded by what’s happening now, et cetera, that the solution does seem to be to get yourself into a supported environment of some kind that will allow you to go through a full catharsis. Again, it doesn’t have to require psychedelics. That can take you through the full ride of autonomic intensity catharsis of some sort, and then relaxation. That does seem to be what snaps people out of what we would call longer-term stress and historical stress.
There’s even the question of whether or not focusing directly on the trauma and the story is so critical. I think it is. Obviously, that’s something that should be done with a clinician. But stress that impedes your sleep for three nights or more that shifts the pattern of dreams to more anxious dreams, that is more long-term stress. And for that, you need to take it seriously. And it’s the kind of thing where if you don’t take it seriously, it can start degrading things like your immune system, et cetera. And I would say that under those conditions, use sleep as a good marker. In fact, I’m sure there’s some clinicians in the room.
I mean, one of the questions that is used as a diagnostic for whether or not people are depressed or anxiously depressed is whether or not they’re sleeping well or not. Right, again, language is not very good at parsing what’s going on inside. We have to look to behaviors and regularity of sleep, wake cycles, et cetera. So hopefully that was at least a partial answer. I tried to be accurate, but if I were exhaustive, I might actually cure insomnia someday with these podcasts, if nothing else.
How has hypnosis been impacting my life? I’m in hypnosis now. No, I actually spent most of the afternoon in hypnosis. Before I do these, I spend a good hour in hypnosis. Again, self-directed hypnosis. Gosh, it’s so unfortunate. I keep talking to David Spiegel about this. Again, his dad was one of the originators of hypnosis as a valid psychiatric treatment. There’s even the idea that things like EMDR, the scanning of eyes back and forth while reporting a narrative, may actually be capturing some of the elements of hypnosis. Again, and this is why, at least for me, I appreciate the opportunity to come together tonight to talk about principles. I would hope that after tonight, you could look at any practice, anything, any compound, any breathing exercise, and just be able to frame up which continuum, where on the continuum, what’s it really designed to do, move you up towards alertness or down towards calm. And in fact, because I can’t help myself, I’ll just tell you, for all the breathing stuff, it can be made very simple. If your exhales are longer and more vigorous than your inhales, you’re gonna get calmed down. If your inhales are longer and more vigorous than your exhales, you’re going to become more alert. If you hold your breath, just eventually just start breathing again.
The physiology maps perfectly to that. That maps perfectly to the physiology. And if you, for instance, you do box breathing, inhale, hold, exhale, hold, and this kind of thing, well, you’re gonna stay right where you’re at. You’re gonna be on an even plane, more or less. Okay, so that sort of hopefully captures all of breath work in one sentence. Now I’ll answer the question you were asking me. Hypnosis, it’s impacted my life in a couple of ways. One way is more from a practical, scientific way, which is that my laboratory works on vision and we work on stress. And in some ways, those might seem divorced, although now with the cuttlefish and the fact that your eyes narrow their field of view when you’re stressed, et cetera, it should become obvious why that is. But hypnosis also takes advantage of this really weird kind of cool feature, which is, and it’s always weird when you do a group exercise, but I can’t really see you all that well. I certainly can’t see your eyes well enough to know this. But David Spiegel, there’s actually something in the, this is a valid thing called the Spiegel eye roll test, and it’s not the teenage eye roll, that when you look up while not moving your head, when you look up, you actually are engaging circuits in your brain stem that are involved in generating alertness. And when you look down and your eyes close, the opposite is true. You’re engaging circuits in the brain that are taking you into a calmer state. Now, wouldn’t it be wonderful if all you had to do was look down and you’d be calm and look up and you’d be alert? That doesn’t quite work that way. But to induce hypnosis, what they do is they have people look up, and then while looking up, close their eyes, which is actually kind of hard to do. Some people can’t do it. Their eyes roll forward, hence the Spiegel eye roll test. Some people, their eyes get, you see the whites of their eyes and it looks really spooky, and they’re looking up while their eyes close. Those people are very prone to hypnosis. Why? Well, hypnosis is a state of deep relaxation with alertness and focus. It’s a contextual narrowing, excuse me. So it’s like being in early stage sleep, and that’s why stage hypnosis works with people telling people to do certain things. It’s not that they don’t care or they’re under the control of the hypnotist. It’s that they forget what’s around them. Why? Because their mind is focused internally and on the dialogue with the hypnotist and is not paying attention to context. So it’s a narrowing of context. But hypnosis for me has been very useful because A, it validated the relationship between vision and states of mind. It also checks off this box again, which is that to access neuroplasticity, what do you need?
You need focus plus you need a state of deep relaxation. Usually first focus, then sleep or non-sleep, deep rest. But Spiegel and his daddy figured out, because they’re way smarter than I am, that you can get people into that perfect state of neuroplasticity by combining them both in real time through this atypical thing we call hypnosis. So I do a daily or maybe every other day hypnosis script that’s about, it’s self-directed hypnosis script of about five to 15 minutes. Usually trying to get myself to be less pissed off about something that I’m really pissed off about, frankly. I imagine the stuff I’m really pissed off about in the screen on the left side. I think about all the things that make me feel good and then I keep thinking about how angry I am. This is really how it goes. And then over time I’ve noticed, well, you’re coupling that bodily state of calm to the anger thing. This is all very hard to do in talk therapy. No disrespect to talk therapy, there’s a tremendous advantage to talk therapy that I myself have benefited from it. Although according to certain people in my life, not enough. But hypnosis works because it’s capturing neuroplasticity processes.
Thank you for that question. What are the most effective protocols for boosting the microbiome? Oh, well here I’m very fortunate because my upstairs neighbor at Stanford is the great Justin Sonnenberg and he and his wife Erica run this amazing lab defining all the principles of the gut microbiome. And they have a really cool idea. I don’t know if he’s serious about this, but I can’t help but chuckle when I think that this might actually be true. We all know, this is definitely true, that we all carry around trillions of little micro bacteria, not just in our gut, that goes from one end of our throat to the other, any mucosal lining, eyes, genitalia, nose, we have microbiomes in our nose, et cetera.
This is why we’re heading into the winter months, being a nasal breather. That sounds like crazy new agey stuff, be a nasal breather. There’s actually a book written by Paul Ehrlich and Sandra Kahn at Stanford with a forward by Jared Diamond and Robert Sapolsky, the book Jaws. So these are some heavy hitters. And there’s a very good evidence that people who mouth breathe are making themselves more prone to illness when nasal breathing because of the microbiome, it’s just a better filter for germs. So this winter and always really try and be a nasal breather all the time. One of the best ways to do that if you’re not into the mouth taping thing, which people do, is to try and do some of your exercise with just nasal breathing. It’ll take a little while to get used to, but I’m not good at the nasal breathing thing because I’m always talking.
The microbiome is all over us and in us, it’s on our skin. We’re actually exchanging it when we meet and we shake hands. Do you know what happens usually in the first 10, 15 seconds? Data from Noam Sobel’s lab at the Weissman has shown that we wipe our eyes. We wipe other people’s molecules on us. We’re really good at that. Just watch these interaction. Now everyone’s gonna be doing the germ-free handshake. They’re gonna be fist bump. But there is this idea that maybe we are the house cats. That maybe we are the house cats, right?
Maybe we’re not just transporting all these microbiota because it’s good for us. What if we’re just the vehicles and they’re running the planet? And they’re like, oh, we’re running out of some stuff. Like we should figure out somebody to take us to Mars and then we’ll take over Mars. I mean, maybe it’s all them. And Justin was the one that told me that. I was like, that’s kind of eerie if you think about it. But there might be these other intelligences that are hijacking us. And that’s kind of scary because we like to think that we’re in charge. And what’s good for your microbiome or what’s good for them, that is.
Well, prebiotic fiber seems to be very important but the studies of fiber, at least as it relates to the microbiome, are somewhat controversial. There was a study done on humans at Stanford by Chris Gardner and Justin Sonnenberg that showed that people who eat one to four, they sort of, you have to ramp up, servings of low sugar fermented foods. This would be your kimchi, your natto, your sauerkrauts, your kefirs, your kombuchas, et cetera, per day develop a very robust microbiome.
And fiber did not do that. In fact, fiber increased the so-called inflammatome, which is the markers for inflammation. But that doesn’t mean that fiber is bad. Fiber actually is, getting enough fiber is correlated with a number of other things that are great, like reduced cardiovascular disease, for instance, cancers of the colon, for instance. So fiber and gut microbiota, prebiotics, probiotics, probably only necessary if you have a dysbiosis, if you’ve been taking antibiotics or if for some reason you’re depleted of the microbiome. One of the great ways to deplete your microbiome is to just eat highly processed foods, but hopefully most people aren’t doing that. So prebiotic fiber and these low sugar fermented foods. And then someone always says beer, right? Someone always, yes, yes, beer will support your microbiome, but it might do other things too. So in general, low alcohol, low sugar fermented foods.
Reduce the number of inflammatome markers. That’s very, very clear from the Sonnenberg data. And then there are other ways, of course, the microbiome actually interacts with temperature. So the cold exposure thing is actually good for your microbiome, but, and I wanna really emphasize this, if you hear about studies that such and such improve, such and such, keep in mind that anything that improves your sleep, your microbiome, or your social interactions will improve basically everything else.
And those are what we call modulating, excuse me, effects, not mediating effects. This is really important. And we teach first year graduate students and medical students about this. Like for instance, if there were a fire alarm pulled right now, God forbid, it would modulate all of your attention. But would you say that fire alarms mediate attention? No, it’s not directly in the line of mechanism, but it can adjust an existing mechanism. So great sleep is great for everything, but it doesn’t control it directly.
And so things like getting great sleep, keeping your microbiome healthy, getting enough sunlight, et cetera, they provide a kind of buoyancy to all the organs and systems of your body, but they aren’t necessarily the thing that cures ADHD. But of course, if you have ADHD or issues with focus, getting enough sleep will help. Is nutrition the way to cure your ADHD? No, but if you improve your gut microbiome, it’s very likely that your neurotransmitter systems will improve, limiting sugar will help, et cetera, et cetera.
So there’s reason to think that great sleep, solid nutrition, microbiome, social interactions, exercise, those are kind of the big five. There are others too, of course. With those, you set a good buoyancy to all the other systems and then we get into the things of how to directly increase focus or modulate dopamine and so on and so forth. Oh.
Well, I realize some people are afraid of dogs. We actually have a dog stimulus in our fear lab. We get people that are terrified of dogs. We hired this dog trainer guy who has these pit bulls that will attack you while you’re in VR. By the end, people are a little more comfortable with dogs in general. For you and me, if you’re not afraid of dogs, that’s not terribly terrifying. But if you are, even the thought of that can be pretty terrifying. A couple of things people have thought about, the eye contact thing, they make eye contact. We’re big on eye contact, humans too. Eye contact is meaningful in terms of oxytocin release. That’s all real. Those data are, the more and more data that come out from better studies, eye contact is a big deal. I think it’s also that just the dogs are always game to show up exactly where you wanna meet them and they always show up in their most loving possible state for them. It’s a pretty simple equation, if you get it right. They need proper care, but I mean, Costello was unique because the bulldog also, you don’t wanna get me going on dog breeds, but the bulldog also looks disappointed all the time.
And then you do something it likes and then it looks delighted and pretty soon you’re working for their approval. And we were like the odd couple, me and him. And I realized he’s got me trained really, really well to do my best to please him and delight him, which delighted me. And there I was on the hook. So that’s one reason. I think there’s also another reason which is super nerdy, which is this C-tactile fiber thing, which is you have these little nerve endings in your skin. And we know, of course, that oxytocin is released from parent and child.
We know this from neuroimaging, et cetera. We know oxytocin is released from romantic interact, non-sexual romantic touch. One of the things that is very powerful for the release of oxytocin, very powerful, is non-sexual grooming touch among members of a species or even across species. Those pictures of monkeys picking around in each other or people who insist on popping things on one another or people who go to the hairdresser or the barber and they touch, it doesn’t even have to be massage, massive oxytocin release. Those data don’t get as much play as all the data on oxytocin and love. It’s called the love hormone, but it’s basically a neurochemical signaling system for this interaction feels good and is very much of the present. And I think that’s an important distinction to make more broadly is that dopamine is really about the pursuit of all things beyond the confines of our skin. I’m gonna get that thing, I want that, because it’s all about anticipation. And when you have some distance between yourself and the thing that you think will deliver whatever it is you want, usually pleasure in some form or another or excitement, whatever your pleasure is or combined, then you actually have to mobilize. And dopamine is the precursor to adrenaline. A lot of people don’t know that. Adrenaline is made from dopamine, it gets you into motion. Then you have the reward systems that are more about what you have from your skin surface inward. So this is gentle touch, holding hands, and indeed stroking your dog.
Probably does that for you, it activates these C fibers as they’re called in your skin, which feed right into these serotonin and oxytocin systems of the brain. Sounds a little pop psychology-ish, but it’s a real thing. And it exists in essentially all mammalian species. So I think a lot of us just like dogs because they’ll let us just pet them all day. You know, some people like to be touched a little bit more or less, even when they trust, this is all consensual, age-appropriate, context-appropriate, in this case, species-appropriate. Those are the conditions, very important.
When I was a kid, I had to, I don’t know why, my sister’s in the audience, I don’t know why she decided to do this in the first place, but I loved having my face kind of like pet like that. I still like it, but don’t try it because she’s the only one, she can’t do it anymore even. So we all have these things that feel good, and I think it feels good because it releases these chemicals. And these are ancient systems, ancient, ancient systems that we all have, and I think dogs let us do that.
And cats toy with us with this one because there are those cats that let you pet them, but most of the time they’re doing it to you and then they withdraw. And I don’t know many dogs that do that. So I think people, I’m gonna answer the question finally, I think dogs, we love them so much because they let us pet them as much as we want. And cats play this very diabolical game that’s a lot more like human relationships.
How can night owls best function in a society made for mourning birds? Can you change your chronotype? Or do us night owls just have to suffer? Okay, well, as a former night owl, I used to work long hours in the lab. I still work long hours, but less in the lab. Just so happens that’s the way the career goes. I put tinfoil on the windows, I would lock the doors, I’d blast the music, and I would stay there over the holidays until I had to go home just for the holiday events.
And my clock would drift. So I became a night owl, and then my clock would flip and everyone was gone. Your mind gets really tweaked when you’re not interacting with anybody. By the way, seeing faces in the morning and seeing faces at some point during the day, once you’re ready to face the day, very important for mental health. This is something I wish more people knew about. It also, and here I’m not trying to evoke any kind of sentimentality, but when you think about people who just are clearly not doing well, whether or not they have shelter or not, how often do we actually make direct eye contact nowadays? It’s not very often. So eye contact is important, but I’ve also shifted to being a morning person. And so here’s the thing. If you are a true night owl, that means that your circadian clock, meaning the genes that control the area of your brain in your hypothalamus that controls wake sleep cycles, is fundamentally different. Very unlikely you’ll become a morning person without being a kind of angry morning person. So you can use that argument and you can cite me. However, as we get older, it is true that the amount of slow-wave sleep-to-REM sleep tends to change, and we can do better on shorter bouts of sleep, mostly because we’re getting less rapid eye movement sleep. And even if we try, we can’t. Those people would probably be better off sticking to a limited amount of sleep at night and then getting a short nap. The rule would not be to get a short nap, if you want to, don’t if you don’t want, but not if it interferes with your nighttime sleep. And if you can’t nap, do some sort of non-sleep deep rest or NSDR, as I refer to it, non-sleep deep rest. So you can probably shift your clock by anywhere from two to eight hours. And that’s true for jet lag as well. Light is going to be the best way, but if you really wanna shift, you’re gonna have to stack the big three or four. Light, so get light when you wanna be awake. And then you can get a little bit of sleep when you wanna be awake. Temperature, you have to increase your body temperature to wake up. You have to decrease body temperature to go to sleep. Keep in mind, if you get into an ice bath or cold shower, you get very, very cold. But then what happens, it’s like putting an ice pack on the thermostat.
Your body temperature goes up. Remember thermogenesis, that’s the warming of the body in response to cold. Of course, if you stay in a long time, you’ll get crispy cold, you’ll turn into a popsicle. The idea is that if you take a cold shower and you get some bright light and you get some exercise and you drink some caffeine, you can train your system to expect that at a certain time of day. And you’ll wanna go to sleep a little bit earlier or much earlier and you’ll wanna wake up when you stack those things.
But that also means not taking caffeine and cold showers and doing exercise late at night. So it’s gonna take some work. But those are the big four. It’s gonna be light is the most powerful way to shift. More light awake, less light asleep. Temperature increase awake, temperature decrease asleep. Food is the other one, eating, you can force yourself to eat breakfast even if you’re not a breakfast eater. This works when you travel too, just get onto the local meal schedule because you have a clock system in your gut, believe it or not. You wanna synchronize that with your brain. And then activity, getting some sort of exercise. But it takes a little bit of work, but you can do it. You can definitely do it.
If you’re nocturnal, that’s weird, unless it’s because of your work, in which case there are tools for shift work that we’ve put out there on the podcast. Your podcast has been a wild success. How do you see it growing over the next few years? Honestly, I try and live in the tunnel of lack of understanding and awareness about what’s happening with all this. I really do. Lex suggested we do the podcast. That’s a true story of doing it. I still really do feel very much like I did when I was a little kid. I’m just gonna keep trying to learn and share. I’d love for people to share the tools. I don’t want credit for them. If people credit us, great. But if you think about it, most of what we talk about are not things that you buy. These are tools that, again, work the first time. Every time, I always say behavioral tools first, then nutrition, supplementation. And then for some people, prescription drugs or some of these more experimental drugs make sense. For some people, it doesn’t. For instance, I don’t think kids should be doing psychedelics. I mean, childhood is enough of a psychedelic experience in and of itself.
But I had an amazing clinician. He’s actually a triple board certified psychiatrist, neurologist at Stanford, Nolan Williams, on the podcast. And he talked about even the use of Ibogaine and MDMA, even in some younger populations, but again, with therapeutic oversight. It blew my mind. I also didn’t know this, that MDMA, I thought, was toxic. Please don’t just take it off the street. But if you’re interested in clinical trials, there are great clinical trials happening through maps, and you can look at Nolan’s website as well. You know, most of the knowledge about the effects of MDMA is from the LDS community, because they volunteered for these studies because it’s not on the banned substance list. And so there’s a lot of knowledge, and they don’t use other substances like alcohol and marijuana and cocaine. So much of what we know about the effects of MDMA on the body and brain is from that community, other communities too as well. So what are we gonna do with the podcast? Well, every Monday, I’m gonna keep putting out episodes until they put me in that grave with the thing. Thank you.
It is a labor of love, and it’s a lot of fun. And we’re just always trying to make them better, clearer. Somehow they’re not getting shorter. I always tell Rob, this one’s gonna be 90 minutes. And he’s like, yeah, I’ll believe it when I see it. I think for me, one thing that it has brought that’s really wonderful is the opportunity to learn from people in other domains that are far better at putting information and things into the world. So I’ve been, I hope he doesn’t mind me saying this.
I’ve been very blessed. I’ve become really good friends with Rick Rubin, who’s been really helpful to me. He has an amazing book on creativity coming out. That’s not a plug for the book, although I guess I just kind of accidentally did it. But Rick, of course, has produced and created all this amazing music, everything from like Run DMC, BC Boys, Slayer, Johnny Cash, everything, just amazing. And one of the things that he’s been impressing on me is that it’s very important to stay focused on the process of what you’re doing and to really not get into too much of how that’s landing. So I do like to hear when things are not clear. That’s really helpful to me. I do like to hear suggestions about great people to bring on the podcast. I love criticism. Most of the time I try my best. It’s hard sometimes, but I really try and just absorb it for what it is. But I love that aspect of interacting in this, even though this is fairly unidirectional.
Hopefully there’ll be more opportunities for kind of dialoguing and learning what’s out there. My real hope is that practitioners will start to incorporate things. And again, it’s not about me. I’m gleaning from fields and the work and discoveries of other people and trying to thread across fields. So that’s where I see the podcast going just more of the same, more of the same, more of the same, but a lot more and more topics as best we can. Lots of guests. And we actually have an episode with Rick coming out at some point about creativity, which I think is one of the more interesting aspects of our being. So you watch for that. What is a stress inoculation protocol for the workplace anxiety speaking? Does the principle of staying calm under hydrolysis? Yeah, definitely. I think if you were to pick some sort of practice that you could do privately and safely, again, how cold should you make the water? Cold enough that it’s really uncomfortable and you really, really wanna get out, but you can safely stay in. And that’s why we never say 40 degrees. Because you can kill yourself with cold water. It’s just hard to do. You have to get really comfortable. You have to get really, really cold before you kill yourself. And open bodies of water aren’t good. Actually, I told my friend Samer Hattar, he’s the director of Chronobiology Unit at the National Institutes of Mental Health. He came on the podcast. Got him really excited. He’s great about all the stuff on light and sleep. Taught me a lot of that over the years. We’re good friends. I told him about the cold water thing, and he got into some river in Bethesda and almost drowned. I was like, Samer, and now he has this story about how he almost drowned. And he thought about a paper he wanted to write while he was almost drowning.
So just be careful, open bodies of water, that kind of thing. But I think you can quickly see within about a week or so of doing some sort of deliberate adrenaline release. It could be cyclic hyperventilation, 25 hyperventilated breaths with a short breath hold repeat done two or three times. We have good data to support that in the lab. You see massive shifts in people’s baseline level. You become a little bit more like Costello. You really do. And the way to think about it is, if you are more on a seesaw than on the continuum, you get better at loosening that hinge and controlling that hinge. Or you can imagine kind of moving up and down that seesaw a little bit more easily. And then, of course, you have to place yourself into the environment. You have to test yourself in that environment. And some people will do Toastmasters and things like that, and it can work. My way, I don’t know if it works for everybody, but my way is just start talking, don’t stop. I can’t feel the stress.
What do you think will be the next hot topic, new trend in the field of neuroscience behavioral therapeutics? Ooh, I like that. Because I have a lot of opinions about that. First of all, I do not think it’s gonna be brain-machine interface. My good friend, Eddie Chang, who I’ve known since we were nine, he came on the podcast, he works on epilepsy, he’s the chair of neurosurgery. We had a bird club when we were kids. Had two members. You had to know the names of all the talking birds, and then you had to know which one was the best talker, and it’s the myna bird.
And, of course, no one wanted to join, no one even took the test. But he became a neurosurgeon and does brain-machine interface. He’s doing truly incredible work getting people with locked-in syndrome to speak through a device implanted under the skull. They just think what they wanna say. These are people who haven’t moved or shared a word with anybody, and they’re now communicating. But here’s what’s really cool. He has also realized that facial expression is a lot. It’s one thing to see on a screen what somebody in a chair or a hospital bed is thinking. That’s wonderful. But facial expression is such a rich part of this. So this is a really good use of AI. He has now created very realistic iPad images of that person’s face, and so they’re actually speaking the words. And people form a deep relationship to the person who’s right next to their avatar.
So that’s a positive use, I think, of avatars. And Eddie’s doing amazing work. That kind of work, a brain-machine interface, neural link, et cetera, I think is going to be very useful and popular in the realm of therapeutics for Parkinson’s, movement disorders, epilepsy, locked-in syndrome, et cetera. I think we are many, many, many decades from chip implantation into the brain. Into the brain for things like enhancing memory. And frankly, I wouldn’t want it.
Not because I wouldn’t wanna enhance my memory, but because of what I said earlier, is that the nervous system has a certain amount of real estate, and you don’t want to make that real estate very lopsided. And so I think we’re going to see something very different in the next 10, 20 years. And I hope, hope, hope this carries over to younger populations. I think we’re going to hopefully start learning about our nervous system and what it can do.
And the fact that we have these preexisting circuits in us that we can learn to leverage that work first time, every time. So I’m strongly biased in my answer, but I think that it still remains an open question, for instance, whether or not people could require less, perhaps, or no medication for certain things. And I say certain things because for conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar in particular, medication, OCD has proved very effective. But then there are a whole other set of conditions like depression and anxiety for which behavioral tools really work, but most people just don’t even know they exist. So that’s my hope.
And again, I love the therapeutic community could try and expand their toolkit. I also think we’re starting to see a blurring of the lines between different fields of psychology. So it’s no longer psychoanalytic versus cognitive behavioral versus dialectic versus EMDR versus hypnosis, that it’s all gonna be governed by some central principles. All those camps, it’s just silly, frankly, to me. It makes sense academically why those came to be. But in neuroscience, we had the same thing. You used to have to pick. It was like a John Hughes film from the 80s. Are you gonna be a jock or a punker or a popular kid? Now it’s not like that. And half this audience is looking at me like, what are you talking about? And that’s exactly the point, which is I’ll never forget. I grew up in the skateboard thing. First time I saw someone wearing skateboarding shoes, I was like, damn, they skateboard. And they’re like, no, they just, people are just wearing this stuff.
Right, so. Well, you start to realize it’s all blended together, which is great. And in the field of neuroscience, you used to have to pick. Are you an anatomist or a physiologist? Are you into neurocomputation? Now your lab has to do it all or you collaborate with people. Those divisions have really melted because people are interested in questions and they’re interested in answers. And don’t get me started, but the careerism of the requirement for everyone to have their own independent laboratory and say, this is my mission, that is one of the worst things about science.
Because everything we know says that collaboration, collaboration, collaboration leads to faster progress. And I’m not gonna take on the whole academic system. It’s been very good to me, but I’d like to see a blurring of the boundaries. It used to be that labs weren’t, here I’m really guilty, Huberman Lab, but it used to be that labs were named after the problem they worked on. Vision lab, stress lab, happiness lab. I like that quite a bit more, but I screwed up and called this whole thing the Huberman Lab. You had a number, you have had a number of performance nutrition fitness experts on your show. What changes have you made to your fitness protocol including nutrition? Oh.
Yeah. Well, I’m an omnivore. So I like those things they call carbohydrates. And I eat them in moderation. So I’ve never really been too extreme about any of this or the fasting thing, although I do kind of just, I’m not very hungry in the morning. That’s also because I like to eat a lot at night. I wake up not that hungry. So what have I changed? Well, in terms of the fitness stuff, I’ve definitely started to incorporate more nasal breathing when I do cardiovascular work because it has eliminated any sleep apnea I had.
And sleep apnea is very, very bad. Very, very bad. You know, I wish I could say snoring was no big deal, but we know based on work at the Stanford Sleep Lab, Penn Sleep Lab, other sleep labs, that people who have sleep apnea are really in for trouble for a number of reasons. So you want to learn to be a nasal breather. And if you’re, some people tape their mouth shut with medical tape when they go to sleep. Other people will just start doing cardiovascular work, keeping their mouth closed. And that requires that you not go too intensely, but it does create a dilation of the nasal passages.
Those sinuses can dilate. So I’ve definitely done that. And at the end of training, I try and do a one minute or three minute decompress, not immediately look at my phone to kind of learn to shift from high intensity kind of thinking and to lower intensity thinking and shift throughout the day. Task switching I think is gonna be a big area of science and neuroscience in general. We still don’t know how to task switch well, how to shift the mind from focus to defocus and back again. That’s something that there’s, but by the way, this is I think a rich opportunity for people to develop tools. We don’t know a lot about that. We got too caught up on consciousness flow and free will.
And that stuff is great, but I like, as you can tell, I like tools, I like physiology, I like the things that work in my lifetime and that we can figure out and agree upon in my lifetime. Let’s see.
Got it. And I’m told that this final question, when they had put the clock up here earlier to, they said that we’re gonna run it for 60 minutes. My first question was, where’s the snooze button? It’s not gonna keep going, but I think they’re gonna hold me to it. And I know people, this is New York after all, there are other fun things to do. For things that take a long time, career, pursuing a degree, is there a right way to know that we’re on the right path? Is there a way to know we’re on the right path? Thank you for that question. I get asked this a lot. And gosh, there’s so much information out there.
So much information about this. We don’t yet have a gauge of whether or not we’re in too much stress or not, but there is one tool that’s used in the free diving community and in other communities that you can use as a kind of thermometer of how well you’re functioning. And some of you may know it already, and if you do, forgive me, it’s this carbon dioxide tolerance test. So why am I answering this question this way? Well, I like to start with actionable tools. If for instance, you were to just take three or four breaths and then take a big deep breath and then do a very slow controlled exhale, could be through your nose or through your mouth, ideally through your nose, and you’re trying to make that exhale as long as possible until your lungs are empty and you time that, that’s called the carbon dioxide discard rate or discard rate or the exhale discard rate. And it tells you how well you’re controlling your diaphragm using something called the phrenic nerve. It also tells you how well you’re managing carbon dioxide and how well you’re managing stress. And if you’re very stressed, that number will be very, very short. And I’m not talking about how long you can sit with lungs empty. I’m talking about an honest appraisal of how long you can control that exhale for. And if it’s anywhere from zero to 20 seconds, your stress level is high. And if it’s from 20 to 40 seconds, it’s moderate and longer than 40 seconds means you have good control over your carbon dioxide system, more or less.
Now these are averages and guess what? It has nothing to do with fitness. And also it has nothing to do with you per se, because if you do this when you first wake up after a good night’s sleep, you’ll have a long discard rate. If you do this after running, you’ll have a short discard rate. You’re not out of breath. You’re just not managing the system very well. So you can touch into this every once in a while as sort of a blood pressure reading type thing. This is very back of the envelope. It’s not perfect, but it works well enough that alongside things like resting heart rate, heart rate variability, et cetera, you can get a window into how well you’re managing stress. Why am I answering this question this way? Well, this is something I recommend doing every once in a while, especially if you are in a period of a career or any kind of pursuit where you are feeling like you’re grinding. I think once your carbon dioxide discard rate starts to really get shorter and shorter, you’re having trouble sleeping, I think it’s time to focus on reestablishing that buoyancy to your nervous system because then and only then can you make good judgments about whether or not you’re in the right trajectory for you. Now, in terms of the larger psychological themes, are you doing something that brings you meaning or not? That gets into some complicated territory. We’re very good at assigning meaning retrospectively and saying, well, that was a good experience because we had it and we learned from it, et cetera. But I think most people would like to avoid things that they can only look back on and say it was useful because I learned something from it.
And for that, I’ll just give the default, but I think at least to me accurate answer, which is the more often that you can tap into that feeling of excitement and delight in your work, even if from small things or from surprising things or from the social interactions that you’re able to glean from that work, the longer and better you’re going to be able to pursue that line of work. For me, in graduate school, I was very isolated. I worked alone in the lab. Maybe it was because of the tinfoil I put on the walls or the windows, I don’t know. In fact, my graduate advisor’s one complaint was that I’d seemed unfriendly. I wasn’t unfriendly, I was just busy. But I got to be very good friends with the janitorial staff because they were the only one around at the time I was working or a few other people. And those small interactions actually became very significant to me and became sources of brief, but to me, at least at the time, meaningful social exchange. And of course, eventually I made friends and had relationships of other kinds and things that were healthy as well. But I think learning to tap into this love of what you’re doing is sometimes hard, but you have to look for it. It’s an active process. And I’ll default to the work and the podcast that’s coming with Rick Rubin. And a lot of what he talks about in terms of creativity is about accessing what he and others have talked about as the source. If that is an abstract, I don’t know what is. But the source is this ability to see yourself as more of a portal for getting certain things done in the world than being so careerist and focused on whether or not outcomes are really matching what you need. It involves some mental flexibility and is, of course, okay to pivot back and forth.
We can only access this feeling of delight and joy and this feeling that we’re somehow connected to some larger theme, aka meaning, I think when we are able to be calm enough and not so focused. But in order to get anything done, we have to be hyper-focused. And that brings me back to the basic principle of today’s whole discussion, which is that it’s not about landing yourself in a state of focus, motivation, and drive, or in a state of deep sleep. Certainly not in a coma. It’s about being able to move up and down the various continuums that allow you to access focus and real gas pedal down to the floor, kind of thinking and action, but then also deliberately back off, transition to periods of rest. And the real key is for you to feel like you’re in the driver’s seat. If we know anything from the last 100 plus years of psychology and neuroscience literature, it’s that if an animal or a person feels that they are in control of the physiological process within them, and they know they can get themselves out some way, somehow, at some point, and back into a state that they want somehow, some way, at some point, well then all the language around meaning and happiness and delight starts to emerge. So learn to move along those continuums, learn to do it deliberately, and I wish you the very best of luck in it. I know it works. So, yeah, thank you, thanks so much, thank you.
Thanks so much for coming out. I really appreciate it. And I’m grateful to our sponsors, of course. Thank you, and to all of you for your time. I know there’s a lot to do in the city, and I hope everyone enjoys it. And of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t say thank you for your interest in science.
- Alia Crum
- David Spiegel
- Justin L. Sonnenburg
- Paul Ehrlich
- Jared Diamond
- Robert Sapolsky
- Noam Sobel
- Chris Gardner
- Rick Rubin
- Johnny Cash
- Edward F Chang
- Samer Hattar
Recently I had the pleasure of hosting a live event in New York, NY. This event was part of a lecture series called The Brain Body Contract. My favorite part of the evening was the question & answer period, where I had the opportunity to answer questions from the attendees of each event. Included here is the Q&A from our event in New York, NY.
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(00:02:17) You've Said Before That Stress Can Be Good for Us. How Do We Know When It's Too Much?
(00:07:44) How Has Hypnosis Been Impacting Your Life?
(00:12:51) What Are the Most Effective Protocols for Boosting the Microbiome?
(00:18:38) Why Do Humans Love/Need Dogs so Much?
(00:23:21) How Can "Night Owls" Best Function in a Society Made For "Morning Birds"
(00:27:04) How Do You See Your Podcast Growing Over the Next Few Years?
(00:31:12) What Is a Stress Inoculation Protocol for Workplace Anxiety?
(00:33:04) What Do You Think Will Be the Next Hot Topic/New Trend in the Field of Neuroscience & Behavioral Therapeutics Within the Next 10-20 Years?
(00:37:53) What Changes Have You Made to Your Fitness Protocol That Include Nutrition That You Wish You Knew Before Starting the Podcast?
(00:40:11) For Things That Take a Long Time — Career, Pursuing a Degree, Etc — Is There a Way to Know Were on the Right Path?
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