This morning routine may restore hormonal balance and a healthy circadian rhythm for heightened cognitive function and better sleep.
Stanford professor and neuroscientist Andrew Huberman runs one of the most popular podcasts about health optimization, the "Huberman Lab Podcast", which is “is often ranked #1 in the categories of Science, Education, and Health & Fitness”. His mission is to educate the public on improving sleep, performance and general wellbeing. While his usual content is more targeted towards biohackers, his proposed protocols are backed by good research. He’s meticulous about citing his sources and deriving actionable tools from academic research.
His morning routine is one of these tools, drawing from research in neurobiology and related fields, to
“Set your brain and your mind up for optimal performance and not getting brain fog.”
A few caveats. While this is not strictly a Long Covid morning routine and Huberman doesn’t frame it that way, its effects, which include:
- Improved mental clarity and focus,
- Improved sleep,
- Improved immune function,
- Less brain fog
may still benefit those suffering from Long Covid. We have adapted this routine for those with Long Covid and removed portions of the routine that included exercise and more strenuous mental cognition.
It poses relatively low risks (see safety notes at the end of this page for further information) and it might relief some of the symptoms, such as brain fog, insomnia (and general issues with sleep) as well as other neurological symptoms.
Check out his interview here.
What this means for your symptoms
We dive into some of the concrete effects of the protocol here.
UVB (sunlight) exposure might help with
- improving daytime focus, energy and alertness by regulating cortisol and thus setting one’s circadian rhythm
- improving sleep through a consistent circadian rhythm
- improving immune function by activating a potentially suppressed immune system
Water with salt in the morning might help to
- maintain immune function due to necessary hydration
- lessen brain fog by supplying necessary electrolytes to the body’s neurons and muscles
- lessen POTS-like symptoms
Intermittent fasting might help with
- the proliferation of “good” gut bacteria in those with disrupted microbiomes
- inducing apoptosis and cellular repair
- mental clarity and focus
Delayed caffeine could
- lessen a caffeine-induced crash ~4 hours after initial caffeine consumption by waiting for adenosine levels to naturally drop first
How it works
Here are some of the underlying mechanisms that Huberman argues are targeted with the protocol, in case you want to dive into the background science.
UVB light exposure helps with improved immune function
- In some patients, Long Covid might be due to a suppressed immune system, according to this UCLA study.
- Getting 20-30 mins of daily sunlight might enhance and activate spleen and immune function, thus supporting and activating a potentially suppressed immune system.
- Light actives neurons in the sympathetic nervous system (part of the autonomic nervous system) that can act as a switch for your immune system, dispatching more immune cells. This is often disrupted in those suffering from Long Covid.
- This paper highlights that UVB light exposure also led to the “inhibition of IL-10 production indicating an immunosuppressive effect on both Th1 and Th2 cytokines”, potentially helping those Longhaulers suffering from high levels of cytokines in their systems.
- Huberman also detailed other benefits of light in great detail in this video.
Early Morning UVB light exposure improves energy and sleep
- Getting sunlight soon after waking up might improve focus and energy which may be low for many Longhaulers. This might be due to Longhaulers having lower cortisol levels than healthy controls, according to this paper.
- Known as the circadian rhythm the hormone cortisol peaks every 24 hours. Controlling when the hormone increases most might help energy and drowsiness.
- Sunlight exposure leads to a peak in cortisol levels via the cells in the eyes and the pineal glad, and getting it early in the morning (as opposed to later in the day), might trigger a state of alertness and energy.
- Moreover, it avoids a late peak of cortisol (often around 8-9pm) which could bring about or worsen signs of depression and disrupted sleep.
Too little salt might inhibit neuronal function
- Sodium and potassium (salt) allow neurons to function by engaging the action potential (fundamental communication between neurons). This is a key element of a functioning nervous system. However, in Longhaulers, the nervous system might be disrupted.
- While ingesting sufficient salt might not necessarily improve neuronal function, ingesting too little causes neuronal activity to function sub-optimally and significantly worse than baseline.
- Salt also increases blood volume which might increase blood flow to the brain. As Longhaulers might suffer from fewer oxygenated cell in he brain, improving blood flow could help with neurological symptoms.
- As this paper points out, specifically in those with orthostatic disorders, increasing salt intake may help alleviate symptoms.
Delaying Caffeine Might Reduce Risk for Afternoon Energy Crashes
- Adenosine levels build up while awake. This leads to drowsiness over the course of the day. Sleep lowers adenosine levels. After wakeup, adenosine may be low but oftentimes small levels are still present in the body that haven’t been filly cleared out yet (wakeup drowsiness).
- Caffeine acts as a blocker (antagonist) for adenosine thus pushing those levels of adenosine down, temporarily making you feel more awake. However, once it wears off, the levels of adenosine that have been there after sleep are still around, leading to people experiencing a morning or afternoon crash.
- By delaying caffeine, adenosine levels can call in the morning, close to zero, avoiding the rebound crash once the caffeine wears off.
Delayed eating might help restore gut microbiome
- The gut microbiome might be disrupted in those suffering from Long Covid.
- Fasting might enhance proliferation of good bacteria such as oscillibacter and others that improve mucosal lining and promote better intestinal function. This might be specifically applicable to those suffering from various GI issues, as detailed in this paper.
- Some also report improved mental clarity and focus while fasted, and Huberman shares more details around time-restricted eating in this video.
How to do it well
- On sunny days, 5 minutes can suffice, but aim for longer periods (20-30 minutes) on cloudy days
- Opt for direct sunlight (even if it’s cloudy) rather than artificial light
- If possible, don’t use sunglasses during sunlight exposure
- If you are unable to go outside, Andrew recommends using a bright, blue light (e.g. a ring light) in the morning
- This trial explores the link between UVB light and improving the gut microbiome.
- This trial is looking at UVB light to improve outcomes for high-risk Covid-19 patients.
- If you suffer from hypertension, talk to your doctor to determine optimal salt intake. Too much salt can be harmful.
- Caffeine can cause flare-ups for some people with Long Covid and ME. Of course, avoid caffeine if you have a sensitivity.
- If you have light sensitivity, be careful about direct sunlight exposure. Listen to your body and don't do anything that causes discomfort.