When you tilt your head upwards, something happens
Dr. Andrew Huberman is a neuroscientist at the Stanford University School of Medicine.
He has made major contributions in the fields of brain development and neural regeneration. Much of his work is focused on the relationship between the brain and the visual system. And this exercise we’ll be talking about is about the relationship between the eyes and the brain.
Dr. Huberman hosts a podcast known as The Huberman Lab Podcast where he breaks down complex stuff about neuroscience into digestible and easy-to-understand languages. I’m a fan. And in the #24th episode, I came across this surprising exercise that at first appeared too simple to be true. But it works.
According to Dr. Huberman, the position of your chin and eyelid can affect your level of alertness. This is why closing your eyelids and bringing your chin down is associated with tiredness, while we raise our chin and open our eyelids when we’re alert. In his words,
“We have neurons in our brain that depending on your level of alertness will make it easy or hard to keep your eyes open.”
But the fact that we open or close our eyes and lower or raise our chin depending on our level of wakefulness isn’t news. However, what’s interesting is that we can reverse engineer this process. How?
As Dr. Huberman explained, if you’re feeling tired, it helps the wakefulness system of your brain — including the locus coeruleus — to simply look up to the ceiling.
This isn’t about looking up and closing your eyes. That’s meditation. Closing your eyes defeats the purpose of this exercise. Simply sit in a relaxed position on your chair and tilt your head upwards for about 10 to 15 seconds.
The major reason this works, as Huberman explained, is that looking up in that manner triggers some areas of our brain involved in wakefulness.
How to apply this
Most people operate their smartphones — and gadgets — with their heads down. And when you keep this position for too long, it can make you feel fatigued.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should walk around with your phone above your head when you are texting. However, it does mean that you should be mindful of your position. Don’t keep a bent-over position for long periods. Besides the fact that it isn’t a good thing generally, it can make you feel tired quickly.
If you work with a computer most of the time like me, you’ll find it easier to stay alert if your computer is at — or just a little bit above — eye level.
I’ve also formed a habit of taking pauses in between my writing and just tilting my head upwards to look at the ceiling for a few seconds. It’s a simple productivity hack you’ll want to experiment with. As Dr. Huberman concluded,
“Eyes up is actually a route into increased alertness. Eyes down is a route to sleepiness and reduced alertness.”
The Science of Vision, Eye Health & Seeing Better | Huberman Lab Podcast #24