Your body operates on a 24-hr cycle. This is controlled by your circadian rhythms which are linked to your body’s internal clock and your sleep/wake cycle. Circadian rhythms are important in determining your natural sleeping and feeding patterns. Brain wave activity, hormone production, cell regeneration and many other biological processes are determined by this cycle.
The Ideal Protocol: Leveraging Your Body’s Own Intrinsic Technology
· Waking up early and getting moving will set you up for a productive and healthy day and optimize these circadian rhythms.
Starting Your Day: Stimulating Your Nervous System To Be Calm and Alert
- Forward motion (walking, running or cycling- particularly outdoors) and light exposure quiet the neural activity in the amygdala – an area of the brain which is associated with emotional energy that can produce fear and anxiety and expose your eyes to light and motion (optic flow) – lateral eye movements. This also activates your brain to be alert and focused and not reactive to any stimuli and be able to lean into the day.
- Early exposure to light even if it is cloudy (light photons still hit your eyes) has a profound effect on our hormones, metabolic function, and mental focus (10- 30 min exposure). This naturally sets off a biological cascade of functions (gut, brain, heart, liver etc.).
- Cortisol in a small amount is elevated which gets your body systems activated ( high levels are associated with stress) this is pulse of cortisol. This cortisol release happens every 24 hours, and when it is released depends on when you awake and expose your eyes to sunlight!
- This process starts your circadian clock which starts a biological timer that ultimately activates melatonin to be released later in the evening so as to prepare you for sleep !
- Blue light from screens (PC, mobile phone) is a positive during the day since it stimulates the neural retinas to help you stay alert and focused. It must be turned off at least 2 hours before bed so as to not interfere with melatonin which is vital to the sleep cycle. The key with blue light and screen use is not to use blue light blockers but rather take short brakes throughout the day and focus on objects at a distance.
- Also it is good to get up and move your body and relax your focus – take a short walk outside and get into optic flow!
- In sum – get early exposure to light, take breaks from indoor lighting during the day and reduce total light exposure at night.
Setting Yourself Up For A Productive Day
Morning Best Practices
- Hydrate – Get back from your walk and hydrate 16-32 oz with a pinch of sea salt and add electrolytes like LMNT. ( BRAIN NEURONS NEED sodium, potassium and magnesium to start firing !) . You can also get your magnesium from a supplement – 500 mg of magnesium citrate or glycinate and potassium from food ( bananas, orange, apricots, spinach and broccoli).
- Coffee/Caffeine as a stimulant – Wait 90 minutes ideally to drink caffeine. Coffee – best is organic ( free of mycotoxins ) black or with fresh cream and natural sugar cane ( if sweetener needed). If you drink first thing, the caffeine effect will wear off early in day and you will likely need more, and this will interfere with your circadian cycle and melatonin release. Caffeine 80-100mg can boost motivation, raise dopamine and adrenaline to get you started and and has been shown to help with fat oxidation and metabolism. Or can use alpha GPC ( 1000-1200mg) – can help with growth hormone release and endurance performance and also aid with cognitive decline by elevating the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
- Exercise – 20-60 minutes. Vary type ( aerobic, strength, interval training). If you are training for an athletic event, get coaching or follow a training schedule which includes plenty of rest and recovery. Can be done first thing in am or wait until midday if schedule allows. More than 60 minutes can elevate cortisol and stress your brain and body systems.
A Balanced Breakfast – It should include healthy fats, lean protein, and some complex carbs. Before breakfast: probiotics, aloe Vera juice. With breakfast – supplements.
- Your breakfast should complement your blood sugar and insulin needs. If you are pre- diabetic lower your carbs and increase your fats. If you have a healthy blood sugar/ insulin profile you can add in some complex carbs – especially if you consistently work out with high intensity or long duration.
- Eggs with vegetables
- Steel cut oatmeal with berries
- Plain Greek yogurt with berries/ nuts
- Multigrain / sprouted grain bread with almond butter
- Power smoothie ( kale, spinach, apples, celery, mango, pineapple, orange, coconut oil, flax seeds)
- Gluten free pancakes with fresh berries and grass-fed butter
- Intermittent Fasting (IF) – can help with weight loss, cognitive and metabolic enhancement. Examples include the following:
- You can eat within an 8-hour period (7AM – 6PM or 10AM – 6PM), or:
- You can eat normally for 5 days; fast for 2 days
- Work Setup –
- Position your screen at eye level – optimizes alertness and focus. Use an ergonomic chair that supports your spine and body.
- Hydrate while working.
- Take walking / stretching breaks every 90 minutes. NOTE: Our brain operates on 90-minute cycles going from optimal alertness to fading alertness – this happens through the 24-hr cycle. During your focused 90-minute work cycle, do not use your devices (check email, social media etc.). Research shows that your body temp minimum that occurs 2 hours before you wake can be used to optimize this 90-minute work block. Add 5 hours from your temp minimum and science has shown that your best ability to focus for 90 minutes is in that time vicinity. For example: if you wake at 6:30AM, your temp minimum is at 4:30AM – add 5 hrs and you arrive at 9:30 AM, which is your ideal work period to start your day with real focus! Your body temp will rise from 4:30 AM throughout the day as cortisol and adrenaline increase which gives you peak mental focus! This is the natural way to enhance your focus and productive thinking. Our bodies really respond to these temperature and cortisol changes as we try to capture the best method to start our day.
- Low level white noise in the background have been shown to maximize alertness and focus when working.
- Exercise: Two types strength and endurance. Optimal is 5 x/week. Alternating strength and endurance training. Ideally a rest day after any high intensity workout. Research shows that to optimize brain and body health use a 12-week period of training with 3 days of strength – 2 days of endurance – 2 days rest. Strength: circuit or interval training using resistance training or body weight total body workouts which include core strength, balance and flexibility. Endurance: should be varied ( running, cycling, swimming or hiking)- can include 60 minutes of aerobic training or mixed in high intensity interval training). If you add another day make it an endurance workout. After the 12 weeks switch to 3 days of endurance and 2 days of strength training. And repeat cycle. Resistance training as important as endurance training for optimizing brain health and function, reducing risk of dementia by increasing BDNF, increasing neurogenic activity, decreases inflammatory cytokines and boosting overall cognitive function. Good rule with endurance training 80-20. 80% aerobic intensity and 20% at ( anaerobic threshold) maximal effort. Never do back-to-back high intensity training days. Also apply this 80-20 rule to strength training – 80% not to failure / 20% to failure. The 5 days per week seems to support optimal cortisol function. If you are an elite athlete or training for a strength or endurance event please consult a coach or professional.
- Proteins, Fats and Carbs – proteins and healthy fats help release dopamine and adrenaline. Carbs tend to release more serotonin. If you want to be alert and focus choose meals that are protein and fat dominant. If you don’t have issues with blood sugar and insulin then you can add in more complex carbs. On rest days eat less carbs. On more active days you can up your carbs.
- Healthy fats : cold water fish, grass fed beef, avocado, nuts, seeds kefir, organic dairy. Proteins: fish, chicken, eggs, organic dairy, lentils; Complex carbs: vegetables, brown rice, quinoa, rice pasta, apples, berries, beans
Mood and Depression
Research shows that Omega 3 fatty acids ( 1500-3000 mg ) and vitamin D ( 5000 IU) can help regulate mood and depression by naturally elevating dopamine levels. Thyroid function that regulates metabolism of the brain and body which covers both the breakdown and utilization of fuels and the rebuilding process of brain, muscle and bone tissue – is bolstered by iodine (see weed) and selenium ( Brazil nuts)
Optimal Brain Health Aside from exercise, healthy eating and good sleep – you should ideally fast for 12 hrs every 24 hour cycle! ( 6pm – 6 am, 8pm – 8 am etc.). Critical hormones – testosterone and estrogen present in both males and females in varying ratios are made from cholesterol! Brain function and longevity requires both estrogen and testosterone. A good source of cholesterol: grass fed organic butter, eggs.
Morning sunlight, exercise and 12 hr fasting cycle support testosterone and estrogen levels
Midday Best Practices
Overall – you want to quiet brain activity such that you are almost creating a lower brain idle. This allows for better executive function, decision making, focus, alertness. These all enhance our interic (internal state) self-awareness, as well as also activating vagus nerve (brain – gut – brain ) activity without over stimulation.
- Midday Walk: after lunch boosts metabolism and nutrient utilization. This outdoor walk 15-30 min optimizes optic flow – exposure to natural light stimulating the brain ( alertness and focus ) and helps with reinforcing your circadian rhythms.
- Non-Sleep Deep Rest Protocols (NSDR) – involve deep breathing, meditation and passive yoga. Best done midday to reset your brain and body to better handle the remainder of your day. These can also be done at any point in the day to optimize your ability to handle a stressful event and reset.
Optimizing Performance (brain function, metabolic, neurological and hormonal, sleep) all enhanced by deep breathing and mindful meditation. They can be done together or separate.
- Breathing: inhale 2x through the nose, pause and longer exhale through the mouth, pause and repeat 10-15 x. During the inhalation the diaphragm will inflate and during exhalation the diaphragm deflates. This movement is the key to real relaxation. This process relaxes the brain and body but also heightens focus and alertness when it’s needed. A reset happens.
- Meditation: recommend: Headspace app.
- Yoga: many forms and would explore practitioners that emphasize restorative yoga.
- Afternoon Naps: 20-45 min in duration only if it doesn’t interfere with falling asleep.
- Afternoon light exposure: (4-5 pm) excellent for circadian biology. Exposure to bright light between 10pm – 4 am disrupts hormone and immune function, interferes with learning and focus and can impair memory and impact mood. The afternoon exposure can somewhat offset the nighttime light exposure by lowering the sensitivity of the retina and buffer you against bright light at night (ex: watching Netflix until 11-12 pm). We are in essence leveraging your own intrinsic technology – your nervous system. Light is a valuable tool in activating the hormone melatonin at the correct time when it’s needed to help us sleep. Early light activates cortisol and dopamine when it’s needed to get your brain and body ready for the day.
Evening Best Practices
- Dinner: should support restfulness and deep sleep. Should include starchy (complex carbs) which help at stimulate serotonin which helps activate melatonin. Avoid processed and refined sugars which disrupt gut microbiome. The sugar stimulates neurons in the gut that signals dopamine release via the vagus nerve that increases your sugar cravings. Additionally, carbs help replenish glycogen – a prime energy source for when you exercise the following day. So low carbs in the am and afternoon. Higher carb intake for dinner.
- Want to leverage your body’s temperature to optimize sleep. The body temp will elevate in the am and peak in the afternoon and drop in the evening. One way to optimize the drop for optimal sleep is to take a hot bath / shower or sauna. This also stimulates growth hormone release which is needed for tissue and organ repair.
- Room should be dark and cool.
- Adjustable mattress is best (height and firmness).
- Avoid melatonin ( not regulated, can interfere with other hormones)
- Natural Sleep Aids: Magnesium threonate or bisglycinate 300-400 mg 60 min before bed w/ Apigenin 50 mg plus L- theanine 50-100 mg these together are a great aid for getting to and maintaining good sleep.
- Magnesium has also been shown to support neuron function, which is key to nerve transmission.
- If you wake in the middle of the night or early morning, your melatonin levels have dropped too early and your cortisol levels have risen too early. The best remedy is to go to bed earlier and wake earlier. This cycle will hard wire your hormone secretions and will help reset your circadian clock. If you must go to bed later (11-12PM) get some light exposure around 7PM, which will delay the onset of melatonin and help you sleep better.
- If you wake in the middle of the night and cannot get back to sleep simply do 1-2 min of deep breathing ( inhale through nose / exhale though mouth.
- Should be a break from work and some of it should be unstructured and random. We all need to unwind, unplug, relax and have fun – at least for one day!