Tag Archive for: cognitive functions

The human brain is an incredible organ. But it is also a hungry one. Weighing in at only around three pounds, your brain is an apex feeder. It uses 20 percent of all blood and oxygen produced in the body. So, it’s important to understand the connection between your diet and brain health so you can eat to support your cognitive functions.

Your brain does a lot, and it needs glucose to do all that work. Glucose is a type of carbohydrate—sugars found in fruits, grains, vegetables, and milk products. But the brain can’t store any of that glucose itself. It must continuously receive a supply from the body.

Because your body must absorb and metabolize sugars before they make it to the brain, it’s actually best to focus on eating complex carbohydrates. They power your body and keep your brain operating at optimal levels. This means focusing on whole, natural foods and limiting processed foods high in simple carbohydrates and low in fiber and micronutrients.

But what’s the best diet type to help your brain? Here’s a good rule of thumb: what helps your heart, helps your brain. Let’s dig deeper to examine popular diets and discover how to be mindful of what you eat.

Mediterranean Diet

The Mediterranean Sea connects Europe, Asia, and Africa. Since the time boats were first put into the water for fishing, trade, and conquest, the Mediterranean has been the aquatic breadbasket of the Western world.

There are over 500 different species of fish in the Mediterranean, including omega-3 rich, oily fish like sardines, mackerel, and herring. Traditional trading routes connect different cultures with regional foods: protein-rich chickpeas from Israel, Egyptian figs, Greek olive oil, Libyan couscous, and Italian tomatoes.

The nations bordering the Mediterranean focus on a daily consumption of fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats, like olive oil. Weekly, they consume oily fishes plus poultry, beans, and eggs for protein. Diets here have a limited intake of dairy products and very little red meat.

An abundance of cruciferous vegetables, nuts, and fresh fish supply the primary benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Oily fish are packed with omega-3s, a type of polyunsaturated fat the brain uses as a cell-building nutrient. Omega-3s are also important for normal brain function, preserving cell membrane health, and facilitating neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to form new neural connections.

The Mediterranean diet’s focus on vegetables, fruits, nuts, and limited red meat supports your brain and heart health. The connection between the two is important. Your brain requires 20 percent of all blood and oxygen supplies, so helping your heart will aid your brain.

Keto Diet

If you have a sweet tooth, this isn’t the diet for you.

The ketogenic diet focuses on foods that provide healthy fats, adequate levels of protein, and nearly zero carbohydrates. The idea is to consume most of your calories from fat and limit carbs, thereby putting your body into ketosis—a metabolic state where fat provides most of your body’s fuel.

Growing evidence suggests keto diets may help support and protect your brain and nerve cells. Ketones, the product of ketosis, may provide a neuroprotective impact on the brain, especially as you age. While it’s difficult to start and maintain a keto diet, there are a number of potential health benefits. By limiting carbohydrates and total calories in your diet, you can experience weight loss (and a healthy weight will stress your heart less), and protected brain function.

Your brain still requires fuel to function. Instead of relying solely on carbs to create glucose, the brain uses ketones to meet its energy needs. Your liver and muscles store glucose in the form of glycogen. After two or three days without ingesting carbs, these reserves are depleted and insulin levels drop. Your liver increases production of ketones by breaking down fat stored in cells.

A sample of foods you can eat on a keto diet are seafood, non-starchy vegetables, cheeses, avocados, eggs, meat, and plant-based oils. Providing the food is low/zero carb, your body will convert stored fat into energy, resulting in weight loss.

Avocados are an excellent food source for brain health. A medium-sized avocado contains nine grams of carbs. The good news is seven of those grams are fiber, so your net carb consumption is only two grams. Avocados are also packed with vitamins and minerals, including potassium.

Ultra-Low-Fat Diet

The polar opposite of keto is the ultra-low-fat diet. As the name suggests, the goal of this diet is to eliminate as much fat consumption as possible from your daily intake. You instead turn to whole grain foods, lean meats (skinless chicken and turkey), white fish, vegetables, lentils, and fruit. Butter, eggs, and cheese are out, but you can eat pasta, rice, and oats.

This diet requires a lot of discipline because your body still needs approximately 10 percent dietary fat to function. Foods like salmon and flaxseed help. And walnuts are an excellent option—loaded with omega-3s, antioxidants, vitamin E, and minerals to support your brain.

Since you can eat fruit, strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries provide flavonoid antioxidants your brain needs to function properly. Berries can boost brain health by maintaining healthy communication between brain cells, fostering neuroplasticity, and supporting normal cognitive function as you age.

Intermittent Fasting

This diet is more about when to eat than what. On intermittent fasting, you avoid eating for set, extended periods of time. It’s a new diet trend with centuries-old roots. As hunter-gatherers, humans would often go long period of time between meals. Today, those who intermittent fast eat only during certain time windows, like 16-hour fasts with eight-hours of feeding or one meal per 24-hour cycle.

During fasting, scientists believe new neural pathways are created, strengthening both connectedness and communication paths in your brain. When you’re not eating, fat stored in your body can be pulled for energy to power your body. The stress of fasting makes the brain look for nutrients inside the body. The result is your brain receiving the energy it requires and your body losing weight.

This approach to eating brings other cellular-level benefits. Fasting helps your body adjust hormone levels to make stored fat more accessible. Human growth hormones help increase fat loss and muscle gain. Insulin levels drop. Cells undergo cellular repair processes, including autophagy—removing old cells and dysfunctional proteins from inside the cell.

Special consideration should be given to intermittent fasting. If you have a chronic health condition, you should consult a physician before starting—sound advice for anyone starting a new diet program.

Vegan Diet

Veganism is as much a lifestyle as it is a diet. Proponents of the vegan diet abstain from all consumption of animal products for ethical, environmental, and health reasons. Saying no to any meat, dairy, or other animal-based foods and ingredients requires discipline but comes with some brain benefits.

Cruciferous vegetables—bok choy, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, and broccoli—are packed with folate, a water-soluble B-complex vitamin that supports the formation of red blood cells to help the production of energy. Circulation and energy are important for feeding your brain oxygen and nutrients. Folate and other B vitamins (B6 and B12) also have been shown to help support normal cognition function as you grow older.

Beans and legumes, an important staple in a vegan diet, provide proteins and complex carbohydrates. Your body slowly digests beans, helping to maintain stable blood-sugar levels. Because your brain utilizes so much energy, beans are a good source of complex carbohydrates that slowly enter your bloodstream to continually feed your cognition.

However, a strict vegan diet can place demands upon your brain. You need choline to support healthy brain functions like the regulation of memory, mood, and muscle control.

Unfortunately, the best sources of choline are beef, eggs, fish, and chicken, while nuts, legumes, and vegetables contain little. Because it is difficult to obtain optimal levels of choline from a vegan diet, you may consider supplementing to meet your needs. The same is also true of vitamin B12, since it is only found in animal foods

Many may find a strict vegan diet to be difficult. But you should try to incorporate elements of a plant-based diet into your normal routine. Cutting back on animal proteins can benefit your weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.

Mindful Eating

As you’ve seen, parts of many popular diets can be good for your brain. So, how do you choose?

The best diet for you is the one you can stick with. Being conscious of your consumption helps you appreciate your food and, hopefully, encourages better food choices. Maintaining a healthy diet isn’t always fun. But a lifetime of considerate eating can fuel your brain and body with the nutrition they need.

And good brain health doesn’t stop and start with your fork. Exercise helps improve blood flow and memory by stimulating the release of growth factors—chemicals in your brain that enhance learning, mood, and thinking. Get smart. Include exercise and a healthy diet to live a healthy life.






















In today’s hyper-connected, fast-paced environment, the challenge more than ever is to have the discipline to slow down. Modern-day technology also inundates your life with distractions that draw your focus outward. It’s possible to mask chronic stress and other unhealthy psychological states, but society has begun to recognize the need for a counter movement.

Taking a “brain break”—relearning how to slow down and go inward—has become increasingly popular. That may be due, in part, to recognized meditation benefits for the brain.

Meditating is a great way to ease the frantic state of mind many find themselves in. Once thought to be an enigmatic practice, meditation has gained traction in recent years. One study shows regular meditation by adults tripled from 2012–2017. The growing literature on the benefits of meditation is expansive and promising.

The practice of cultivating mindfulness through meditation can be achieved in many ways. Put simply, it’s being aware of where you place your conscious attention. What comes up may be pleasant or unpleasant. But as you practice this inward dive with nonjudgmental attention, you’ll be able to access an inner peace that already exists within you.

Anyone can start a mindful practice of meditation to find a new level of calm. It’s all about the discipline of sitting down and going inward.

Big Brain Benefits

Meditation benefits for the brain are abundant. Meditating strengthens neural connections and can literally change the configuration of these networks. With regular practice, you can cultivate a more resilient neurobiology that:

And with practice, meditation can also help you develop empathy and be more compassionate.

Sound amazing? Read on to reveal even more meditation benefits for the brain.

Mindfulness to Manage Your Mood and Well-Being 

Like exercise for your body, meditation helps to condition your mind. Confronting and letting go of unwanted psychological states, like anxiety and fear, releases their hold and the associated conditioned response. Studies now prove control over your internal experience, once thought to be fixed, can be altered with the simple practice of mindfulness.

Though not a cure for chronic emotional and psychological stress disorders, meditation has many extraordinary benefits for mood and overall well-being. A few minutes of mindfulness and meditating can help hold off overwhelming emotion and guard against the powerful thought patterns that fund unproductive worries.

Here’s a small slice of the research backing mindfulness and meditation benefits for the brain:

  • One randomized controlled study found mindfulness-based therapy over 56 weeks significantly reduced the period of time before relapse of episodes of low mood. It also helped with long and short-term healthy mood maintenance. Participants reported experiencing a better quality of life.
  • Another study showed eight weeks of mindfulness-based therapy improved participant’s mental health scores. This lead to important conclusions, like relief of anxiety in the mind from meditation being tied to the regulation of self-referential thought processes. Anxiety is a cognitive state that occurs when you’re unable to control your emotional state due to perceived threats.
  • After an eight-week mindfulness course, participant MRI scans showed a reduction in the brain’s fight or flight center associated with fear and emotion. The amygdala—a part of the brain that controls your body’s stress response during perceived danger—is a key biomarker of stress in your body.

Tune into Greater Attention and Focus

Everyone’s mind gets distracted. It could be putting off homework, losing track of your words mid-sentence, or thinking about work while your significant other tells you about their day. Humans developed selective focus as a coping mechanism for dangerous threats in the ancient past.

Today, there are fewer physical threats to worry about. Instead, people ruminate psychologically, letting worry and anxiety overtake the present with past emotional pain or future anxiety.

Your brain naturally, easily slides into boredom, so it may welcome distractions. A default-mode network of neurons is associated with mind wandering—also called the “monkey mind.” But scientists have found that abnormalities in this system of the brain can lead to anxiety, depression, attention disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Meditation allows you to be in the present moment, a timeframe associated with feelings of happiness. It can increase your attention span and combat mind wandering and excessive self-referential thoughts. With over-activity, these unhealthy states of mind can lead to a state of unhappiness.

Mindfulness helps you focus and ignore the distractions around you. It also helps to hone your ability to notice more in your environment. This gives you access to the present moment with a fuller perspective of your experience. Managing your monkey mind through daily meditation is a simple and easy first line of defense for endless modern-day distractions.

Play the Long Game: Aging and Brain

Free to all, meditation is a fountain of youth for mental aging. The human brain naturally begins to deteriorate in your 20s. Maintaining a healthy brain can be supported with the powerful practice of meditation.

Meditation is shown to thicken the pre-frontal cortex. This brain center manages higher order brain function, like increased awareness, concentration, and decision making. Changes in the brain show, with meditation, higher-order functions become stronger, while lower-order brain activities decrease. In other words, you have the power to train your brain.

Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist from Harvard Medical School, found consistency with meditation is key. In her study, she discovered that experienced meditators 40-50 years old had the same amount of gray matter as an average 20-30-year-old. In this older group, the health of the frontal cortex was maintained.

Brain Structures and Neuroplasticity 

Mindful meditation can create physical changes in the brain through neuroplasticity.

This increasingly popular concept refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize and change continuously throughout your lifespan. Behavior and lifestyle are major influencers on the brain. So, your life makes your brain constantly create new neural connections. That’s because neurons (nerve cells) actively adjust to compensate to changes in your environment.

Brain cells go through a process of reorganization, dynamically adapting by creating new pathways inside the brain. How you think and feel changes these neural structures. By flexing the muscle of thoughtful attention, again and again, you effectively change the “physique,” or shape, of your brain. And it’s doesn’t take much time, either.

Studies have shown it only takes eight weeks to change the shape of your brain, including an increase of gray matter volume. Gray matter is found in your central nervous system, and makes up of most of your brain’s neuronal cell bodies. This type of tissue is particularly important in areas responsible for muscle control, sensory perception, emotion, memory, decision-making, and self-control.

Through neuroplasticity, you can create and improve the connections between neurons as you alter the density of gray matter. You can effectively change your brain in just a few minutes a day.

Seeing the Brain Through Meditation

The gray matter in your brain tells a lot about what happens as you sit down for brain training. The many meditation benefits for the brain triggered by daily practice are staggering. But what happens, exactly, to produce these exciting effects?

During the first few minutes of your meditation session, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex is the first area to light up. This part of the brain filters experiences through a self-referential lens. As you ease into a meditative state, your brain is still bouncing from thought to thought—the monkey mind active in the trees. Thoughts that surface can be exaggerated outcomes due to your lived experience.

When you’re able to rein in your attention, the lateral prefrontal cortex activates. Regardless of the method you use—a mantra or breath—this shift can help you override the “me” from moments earlier. Thoughts during this phase are more rational and balanced, helping you see a more neutral perspective. Now you’ve settled into the sweet spot of meditation.

Practice for several weeks (8 to 12) activates the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. In this state, empathy can develop, and compassion easily arises. This range of activation in the brain becomes stronger the longer you practice. The dedicated practice creates a gateway to a dynamic, gracious life.

Release Chemical Helpers with Mediation

Your brain naturally releases key neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) that help regulate the balance of vital hormones. They influence systems throughout the mind and body.

Studies show practicing meditation can directly impact the level of these crucial neurotransmitters produced in the brain. Mindfulness can have a measurable impact on these brain chemicals:

  • Serotonin—increases this “feel good” chemical to help regulate mood
  • Cortisol—decreases this stress hormone
  • DHEA—boosts levels of this longevity hormone
  • GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid)—improves the calming effect of this major inhibitory transmitter in your central nervous system (CNS)
  • Endorphins—increases the “natural high” of this overall happiness neurotransmitter
  • Growth Hormone—elevates levels of this youth-preserving chemical that naturally declines with age
  • Melatonin—boosts this “sleep hormone” responsible for restful sleep and helps with mood regulation

Moving Towards Alpha

Your bustling brain is a continuous source of electrical activity. It makes sense. Neurons communicate with each other through electricity.

Brainwaves convey information through a rate of repetition—oscillations so powerful they can be detected. An electroencephalogram (EEG) machine measures five basic types of brainwaves, at different frequencies, slow to fast. Corresponding to Greek letters: delta, theta, alpha, beta, and gamma. As you might guess by now, meditation allows you to manipulate the frequency of your brainwaves.

Meet the 5 Main Types of Brain Frequencies

  1. Gamma brainwaves: The fastest measurable brainwaves detected by EEG. This quick, oscillating brainwave is associated with heightened mental activity including perception, learning, consciousness, and problem solving. They’re active when your brain is processing information from different regions simultaneously.
  2. Beta brainwaves: Detected during active, alert, and busy thinking. They are present at times of concentration, conversation, or when you focus on a task.
  3. Alpha brainwaves: Identifiable when the mind is in a calm, relaxed, yet alert state. They are present during creative activities, found right before you fall asleep, and increase during meditation.
  4. Theta brainwaves: Measured during deep meditation, day dreaming, or REM sleep. They can also be detected while performing automatic, repeated tasks that disengage the brain, like showering or washing dishes.
  5. Delta brainwaves: These slow brainwaves occur during deep, restorative sleep where you lose body awareness altogether.

Your brainwaves are just one aspect of the complex processes in the mind that produce your experience. And meditation can help you control them.

As you meditate and turn attention within yourself, alpha and theta waves increase. Producing alpha waves helps you tap into the voluntary onset of rest and relaxation. This wave comes over you when you’re not focusing with effort on anything in particular.

Dipping into alpha oscillation through meditation can also fuel your creativity. A 2015 study showed a surge in creativity induced by producing more alpha waves. Moving towards alpha waves isn’t a magic elixir, but it’s a promising start to accessing a calmer, more imaginative life experience.

Your Mindful Destination

For a beginning practitioner, developing mindfulness takes dedication. But as you deepen your craft through physical repetition and mind-body connection, you’ll experience the mediation benefits for the brain. Increased research on meditation presents proven benefits for well-being, enhanced memory and attention, a boost in serotonin, and the list keeps growing.

Training your brain to still fluctuations is easier than it sounds. If you haven’t tried it, meditation is simple. It requires no extra equipment, no previous training. Simply sit in a comfortable position, either in a chair on the floor, and begin to focus on your breath. When your attention strays, gently bring your thoughts back to your breath.

Countless methods exist to practice creating a healthy brain and body through meditation.

Try varying your technique by trying out vipassana, breathwork, transcendental meditation, chanting, focused attention, and moving meditation, to name a few. Each of these can be guided or silent.

Seek out the method that’s best for you. But just trying it on for size is the important part. Step off life’s crazy ride for a few minutes each day to go deeper into the mechanics of your own mind. With regular training, you’ll bring resilience to your mental state, better manage high levels of stress, and become more agile in the face of distressing thoughts, anxiety, and distraction.

Meditation, just like exercise, can transform your brain. As a more mindful individual, you’ll create a more whole, conscious experience with more meaningful connection. It’s within your power to change your brain—start today.

Neurotransmitters are the language of your brain. They allow neurons to communicate to other brain cells. That’s not it, though. Muscles receive cues from neurotransmitters, too. In fact, these chemical messengers send information throughout the body.

The different types of neurotransmitters vary widely. Some manage your heart rate and blood pressure. Others make you feel motivated, stabilize your mood, or help you fall asleep.

To understand how neurotransmitters work in your body, let’s study the most notable chemical messengers. And you’ll learn how important they are for your brain and body.

How Neurotransmitters Help Your Body Communicate

Communication is key to your health. Neurotransmitters do that work, sending instructions from one brain cell to the next and transferring information throughout the brain and body.

The process starts where these chemical messengers are stored in tiny compartments at the end of neurons. These are called synaptic vesicles. Neurotransmitters live here until your brain needs to relay a message.

When a neuron makes a command (known as firing an action potential) neurotransmitters spring into action. These action potentials temporarily boost neurons into a higher energy state. More energy means brain cells can dump chemical neurotransmitters into the space between them and the next neuron. This gap between neurons is called the synapse.

Neurotransmitters are then collected from the synapse by neighboring neurons after an action potential sparks. A chain reaction follows. Each brain cell releases neurotransmitters to spread the message. When the command is completed, the neurotransmitters break down, float away, or are taken back up by the synaptic vesicles they came from.

Understanding 7 Major Neurotransmitters

While there are dozens of known neurotransmitters, there are seven major ones to focus on. They fall into two different types, depending on their actions.

Some are excitatory neurotransmitters. This means they encourage other brain cells to fire commands. Other neurotransmitters are considered inhibitory. They stop action potentials and help your brain turn actions off. Both are useful and necessary for your body to function at its best.

Familiarize yourself with each of the major chemical messengers that influence your health. They do a lot to keep your body and brain working in tandem.

1. Glutamate

This amino acid is common in your diet. And it acts as an excitatory neurotransmitter, stimulating neurons to fire commands. Glutamate isn’t just in your diet. It’s present in 90 percent of synapses, acting as the main excitatory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system.

It only takes a small amount of glutamate to excite neighbor brain cells. When neurons are working properly, all the glutamate released by the cell is picked back up by glutamate transporter molecules. This ensures levels of glutamate remain low in the synapse.

Too much glutamate can be tricky for your brain. Excesses can over-excite cells. So much so that neurons can’t bring their energy back down again. This toxic excited state causes brain cells to lock up and stop working. Good thing those transporter proteins are there to clear away the extra glutamate and protect your brain by cleaning up the synapse after each action potential.

Neuroplasticity also relies on glutamate. That’s because your brain uses glutamate to build pathways between neurons that reinforce your memory and help you learn.

2. GABA (γ-aminobutyric acid)

If glutamate is the most excitatory chemical messenger, then GABA is its polar opposite. GABA is a main inhibitory neurotransmitter. It reduces the activity in the central nervous system and blocks certain signals from your brain.

Without GABA, your brain would be “on” all the time. You need GABA to produce a calming effect that slows you down. It lowers your heart rate and blood pressure. GABA helps you relax and fall asleep. The normal stresses of your life respond well to GABA.

Take time to wind down before bed. Reducing your exposure to blue light can support the production of GABA in your brain. Deep breathing and mindfulness meditation can boost GABA, too. Helping you lower stress and fall asleep faster.

3. Dopamine

The most thrilling neurotransmitter has to be dopamine. That’s because it plays a major role in your brain’s reward system.

Dopamine floods the synapse between neurons when something rewarding happens. It’s responsible for that rush of joy when you accomplish a goal or succeed at a task. Dopamine perks your brain up and brings feelings of pleasure.

Some drugs prey on your brain’s reward system. They stimulate the brain to release an overabundance of dopamine. This creates a temporary sensation of pleasure, or a high. But coming down from a dopamine high is a hard fall. Afterward, you might feel depressed, tired, and less interested in your favorite activities.

Drugs aren’t the only way to mess with the normal dopamine levels in your brain. Addictive activities like video gaming, gambling, and shopping create similar highs. The surge of dopamine in your brain can make these habits hard to shake. That’s why it’s so important to understand how dopamine works so you can keep these behaviors in check.

Dopamine has plenty of positives, though. It encourages wakefulness. It helps your pancreas release the appropriate amount of insulin after you eat. Dopamine also coordinates your brain and your body to create voluntary movement. Writing your name, typing, and driving a car are all possible because of dopamine.

4. Adrenaline (Epinephrine)

If you have ever been spooked before, you know the feeling that comes from adrenaline—also called epinephrine. This neurotransmitter is responsible for your body’s fight or flight response.

Adrenaline is produced by adrenal glands located above your kidneys. But the chemical messenger works throughout the central nervous system to ramp up your heart rate and bring oxygen to your muscles quickly.

Why do you need adrenaline if you may never be in a true fight or flight scenario with a predator chasing you? Because your daily life provides plenty of situations where a similar—less life-saving—response is needed.

Adrenaline is your body’s defense mechanism against stress. If you’re running late and are afraid to miss your plane, epinephrine speeds up your breathing and heart rate so you can run through the security line.

Theme parks profit by taking advantage of adrenaline. They capitalize on the thrill a jolt of adrenaline can bring. It can make you feel jumpy in a haunted house or make your palms sweaty while you ride a rollercoaster.

Adrenaline sharpens your decision making, too. You can feel it kick in when you’re taking a test in school. Neurotransmitters like adrenaline can help your body to know how your brain wants to respond to stressful situations.

5. Serotonin

Take a break from your brain and shift your focus to your gut. Serotonin is an important brain chemical that does a lot of its work in your small intestine, too.

Serotonin in your digestive tract promotes feelings of satisfaction after eating and keeps your appetite in check. When a food you eat doesn’t sit well with your stomach, serotonin helps your body get rid of it.

Rotten or spoiled foods can make you feel nauseous. That’s because serotonin kicks in when you eat a potentially toxic food. It triggers your brain to make you feel queasy and helps your bowel dispose of the food quickly.

In your brain serotonin works a bit differently. It has a lot of influence over your mood, promoting feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Serotonin also helps you achieve more restful sleep and sets your body’s internal clock.

A serotonin imbalance can happen. When the brain doesn’t produce enough serotonin, you might experience a lower mood and sleeplessness. Confusion and brain fog may even set in.

On the other hand, too much serotonin coursing through your brain can be more dangerous. Some illegal drugs cause your brain to dump all of its serotonin stores into the synapse at once. This sudden spike in serotonin and later crash is called serotonin syndrome. It can create paranoia, impair your judgement, and negatively impact your memory. So, safeguard your brain’s supply of serotonin to maintain the delicate balance.

6. Oxytocin

Let’s debunk some myths about oxytocin. This neurotransmitter is much more than the “love hormone.” It’s more than the cuddly chemical messenger it’s been made out to be.

Oxytocin is a powerful neurotransmitter that affects many bodily functions. Your brain makes oxytocin in the hypothalamus and releases it via the pituitary gland to trigger responses all over the body.

Oxytocin urges the walls of the uterus to contract when a woman delivers her baby. This same chemical messenger fosters the bond between mother and child immediately following birth. Oxytocin also makes breast feeding possible, and stimulates the release of milk from mammary glands.

Men, don’t feel left out—oxytocin plays a significant role in your body, too. It helps your brain form strong connections of loyalty and trust. This helps you create important relationships with friends and family.

Be grateful for the chemical messenger the next time you interact with the people you care about. Your body needs oxytocin for its physical and social health— to live and love.

7. Acetylcholine

It may be last on this list, but this neurotransmitter was the first discovered in the human body. Acetylcholine is unique because it directly affects your muscles.

Acetylcholine works at the neuro-muscular junction. That’s the point where your nervous system and muscles meet. When acetylcholine is released from neurons, receptor proteins on muscle fibers take hold of it. Then the presence of acetylcholine triggers an action potential or command in the muscle fiber. But instead of sending signals to a brain cell, acetylcholine makes your muscle contract.

Every time you move your muscles, acetylcholine is in play. This can be voluntary movements or unconscious ones like your heartbeat or the contractions of peristalsis that moves food through your digestive tract.

Muscle movements aren’t all acetylcholine does for you. Your brain’s learning and memory functions are also impacted by this important neurotransmitter.

Apply Your Neurotransmitter Knowledge

Now that you know how neurotransmitters work, consider ways to help them be more efficient for your health.

Planning for enough sleep each night is a great way to give your brain a break that’s possible because of GABA.

Serotonin keeps your gut happy by eliminating foods that upset your stomach. So, eat plenty of protein to restore the serotonin levels in your gut.

You can increase the production of oxytocin by holding your kids close and spending quality time with the people you love.

And you can keep your dopamine levels in check by keeping an eye out for addictive behavior creeping into your daily routine.

Take a minute to appreciate all the work neurotransmitters do in your body. From your heartbeat to your breathing, digestion, and bonding, chemical messengers keep your brain and your body communicating.

Exercise and brain health are closely connected. That’s because your brain, like the muscles in your arms and legs, is strongest when you exercise regularly. And while there’s no machine in the gym to work your brain, it still reaps the benefits of physical activity.

Raising your heart rate perks your brain up, too. And moving your body is good for your weight and great for your memory. The brain benefits come from the increases in blood flow and oxygen that comes from regular exercise.

With lots of available blood and nutrients, your brain is fueled for optimal performance. Daily movement also allows new brain cells to develop while reinforcing neural pathways. Your memory improves through exercise, and physical activity helps maintain your cognitive health as you age.

Ready to up the intensity of your daily exercise to maximize your brain power? Start by checking out all the ways physical activity supports your brain health.

Science of Exercise and the Brain

Current research establishes the link between regular exercise and better brain function. As little as 30-to-45 minutes of movement each day is enough to trigger a cascade of memory-preserving benefits. Explore the five ways working out can support your cognitive skills.

1. Exercise Increases the Size of the Hippocampus

The area of your brain responsible for learning and verbal memory is called the hippocampus. When you exercise, your hippocampus increases in volume. It literally grows. Neurons in the hippocampus become denser, and connectivity in the region is reinforced through your physical activity.

The hippocampus is the first region of your brain to dull with age. Exercising regularly helps keep it sharp and protects it from the normal, age-related decline.

Exercise also ramps up activity in this memory and learning center. Just 10 minutes of mild-to-moderate exertion is enough to strengthen the connection between neurons and the memory-focused section of the brain.

This improved connectivity in the hippocampus can lead to better performance on memory and cognitive skills tests. Short spurts of exercise—which may fit better in your busy life anyway—can even boost recall. This could include remembering where you parked your car, or what appointments you have during the day. Think about your hippocampus and all the good you are doing it the next time you hit the gym.

2. Working Out Reduces Stress Hormones that Inhibit Brain Activity

Many people seek solace from stress in a walk or jog. If you’re stressed, your brain is, too. And exercise is a powerful tool for relaxing your mind.

Physical activity reduces the stress hormones (cortisol and norepinephrine specifically) that build up in your brain when you’re worried and anxious. Too many stress hormones can make you feel sluggish and contribute to brain fog. This can even slow your cognitive skills and dampen brain power.

Bust through the haze of stress by planning regular exercise. The endorphins released in your brain after exercise clear away stress hormones and boost your mood. Exercise and endorphins also stimulate growth in the hippocampus—as you learned above.

Your brain and body need exercise to relax. Think clearly and improve your mood by prioritizing regular exercise.

3. Sleep Improves With Exercise

Another way exercise improves your mind is by helping you sleep well at night. Challenging your body every day makes it easier to fall asleep. And it leads to the kind of sleep that helps you feel rested and recharged come morning.

Restful sleep also improves mental clarity and executive function. You need good sleep to focus, make decisions, and process your emotions. It provides much-needed time off for your brain to rest and prepare for the day ahead—even though your brain still does work during sleep. Your brain is at full capacity after a good night’s sleep. Cognitive skills are sharpened and memory is reinforced. Start working out for the sake of your sleep and the strength of your brain.

4. Aerobic Exercise Triggers the Release of Growth Factors

Your memory relies on the neural pathways and connections deep inside your brain. Proteins called growth factors are necessary for your mind to create new connections and reinforce old ones. Lucky for you, regular exercise is an easy way to increase the amount of growth factors available in your brain.

Moving your body triggers the release of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). This protein helps your brain generate new cells and preserves aging ones. BDNF is also responsible for developing new blood vessels in and around the brain. This allows more nutrient and blood circulation in the area.

If you want to help your brain grow and receive the blood and nutrition it needs, start moving. BDNF levels increase whenever your exercise, even for a few minutes. That means giving your brain support only takes a few minutes of activity.

5. Regular Movement Slows Aging of the Brain

Growing older doesn’t mean your brain has to slow down. There are lifestyle measures you can take now to preserve your memory and keep your mind sharp. A lifelong habit of regular exercise can help you keep a healthy brain later in life.

A study of the tie between memory and exercise illustrates this well. Research shows older adults who exercised consistently in their youth outperformed their peers on memory and cognitive skills tests. Their scores matched most closely with other test takers up to 10 years younger.

Since you are only as old as you feel, keep your body and mind feeling young by prioritizing regular exercise throughout your life.

Pick Either Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise for a Healthy Brain

Your brain isn’t too picky about the exercise it needs to thrive. All you need to do is ramp up blood circulation to start seeing improvements. Like you learned above, the brain benefits of exercise come from increased blood flow to the region.

High-energy activities like tennis, cycling, swimming, and soccer elevate your heart rate above its resting norm. These movements are considered aerobic exercise and are great at quickly moving blood through your body. Aerobic exercise and brain health go hand in hand. Fast-paced movements increase blood flow in your head and neck, supplying your brain with plenty of oxygen and nutrients.

But it doesn’t have to be all aerobic exercise all the time. Anaerobic exercises produce similar brain-boosting results. Resistance movements and strength training are also great ways to work out for your brain.

You don’t even have to go all out for your brain to see benefits. Activities like yoga, tai chi, and other low-impact sports hone your concentration skills and focus while lowering stress levels.

Variety of movement is great for your body and brain. Developing multi-faceted workouts that include strength training, balance, low-impact, and aerobic movements should be your goal.

See this relationship in action yourself. Protect the health of your brain and body with regular physical activity. Exercise daily and notice how your brain responds.

You don’t need to be a neuroscientist to grasp the basics of how the brain works. Sure, your body’s command center is complex—a lot happens inside your skull. But a handful of key concepts can help you establish a working knowledge of the fundamentals of brain power. 

Start flexing your mind muscles and learn about four basic brain-science concepts. 

The Mechanics of Brain Power  

Your brain is packed with nearly 100 billion (100,000,000,000) neurons. Each links with other neurons to create networks that, in total, boost trillions of connections. This massive, complex web makes your brain the powerful central computer it is. And that’s how it’s possible for the brain to handle all the world throws at it—thinking, reacting, recalling, and controlling every aspect of your life.

But how does it work? The complexity makes it hard to understand. But knowing the parts and spinning a simple metaphor can help unravel the mysteries of brain mechanics.

The neurons in your brain look like a tree stump, with a main body (called the soma) and roots reaching out all around. A tree’s roots are for collection—spidering into the soil to bring in nutrients and water. The roots coming off a neuron body need to collect and communicate. 

That’s why neurons have two types of extensions—dendrites and an axon. Dendrites collect information and take in signals from other neurons. And the axon transmits messages using specialized chemicals called neurotransmitters.

Synapses are the interfaces where messages are transferred. These connections between the axon terminals of one neuron and the dendrites of another make communication in the brain possible. 

Each of your neurons is like a tiny TV news network. The reporters and producers are the dendrites reaching out to sources, collecting facts, and gathering the news. The anchor who broadcasts the news is the axon, passing on messages from the news network (or, in this example, the neuron). 

Together, this connected community of information sharers keeps your brain up to date and communicating fluidly. 

Exploring Your Ability to Adapt with Neuroplasticity

Your brain takes in so much data every minute of every day. Your environment, emotions, and other circumstances are also constantly changing. With all the input and perpetual transition, your brain has to adapt.

Neuroplasticity describes your brain’s incredible flexibility.

This is much more than the ability to change your mind about a topic. Neuroplasticity is the physical adaptations your brain makes by rewiring neural connections and networks. Using neuroplasticity, your powerful brain can switch the area where certain tasks are performed if the need arises. (Be careful not to confuse neuroplasticity with neurogenesis, which is the process of creating new neurons.)

Many circumstances have been shown to prompt the brain reorganization done through neuroplasticity. Physical injury, emotional trauma, and emotional stress all initiate change. More positive situations, like learning and improving your environment, can also stimulate neuroplasticity.

You know your brain is going to adapt. What you can do is help guide that rewiring through positive habits.

Executive Functions Help You Grow Up Mentally

Your ability to conquer your daily life has a lot to do with a collection of cognitive skills called your executive functions. And you learned and earned these skills—because you aren’t born with fully developed executive functions.

They include:

  • Shifting attention around
  • Controlling your impulses
  • Regulating behavior
  • Considering consequences before acting
  • Remaining focused

Executive functions also help you toss around abstractions until you eventually create concrete conclusions. And they encompass your working memory, mental flexibility, and aspects of your creative problem-solving abilities.

Even if this concept is new to you, it’s not to your brain. You’ve used your executive functions to make your way through school. They’ve helped you achieve physical health goals. Executive functions even aided with managing emotions during tricky or rough times. And now you know what to call them.

Working Memory vs. Short-Term Memory

Defining memory seems simple. It’s what you can remember, right? Your brain’s storage capacity. What you can recall when you need to.

There’s a little more to memory than that. It starts with defining and differentiating the main types of memory.

Long-term memory is pretty self-explanatory, and easily separated from short-term and working memory. If it’s stored for more than a minute, it likely falls under long-term memory. But comparing working and short-term memory is a little bit more involved.

Short-term memory is the ability to remember small amounts of information for under a minute. Your ability to keep a number in your mind for long enough to write it down is an example of short-term memory. But you forget a lot of what’s stored in short-term memory. 

Working memory has limited space, but it’s a conduit for moving information from the senses to short- and long-term memory. And it also shuffles longer stored items to the front of your attention and mixes them with current stimuli to help you accomplish tasks in front of you.

Cooking your favorite meal provides an example of working memory. You’re pulling the ingredients, proportions, and timing from your long-term memory. Your working memory helps you complete the dish by mixing sights, sounds, and smells with the stored data in the recipe. That helps your meal come out right—without extra or incorrect ingredients and cooked properly.

So, the main different between working and short-term memory? Working memory allows you to manipulate memories and stimuli. Short-term memory is just temporary storage.

What’s Next for Your Neuroscience Journey?

This is just the tip of the brain-science iceberg. But now that you know more about these topics, you can expand your learning with some interesting facts about your brain. Or maybe it’s time for you to take action. Start feeding your brain the right foods, and establish a baseline to aid in tracking the progress of your cognitive skills.

No matter where this rabbit hole leads, you understand how your brain will adapt, the way neurons will facilitate the communication of new information, and how facts will be stored in your memory.

You’re probably pleasantly (or painfully) aware of your current physical fitness. But can you gauge the sharpness of your mind? In a world where exercise is king it’s important to whip your brain into shape, too. That starts when you test your cognitive skills so you can judge your baseline brainpower. And it’s trickier than you might think.

Instead of counting push-ups or running speed, you need different means to assess your memory and cognitive skills. Luckily, there are metrics you can measure to see where you’re at. And plenty of resources exist for gathering data on your brain.

Take the first step and familiarize yourself with the mental skills you can measure and tests you can take to establish your baseline brainpower.

Assessing Your Short-Term Memory

Your short-term memory is an easy cognitive skill to test. And quick, too. Short-term memory lasts for about 30 seconds—one minute at the most—and only stores about five to nine items of information. You use this type of memory for a phone number before you dial, or the confirmation code on a plane ticket.

There are dozens of online quizzes and mobile phone apps dedicated to improving your short-term memory. But, first, it’s important to see where you’re starting from so you can track progress.

To appraise your current short-term memory capacity, you can complete tasks that involve recalling a series of numbers or letters from a master list.

Here are two tests you can take right now to see where you’re at:



Put Your Working Memory to the Test

Knowledge stored in long-term memory and information from your environment combine to create your working memory. Reading, cooking, driving, and mental math all require working memory. These tasks take the rules and skills stored in long-term memory and apply them to solve new problems.

Attention and concentration are also made possible through working memory. Your brain uses working memory to help you focus on work and ignore distractions.

Testing working memory can be fun. Activities like Sudoku and search-and-find games put your brain to work filtering out competing sources of information. They challenge you to focus your attention to complete a task.

Another good assessment of working memory and attention is the Stroop test. You use this type of memory to identify words and colors with variable rules.

Try these working memory tests out for yourself:



Look at How Your Sensory Memory Stacks Up

A final component of memory you can test involves your senses. Your brain is always receiving sensory information. Scent, sound, taste, touch, and visual data enter the brain and are stored in your sensory memory for a very brief period of time.

When you test this kind of memory, you do it one sense at a time. A common evaluation is called a change blindness test. It plays on your sense of sight and requires your brain to tell the difference between two very similar images.

Take a stab at a sensory memory test with these change blindness demonstrations:

Test Your Cognitive Skills

Cognition may be the most subjective brain metrics. By definition, cognition is the sum of all the processes going on inside your brain. Language, thought, judgment, and memory are all part of cognition.

Your cognitive capabilities are as unique as you are. So, in an effort to create a measurable standard, there are tests available to summarize your cognitive strength. Some cater to specific groups of people (young children, for example), but a few can be applied to anyone looking to gauge their overall cognitive abilities.

  • Inductive reasoning tests task your brain to identify patterns and find meaning in large amounts of data. Games that ask you to guess the next in a sequence of numbers, letters, or shapes are examples of this sort of test. The children’s game “one of these things is not like the other” also assesses inductive reasoning skills.
  • A situational judgement test is another evaluation of cognition. It’s often administered in questionnaire form, asking you to judge the best or most appropriate response to a given situation. Job applications and interviews often utilize situational judgement testing to narrow down a list of candidates.
  • Intelligence tests are a common form of cognitive skills assessment. These are tricky, because many factors influence a person’s intelligence, including education, nutrition, environment, etc. But the Miller Analogies test (MAT) is a reliable version. The MAT uses analogies to evaluate your logical and analytical reasoning.

Check out these online resources to test your cognitive skills:




 Measuring Neuroplasticity

You might be wondering how your brain can keep up with all the information you learn and absorb. Neuroplasticity makes it possible for your brain to grow and change over time. And while it doesn’t literally grow in size, your brain can definitely grow in strength.

The vast networks of neurons in your brain shift and grow as you learn and gain new experiences. Your brain’s ability to adapt and create new neural pathways makes it possible for you to learn a foreign language or pick up a new hobby.

Learning a new skill is the best way to test neuroplasticity. But you can see your brain’s neuroplasticity in action through the power of an fMRI machine that makes neural networks visible.

These machines track the flow of blood in all the regions of your brain. When fMRI scans of the brain are compared over time, it is possible to see new brain pathways develop. This kind of testing is incredibly interesting and expensive, though.

A Word to the Wise About IQ Tests

Odds are you have heard of an IQ test, or even taken one before. IQ stands for intelligence quotient. So, it makes sense that this test aims to quantify your intellectual capabilities and compare them to a general population.

The catch is it’s really difficult to assign a number to anyone’s intelligence. Many factors determine how “smart” you are. IQ tests measure concepts, rather than actual intelligence. They don’t account for the more abstract and individual traits that make a person’s reasoning skills and personality.

They may be interesting, but don’t read too much into IQ tests. They serve a purpose but aren’t the end all be all. Instead, try to use multiple cognitive tests and brain tasks to see where you’re at.

Take Ownership of Your Brainpower

You have a lot of brainpower available to you. Apply some of it to measure your cognitive skills. And use what you’ve read in this review of memory tests and mental tasks to establish your cognitive-skills baseline. Then put your skills to the test or start finding ways to strengthen different aspects of your brainpower.

Your brain is a mystery only it can solve. Unraveling the riddle of how your body’s command center works—perception, the formation of thoughts, memory creation, and more—might seem like daunting, headache-inducing work.

But your brain is up to the task. Every second of the day it takes in so much information. Then it links disparate parts to make a whole thought, decision, memory, or picture of your world. Your brain is the ultimate processing unit, taking facts—from senses, chemical messages, or other stimuli—and spitting out a conclusion.

So, if you’re going to demystify your brain, it’s probably best to lay out the facts first. And your amazing brain will do the rest of the work putting the puzzle together.

Here are 41 facts about brain anatomy, perception, thoughts, memory, and healthy habits for your brain:

All About Your Brain Anatomy and Structure

  1. Your brain, if you’re an adult, is about three pounds (1.4 kilograms) of firm-jelly-textured human computing power. And it’s surprisingly fatty—about 60 percent of the brain is fat.
  2. All your thinking, deciding, and processing drains about 20 percent of the total energy, oxygen, and blood in your body. So much power and so many resources for about two percent of your total weight. And delivering all that blood, oxygen, and nutrients requires almost 100,000 miles of blood vessels to be packed into your skull.
  3. Your brain did a lot of growing in your first year of life—when it tripled in size. But life shrinks your brain. After you hit middle age, your brain decreases in physical size as time passes.
  4. A bigger brain doesn’t mean anything. Physical size hasn’t been found to have any significant correlation with higher intelligence. In general, research has only found brain size to be responsible for around 10 percent of intelligence variability.
  5. You do have a left and right brain. That’s because it’s divided into two almost symmetrical—but not identical—hemispheres connected by the corpus callosum (a nerve bundle).
  6. Your brain is kind of cross-wired. The left side controls muscles on your body’s right side. The right side of your brain is responsible for pulling the strings on the muscles of your left side. It sounds confusing, but your brain has it figured out.
  7. The whole brain chips in for creativity and other mental tasks. So, artistic people aren’t really relying more on their right brain. Analytical people aren’t more left brained. Slight cognitive differences have been found in the hemispheres, but it’s not accurate to call yourself right brained, unless the left side has been removed.
  8. There are three major parts of the brain: the cerebrum, cerebellum, and brain stem.
  9. The cerebrum is the brain’s biggest part, accounting for 85 percent of its weight. It needs that size to handle a lot of survival tasks (movement, senses, temperature, and judgment). And the cerebrum also tackles higher-order operations—problem solving, reasoning, emotions, and learning.
  10. You can thank (or blame) your cerebellum for your posture and balance. And your brain stem handles a lot of processes you do without thinking. But they keep you alive—breathing and keeping your heart beating. The brain stem also shuttles information from your sensory organs, helps you swallow, and cough.

  1. Science also splits the brain up into four lobes: the frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal lobes. Each lobe handles specific tasks. The frontal lobe tackles thinking tasks, as well as movement and short-term memory. Sensory information on touch and taste is processed in your parietal lobe. Your occipital lobe is all about processing and storing the information your eyes take in. The temporal lobe works on memory storage, smell, taste, and sound.
  2. That’s a lot information already. Does your head hurt? If it does, you can bet it isn’t actually your brain. It interprets signals from around the body, but feels no pain itself. You can even trace brain freeze to the blood vessels in your throat constricting from cold, not your actual brain.

How Your Brain Works and Communicates

  1. You use more than 10 percent of your brain. In fact, your whole brain is working most of the time. It has to. That’s the only way your complex body runs smoothly and you stay safe.
  2. The human brain is far better than the best computer ever created. It can handle a lot of information every second, and process it all faster than a computer. And that means A LOT of information—up to 10 to the 16th power every second.
  3. All that processing means information travels fast around your brain. Although the speed of information varies, it’s estimated info can ping around the brain at about 250 miles per hour (402 kilometers per hour).
  4. What makes all this speed and computing possible? Neurons. There are about one hundred billion—a one followed by 11 zeroes—of these nerve cells in your brain. They’re able to communicate with other neurons via chemical or electrical signals.
  5. Neurons are cells, but they have unique properties that set them apart from your other cells. And these physical differences help them do their job. Neurons have special branches on one end called dendrites and axons on the other. The dendrites receive information, while the axon on the other end sends the information to the next neuron.
  6. Synapses are the spaces between neurons where they come very, very close to touching in order to relay information. When you have a new thought or remember something, new synaptic connections are created.
  7. The chemical messengers of the brain are called neurotransmitters. That makes sense because your body makes these chemicals to literally transmit messages between neurons. You’ve probably heard of a few neurotransmitters like adrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin.

  1. Your brain isn’t the same as anyone else’s. Your experiences—including what happens to you and what you learn—wire your brain in a unique way. And that wiring continues to develop as you learn and experience more.
  2. The mechanics of the working brain are amazing. It allows you to do so many higher-order tasks (processes not tied to survival). But multitasking is still impossible. When someone says they’re multitasking, they’re alternating between higher-order tasks. They may do the switching quickly, but the tasks aren’t happening simultaneously.
  3. Your brain gets bored easily. Research has found that every 10 minutes you need something that sparks you emotionally to hit the reset button on your attention. If that 10-minute number sounds long, it’s because the human attention span (how long you can pay attention to a single thing) continues to shrink. It’s down to an average of eight seconds—down four seconds in just 15 years.
  4. Even if your brain gets bored, it never loses focus on survival. It’s your body’s command center, so survival is always the first priority. That means your brain constantly makes decisions about safety and solves problems to keep you safe. In nature, those fight-or-flight decisions may actually be lifesaving. But in modern life, the constant barrage of non-dangerous, but stressful situations trick your brain into survival mode. This can create unhealthy levels of stress.
  5. Your whole brain doesn’t sleep—not fully, at least. And your dreams are proof. Science doesn’t even know everything about dreams. But they’re thought to be a function of imagination, psychology, and neurology mixing together.

Shaping Perception and Thought in the Brain

  1. In a dream, you might perceive a fantastical environment or adventure. It’s your brain’s job to set your perception. It uses sensory data to paint a complete picture of your world. Perception isn’t as simple as collating sensory data, though. It’s more complex.
  2. Those brain-sensory complexities can create conditions like synesthesia. This is when your senses converge to layer a perception on one sense. A common example is when people see colors when they hear music.
  3. The reason perception can vary has everything to do with the brain’s interaction with sensory information. Take hearing as an example. Your ears collect sound waves. But your experience of hearing and listening is shaped in the brain. So, that’s why two people can have the same sound waves enter their ears, but think they hear something different. Like with the Laurel vs. Yanny viral sensation of 2018, if there’s any ambiguity, your brain uses your experiences to flesh out the phrasing to give you a perception of the sound. And that can be different for people.
  4. Brain researchers can watch you think. That’s because physically, thoughts show up in imaging as many neurons firing. There are still a lot of mysteries about how thoughts are formed and what processes are responsible, though. At a basic level, your brain connects different information to form a new mixture called a thought.

Making Memories

  1. You should be impressed by the brain’s ability to perceive the world and generate thoughts. But memory is just as amazing. It’s estimated your brain can store 2,500,000 gigabytes of information.
  2. You have two basic types of memory: short-term and—you probably guessed it—long-term memory.
  3. There’s a reason your short-term memory is also referred to as working memory. For the most part, it operates by allowing you to remember information long enough for you to use it. That’s why you can remember a phone number to dial it, but might forget it right after the call ends.
  4. Dredging up memories isn’t exactly like pulling a file from a folder. Your brain has to recreate and reimagine that memory. And it’s not a perfect copy of the original.
  5. The ability to look up any of the information in the world is great for everything except your memory. Your brain isn’t lazy, per se. But it’s very busy and prioritizes tasks that absolutely need to be done. So, if it knows you can look something up again, your brain may not store that tidbit of information.
  6. Pictures are powerful tools for memory. Studies have shown people retain 65 percent more information when images are involved.
  7. Science has a name for wisdom—all the situations and information you’ve experienced and stored. Scientists call it cognitive template.
  8. Want to help yourself remember information? Try these tips. Repetition helps. Repeating information really works. So does adding more context. That means stringing a few bits of information about a person with their name to help you remember it better. These associations strengthen memory. You can also try to pour information into your brain at a slower rate. A flood of information just won’t sink in, as well.

Facts About Habits to Maintain That Insanely Awesome Brain

  1. Water plays a big role in brain health and computing power. That’s because your brain is about 75 percent H2O. So, stay hydrated to keep your brain cranking full-steam ahead.
  2. Sleep is important to being your best self. You’ve been sleep deprived before. Did you have a banner mental day after your four hours of shut eye? Doubtful. Sleep is when your brain rests (but, as you know now, doesn’t completely shut down). A lack of sleep impacts information processing, attention, memory, mood, and logic.

  1. Your brain gets sleepy. So, if you crave a nap about 3 p.m., that’s normal. It’s just your brain trying to rest. Keep that in mind when you’re designing your daily schedule.
  2. Just because your brain likes naps and wants plenty of sleep that doesn’t mean it wants you to be sedentary. Actually, the opposite. Regular exercise supports brain health and cognition as much as your waistline.
  3. Don’t stress. Your brain doesn’t like it. Stress is bad for your overall health. But it can really cause problems with learning and many important aspects of cognition. Your brain can deal with short-term stresses. It was built to help you survive, after all. But hours of steeping in a stressful situation is bad for your brain. So, work on coping mechanisms that take you out of your long-suffering stressful state.

From Facts to Action

Now that you know a little bit more about your body’s command center, take care of it. You don’t need the knowledge of a neuroscientist to appreciate and pamper for your brain.

Do the things it likes—sleeping, learning, exercising—and avoid stress and behaviors that might harm it. And don’t forget to feed your brain the nutrients it needs by eating a diet full of fruits, vegetables, and good fats. Your brain is hungry for healthy foods, and knowledge. Continue to feed it both so it can stay happy and healthy.

Just like a powerful computer, your body is always taking in data and using it to make decisions. But you have nerves instead of a circuit board and a brain rather than microchips. Together, your nervous system directs your body’s functions according to the messages it receives.

Think of the central nervous system as a biological command center. It integrates information from your surroundings and tells your body how to react. And the nervous system does all this while letting you focus on living your life. So, you don’t need to consciously worry about responding to every stimulus you encounter. That would be exhausting.

To save you the mental energy, you need your nervous system to perform voluntary and involuntary actions. Without it, you couldn’t control your arms and legs, maintain a steady heart rate, or breath.

Here’s some other involuntary reactions that rely on your nervous system:

  • Vision
  • Blinking
  • Sneezing
  • Fight-or-flight responses
  • Withdrawal reflex (pulling your hand away from a hot stove)

Your nervous system also helps you:

  • Walk
  • Talk
  • Clap your hands
  • Brush your hair
  • Exercise

The reach of your nervous system is enormous. Every part of your body is hardwired with nervous-system tissue. You can pick up information from your hands and feet, as well as your joints and gut.

Now it’s time to plug into your nervous system and get a sense of how much it does for you. And also learn about the parts and mechanisms that make your nervous system function.

Anatomy: Nervous System Parts

At its most basic level, your nervous system is a collection of specialized cells called neurons, and supporting cells called neuroglial cells or just glial cells. A neuron can conduct electricity and secrete chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. Each nerve cell can pass on information, and receive information from stimuli inside and outside your body. Glial cells surround neurons. Their role is to provide support and protection for neurons.

Neurons have a cell body—just like all other cells. This is called the soma, and it’s surrounded with tiny, finger-like extensions. These are called dendrites. And they receive stimulation from the nerve cells next door.

Protruding out of the cell body is the axon—a long projection that carries electrochemical impulses. Axons are surrounded by a fatty tissue called the myelin sheath. This insulates the axon and speeds up signal transmission. Think of the myelin sheath as the insulation that surrounds the wires in your electronic devices.

The neuron ends at the axon terminal. That’s where signals created inside the nerve cell are sent to the next neuron. Nerve impulses are transmitted from the axon terminal of one neuron to the dendrites of the next. The space where nerve cells meet up and exchange information is called the synapse.

Neurons link up between their dendrites and axon terminals and create a thick, rope-like shape. This bundle of neurons is called a nerve. They pick up signals from your internal organs and outside world and propel the messages towards your brain.

There are thousands of nerves in your body. And they vary in size. The longest nerve is called the sciatic nerve. It stretches from the base of your spinal cord to your foot. The trochlear nerve is one of the smallest. It’s in charge of the rotational movement of your eye.

After neurons and nerves come the bigger organs of the nervous system—the spinal cord and brain.

The spinal cord is essentially one large, thick nerve with a direct connection to your brain. The bones in your spinal column provide structure and protection. That allows messages to travel uninterrupted to and from your brain along the spinal cord.

If you think about your nervous system as a computer, then the brain is the system’s hard drive. It receives every message gathered by your nerves via the spinal cord. Then it interprets that information and initiates a response.

When you want your body to perform an action, it’s your neurons that start working first. They send electrochemical impulses to the brain through the nerves and spinal cord. Your brain returns the necessary instructions to complete the task along the same nerves.

In the next section, you’ll learn more about this process, the role of nerves, and the actions your nervous system can help you accomplish.

How the Nervous System Works

Your body is great at tackling the hard work of your everyday life. And the nervous system is no exception. It divides up the job of sensing and responding to stimuli between its two parts—the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS).

The CNS is the control center of the nervous system. It includes the brain and the spinal cord. All the nerves that branch out from the spine are part of the PNS. Though they operate in tandem, it is important to highlight them independently. That’s because each section of the nervous system has a unique role and function.

Central Nervous System

Your CNS is the boss of your body. It is responsible for coordinating the messages it gets from the PNS to provide the appropriate physical response. This process is called integration.

The wire-like nerves in your body get stimuli from your environment and send those signals to your brain. But the nerves in your hands and feet aren’t plugged directly into your brain. Instead, your spinal cord makes a single connection at the base of the skull.

Protected by bony vertebrae (the bones of the spine), your spinal cord is the cable that collects the information from all over the body. Acting as one large conduit to the brain, your spinal cord can deliver large amounts of data from a single port, rather than thousands of smaller ones.

This makes it easier for your brain to integrate all the sensations you experience with the right actions and movements. And when it’s time to respond to messages, it can send out instructions in bulk. This takes some work off your brain’s plate by leaving the sorting and delivery work to the spinal cord.

Peripheral Nervous System

All of the nerves in your body (except the brain and spinal cord) are collectively known as the peripheral nervous system or PNS. It’s the job of the PNS to use nerves to sense information about your environment. Your voluntary and involuntary actions, reflexes, and intentional movements are initiated by the PNS.

The PNS communicates back and forth with your brain and spine and lets the central nervous system know what the rest of the body is doing. The PNS does this with specialized nerve cells called afferent and efferent neurons.

Afferent neurons are also known as sensory neurons. They send messages to your CNS. They deal in sensory information like sound, taste, touch, and smell. When you touch sandpaper, or smell a cake baking, your afferent neurons take that stimuli to your brain.

To respond to those sensations, your PNS uses efferent neurons. These carry messages and instructions away from your CNS. Efferent neurons can also be called motor neurons. They do just what their name implies—triggering muscle contraction and movement. Motor neurons make it possible for you to scratch your fingers against the rough sandpaper. They also allow you to take a bite of that delicious-smelling cake.

Both afferent and efferent neurons are present in nerve fibers. So, your PNS can send sensory information to your brain and receive a motor response along the same nerve. You need this kind of back-and-forth communication for voluntary movement.

The nerves of the PNS also manage things outside of your conscious control—involuntary reactions to your environment.

A major example of your PNS at work is your fight-or-flight response. This kicks in when you perceive that you’re in danger. It can also turn on when you’re worried and scared. At that time, your body experiences involuntary changes when you feel stressed.

Take speaking in public, for example. As the moment approaches, you might notice your heart start to race and your palms sweat. Your mouth might even get dry.

These symptoms indicate that your peripheral nervous system is working as it should. Salivary glands, skin cells, and your heart muscle get messages from your brain via the PNS to adjust their behavior to keep you safe. When you take a couple of deep breaths and settle your nerves (pun intended), your heart rate returns to normal. You feel safe and are no longer afraid.

The peripheral nervous system operates a complementary response to fight or flight, often called rest and digest. Your nerves send instructions down from the CNS to calm your body when it’s not in any danger. So, your breathing is steady and your muscles and gut are relaxed when you’re not experiencing stress.

Again, all of these changes occur on their own. You can thank your PNS for running on autopilot so you don’t have to worry about elevating your heart rate when something makes you nervous.

And without a peripheral nervous system, decisions and directions made by the CNS would have to be carried out directly by your brain and spinal cord. The central nervous system may call the shots when it comes to responding to sensations and stimuli. But the PNS is the link between your body and your brain that gets the job done.

Nervous System Technical Support

It’s pretty wild to think that electrochemical impulses are shooting up and down your nerves as you pause to read this article. Your nervous system is always working. So, make sure you’re doing your part to keep your electrical wiring up to code. There are a couple great ways to support and protect your nervous system.

Minimize Stress

Remember all the work your nervous system does to prepare your body for fight or flight? When stresses from work, school, or family life don’t let up, it can be hard for your nervous system to ease out of this involuntary response.

If your mind feels clouded with worry, it can be hard for your brain to efficiently integrate all the messages from your nerves. Sometimes this stress can even manifest itself in physical pain.

Combating stress and returning your body to the rest-and-digest phase will give your nerves a break. Deep breathing, mindful meditation, and exercise are all great ways to take a load off. If possible, try easing your mental strain by eliminating unnecessary work or burdens. And ask for help from family and friends when you need it.

Eat Whole Foods with Healthy Fats and Antioxidants

The myelin sheath covering the axon of your neurons are made of fatty tissue. So is your brain, the head of the central nervous system. That’s why you should choose food that reinforces these important structures.

That means healthy, unsaturated fats, like omega-3s. These are liquid at room temperature, but are also found in solid foods. You can find these healthy fats in avocados, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, and olive oil.

Another great way to protect your brain long-term is by eating foods rich in antioxidants. Berries and other brightly colored fruits and veggies are excellent sources. Antioxidants help protect brain tissue from damage by free radicals. They also support memory and cognitive function.

Try to incorporate these nutrients—and others, like magnesium, iodine, and a variety of vitamins—in your diet. Switch out foods with unhealthy fats (fried foods and prepackaged foods) with healthier options (grilled salmon or walnuts.) Make a brain-boosting smoothie with lots of berries and green veggies.

There are plenty of tasty ways to take care of your nervous system. And your hard-working brain, spinal cord, and nerves deserve the love.

About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.

Two-days’ worth of dirty dishes sitting in the sink. That stack of mail that’s been “on its way” to the post office for a month. And a nail-biting habit you thought you’d kicked is rearing its ugly head. Sound familiar?

You’re not the only one with a to-do list and no idea about where to find the motivation to start. But deep within you is the power to set goals and accomplish them. And you can unlock it with the science of self-motivation.

This intro course will provide you with the tools you need to get motivated to complete tasks and learn new things. Tapping into self-motivation is a talent in constant need of refining. So, get in the zone and learn how to get motivated—and stay that way.

What is Motivation?

Simply put, motivation is desire that focuses your behavior on a goal. It has roots in needs and wants, so it compels you to provide for your family and drives you towards personal improvement. And there are two main forces of motivation—external and intrinsic.

External motivation arises from factors outside of yourself. Money is a prime example of an external motivator because it’s necessary to buy food and have a place to live. External motivators can be thought of as rewards, too. A trophy, medal, or ribbon for competing in an athletic event. A performance bonus at work. Praise from your family members after you prepare a delicious meal. Each of these rewards are considered external motivators.

No surprise, intrinsic motivation comes from within. Curiosity, an interest in a particular topic, and desire to improve a talent or skill are intrinsic motivations. These types of self-motivation help you learn and become more capable.

Examples of intrinsic motivators vary from person to person. They are fostered by individuals and manifest themselves in many ways. Mastery of a piece of music. Reading for pleasure. Playing a game because you think it’s fun. Intrinsic motivation provides you with the power to do things you enjoy, simply because you enjoy them. And accomplish tasks you don’t enjoy because it will ultimately be good for you.

Biological Factors for Motivation

Whether it’s external or intrinsic, motivation originates in the amygdala—a grape-sized portion of the brain located in each hemisphere. So, like most things, the science of self-motivation starts in your brain. The amygdala is part of the limbic system, which controls your emotions and directs memory storage.

Your amygdala works with a hormone called dopamine. This neurotransmitter (a brain chemical messenger) is usually associated with pleasure. But dopamine has recently been linked to motivation, too. It’s still not clear exactly what the connection is, but researchers are continually investigating its role in the brain.

Here’s what is known: Brain-mapping techniques show that highly motivated people have lots of dopamine available in the right parts of their brains. When compared to less motivated people, go-getters don’t necessarily produce more dopamine. Rather, the hormone is concentrated in different areas of the brain; specifically, the striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VPC) in the brains.

The striatum is located at the center of the brain. It performs essential functions related to decision making, planning, and motivation. The striatum works in conjunction with the VPC. Located toward the front of the brain, the VPC also plays important roles in decision making and self-control. Both are critical to successful goal-getting.

Dopamine can also concentrate in the anterior insula, a section of the brain associated with emotion and risk. For individuals who struggle with self-motivation, it may be the case that a concentration in the anterior insula exists.

There is also growing evidence that you may be able to train your brain to become more motivated. That means directing dopamine towards the key areas of the brain mentioned above. This branch of science is still young, so you won’t find any tips right now. But as the understanding of dopamine and motivation grows, more valid methods for directing dopamine could also pop up.

Opposing Forces in Self-Motivation: Willpower and Procrastination

Two kinds of behavior meet motivation head on—willpower and procrastination. The former provides you with mental strength and fortitude. The latter distracts from the important tasks at hand. Both are extremely effective and can lead to dramatically different results.

Willpower is the ability to resist short-term gratification while chasing long-term goals. Think of ignoring the urge to indulge in high-calorie foods when you’re trying to lose weight. Whatever the end-goal, willpower is a tool to help you get there.

Armed with willpower, you may enjoy several positive life outcomes in addition to meeting goals. People with lots of willpower are shown to have:

  • Better grades in school
  • Increased financial security
  • Higher self-esteem
  • A greater overall sense of well-being

Motivation and willpower are teammates in the game of personal improvement. Willpower fuels the self-motivation you need to set goals and achieve them. By setting aside behaviors or habits that can derail your progress, willpower can make you a champion of personal betterment.

Procrastination is willpower’s nemesis. It’s the act of avoiding or delaying work that must get done. While willpower strengthens your drive to tackle your to-do list, procrastination is the ultimate challenger to that endeavor.

You may have a hard time recognizing procrastination. It has several forms. At the most basic level, procrastination is putting off a task to be completed until the last possible moment. You fail to start a work assignment until a day or two before it’s due. Or you ignore the low fuel indicator and wait until your tank is on empty to fill up on gas.

It’s possible that your brain uses procrastination to temporarily relieve emotional stress. There is some evidence to suggest that procrastinating important projects provides short-term mood improvement. But when the stress-reducing effects wear off, you’re left with a lot of work to do in a short period of time.

Procrastination in any form eats away at your motivation to meet your goals. So, do yourself a favor and shut it down early, before it snowballs out of control. Instead, ramp up your willpower next time you feel motivated to get something done.

How to Get Motivated with Temptation Bundling and Habit Stacking

There are lots of tips and tricks to improve your self-motivation and dedication to your goals. Two great ones are temptation bundling and habit stacking. Each method helps reinforce your motivation for a particular goal, habit, or behavior. Try each out and see what works best for you.

Temptation Bundling

It’s hard not to procrastinate when your favorite activities distract you from crucial work. Whether it’s exercise or household chores, these needs take a backseat to fun temptations. But what if you can actually mix work and pleasure?

Suppose you want to get caught up on your favorite TV show. Binge-watching TV is one of the least productive ways to spend your time. It’s relaxing, but spending hours in front of a screen dwindles your time to complete other tasks (and is terrible for your weight).

But if you pair your nightly TV time with something productive—like exercise or folding the laundry—you’ll fulfill your desire to watch the show and get things done at the same time. This partnering of activities you want to do with those you need to do is called temptation bundling.

It works like this: temptations (television) are only indulged at the same time as behaviors or tasks that need to be done (exercising or folding laundry). Associating necessary activities with a more pleasurable one helps essentials like household chores and physical fitness become more enticing.

This package deal is called a temptation bundle. And it can help you stop procrastination in its tracks.

Habit Stacking

This idea (also called habit chaining) relies on using old habits to support new ones. Daily actions that don’t require much effort (like established habits) can trigger the motivation to form new habits.

This concept relies on a phenomenon in the brain called synaptic pruning. Here’s how it works. Messages in your brain are carried across neurons via synapses. There are synaptic pathways all throughout your brain, but they are not all put to use. Some pathways are “pruned” or cut back, while others are used over and over.

Habits and routines are believed to mark the pathways you use frequently. That’s why it’s difficult to break old habits and create new synaptic pathways all at once. But this principle also allows new habits to “piggyback” on older, well-established ones.

Making small adjustments and adding new activities to your existing habit chain helps you take advantage of the previously developed synaptic pathways. Small incremental shifts in your daily routine allow for more manageable additions to stack on your brain’s well-established paths.

Soon, the struggle to begin a new routine is a thing of the past. Your brain is using its trusted synaptic pathways to support your growth and development.

Now imagine what habit stacking might look like in your daily life. Take drinking more water, for example.

Let’s say you have the habit of taking a 10-minute break each hour from your desk at work. You stand up, stretch, and use the restroom. If you want to work on staying hydrated, consider drinking a glass of water each time you head back to your desk. Adding a drink of water to your routine completes a new link to your chain of habits.

Pretty soon, drinking water regularly becomes second nature, just like your hourly leg stretch and walk around the office. Stacking new goals on top of existing habits supports their development and makes them easier to remember.

Here are some other examples of habit chaining:

  • Making a lunch for tomorrow as you put away leftovers from dinner tonight.
  • Adding flossing to your bedtime ritual after you brush your teeth and before you wash your face.
  • Hanging up your coat as soon as you walk in the house, then taking your shoes off and placing them in the closet, too.

Habit chains can be as long or as short as you need. After several weeks of practice, you may find your original chain has shaped a new routine of productivity. Put this motivational method to the test to achieve your goals.

Reinforce Your Motivation and GET. THINGS. DONE.

If there are goals you’re trying to meet or new habits you want to practice, know you have the tools to make it happen. You just need to put the science of self-motivation to work for you. Pull energy from whatever force motivates you (internal or external) and focus it on your goal. Draw on your willpower and put procrastination back in its place.

And if you need a little extra boost to see your motivation through to the end, implement temptation bundling or habit stacking. Make use of your powerful brain and the resources within you. They will support you and your dedication to achieving your goals.

It’s time to get motivated to do something great.

About the Author

Sydney Sprouse is a freelance science writer based out of Forest Grove, Oregon. She holds a bachelor of science in human biology from Utah State University, where she worked as an undergraduate researcher and writing fellow. Sydney is a lifelong student of science and makes it her goal to translate current scientific research as effectively as possible. She writes with particular interest in human biology, health, and nutrition.

As the sun recedes, nighttime approaches. The light fades and the darkness crawls in. It welcomes you to do the same: crawl into your bed and retire for the night. The darkness is like a blanket. Tuck into its warmth and the outside world quiets, allowing your internal world to do the same.

If you’re like many these days, though, turning in for the night is not so simple. It’s become increasingly difficult to put the phone (or other tech device) away when the nighttime beckons. And the next morning is no different. Modern life is built around technology. It’s likely become integral to how you work and interact with others. And unfortunately, even bedtime and morning routines are no longer exempt from technology’s touch.

Phone to Bed, Phone to Rise

Whether it’s morning, noon, or night, it seems the smart phone or another tech device isn’t far. Many rely on phones to tell them when to wake up and even remind them when to go to bed. Many doing desk jobs find that work revolves around a screen. Computers keep people connected to colleagues, provide easy communication, and keep schedules organized.

It doesn’t stop at the office exit doors. Recreation and relaxation have come to center around technology. Increasing internet speeds, accessibility of streaming video, and game consoles have started to monopolize how people choose to spend their downtime.

Completely freeing yourself from screens would be hard—and unnecessary. There’s nothing inherently wrong with enjoying screen-based entertainment. But indulging for hours, especially at night, could harm your body’s natural circadian rhythm.

This disruption can throw off your sleep schedule. Turning in later not only decreases the quantity of sleep, but likely the quality, too. But why? How is ticking away the hours with your phone different than curling up with a book (a paperback, not an e-book)? Let’s find out how technology affects sleep. Dive into the science behind blue light, the body’s sleep process, and how they interact.

The Blues of Blue Light

Your ancestors lived by the sun. As it rose, they awoke. As it set, they turned in and slept. Before electricity, the world went dark with the disappearance of the sun, save for some candlelight. This means the human body became accustomed to the rhythms of light and dark. Internal processes adapted to match what was happening in the external world.

When lightbulbs lit up the world stage, things began to change. Humans no longer had a reason to turn in early, because light could be created at will. But the lightbulb’s glow was different than the blue light emitted by digital screens.

But what exactly is blue light? Natural sunlight is white light. But if broken down into its components, you’ll find the rainbow: violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red. Each of these types of light have a different energy and wavelength. Light on the bluer end of the spectrum carries higher energy in shorter wavelengths.

Sunlight is blue-heavy, so this energetic light keeps you awake and alert. In fact, blue light actually suppresses your body’s secretion of melatonin, the sleep hormone. This is why your body naturally wants to wake up in the morning. Dusk is the opposite. As the sun recedes, the residual light is steeped in red (lower energy, longer wavelength). This means red light has the opposite effect of blue, and doesn’t suppress melatonin. So, it doesn’t interfere with your natural circadian rhythm.

Screens are the Key to How Technology Affects Sleep

Now that you have an understanding of blue light as it relates to natural sunlight, it’s time to shift the focus to artificial, screen-based lights.

Screens (your phone, tablet, computer, or television) emit blue light that interact with cells deep behind the eyes. In simplest terms, when your eyes take in blue light, a couple of things happen. These cells express a protein that goes on to communicate with a specific part of the brain. Together, these events help synchronize your circadian rhythm with the sun.

Basically, when you take in blue light, your brain tells you it’s time to wake up or stay awake. With this knowledge, the impact of screens on the quality and cycles of your sleep starts to become clear. And the question of whether time with a screen or behind a book is better is no longer a mystery.

Let’s drive this point home with some scientific research.

In a small study, researchers divided individuals into three groups and asked them to interact with a digital tablet for two hours before bed. Group 1 wore goggles fitted with blue-emitted LEDs. This was known as the “true positive” group, since blue light is known to suppress melatonin. Group 2 wore orange-tinted glasses to filter out blue light (the “dark control” group). Group 3 weren’t given goggles or glasses.

The findings were enlightening.

After two hours of light exposure, participants in groups 1 and 3 experienced significant reduction in melatonin levels compared to the dark control group. Compare this experiment to a real-life example, like a two-hour long feature film. If you go to a late evening showing (without your orange-tinted goggles), the movie will likely affect your melatonin levels and discourage your body from readying itself for sleep.

Does Blue Light Mean a Blue Mood?

Perhaps this isn’t news to you. You may already intuitively understand that excessive time behind a screen isn’t natural or especially healthy. But are you aware of the emotional effects blue light—both too much and too little—can have? Getting the right amount of light, at the right time is key for maintaining your mood.

Shift work (graveyard shifts) and jet lag give glimpses into the effect of light (or lack thereof) on mood. Those who work late and sleep during the day often experience shifts in mood or irritability. Likewise, those who travel across time zones struggle adjusting to a new sleeping schedule. Temporary insomnia imposed by travel can leave you feeling edgy, exhausted, and emotionally off kilter.

Additionally, those who experience seasonal affective disorder (SAD) struggle with shorter days with shorter periods of natural light. Some find comfort with SAD lamps, or light therapy. Light therapy is a possible treatment for SAD.

Light therapy is simple and can be done at home. A light therapy box (or SAD lamp) emits bright light that mimics the wavelength of natural light. Flooding the face and eyes with this bright light can help offset some of the mood shifts that come with the lack of natural light in the winter months. It can also help those who struggle with some sleep disorders, or adjusting to a graveyard shift.

Animal studies have offered additional clues. Researchers have noticed anxious and depressive symptoms in mice forced to live in constant light or constant darkness. While “constant light” might sound uplifting, consider your newfound knowledge. It also means constant blue light. That means that the eyes and brain are constantly stimulated, making rest hard to come by.

When you extrapolate similar conditions to humans, it’s not hard to imagine similar consequences. Humans experience the same affects under constant blue light. You need light to play and you seek darkness for rest.

Loosening Blue Light’s Grip on Your Sleep

Technology is the future, and screens are not going away anytime soon—if ever. It’s a fair assumption that most don’t want to risk social isolation by foregoing screens completely. Luckily, you can stay plugged in without damaging your physical and emotional wellness. Take a look at some ideas for finding a healthy balance:

  • Limit or eliminate your screen usage at a certain time. Remember the two-hour tablet study. Try turning off (or putting away) your devices more than two hours before bed. Going cold turkey might be hard. Try doing this in 30-minute increments, increasing the time before bed as you get more comfortable.
  • Swap out your wind-down activities. Opt for something that soothes, rather than excites your brain. This could be reading, journaling, or walking. Any activity that doesn’t involve, or at least doesn’t depend on, a screen to function, will do.
  • Add a blue-light filter to all of your devices. If you use Apple products, open the control center from your home screen. You might be familiar with the brightness icon, which allows you to control the intensity of light coming out of your screen. However, if you firmly hold down on the button, a new view will appear. Tap the button below the brightness meter (the image is a moon inside a sun). Turning this on will filter out most of the blue light. If you’re using a laptop or desktop, look up applications that provide the same function. Google Chrome has various extension options (like “Screen Shader”). You can also download an app like “f.lux.”

Screens might be here to stay, but that doesn’t mean they must rule the entirety of your days and nights. Armed with this new information about how technology affects sleep, all you need is a little bit of forethought and planning to reclaim a regular, restful routine. Maybe a tip from the list above resonates with you. Or you can find something better that integrates to your life. Either way, it’s possible to balance your screen usage and limit your exposure to blue light.

About the Author

Jenna Templeton is a health educator and freelance science writer living in Salt Lake City, Utah. After receiving a bachelor of science degree in chemistry from Virginia Tech, Jenna spent five years as a research scientist in the nutritional industry. This work fueled her interest in personal wellness, leading her to pursue a graduate degree in Health Promotion & Education from the University of Utah. Outside of work, Jenna enjoys live music, gardening, all things food, and playing in the Wasatch mountains.