We talk a lot about performance at Bulletproof, but the other side of the coin is just as important: knowing when and how to give your brain a break. Working too much can stress you out, and prolonged stress correlates with anxiety, depression, weight gain, heart disease, memory loss, impaired cognitive function and more. When it comes to happiness, a little R&R is key.
But it can be tough to find time to relax, especially if you live in a work-centric country like America. The average American works eight more hours per week than the average Brit does. That’s an entire day of work. Not to mention, only one in four Americans will get a paid vacation this year.
On top of that, a 2011 UC study revealed that we take in the about 174 newspapers’ worth of information daily. That’s five times more information than we were exposed to in 1986. We’re constantly bombarded with distractions that demand our attention.
Read on to learn about what happens to your brain when you overwork it – and how you can hack your habits to increase your productivity and decrease your stress.
Your brain doesn’t work when it’s overloaded
Studies suggest that different parts of your brain work when you’re giving your full attention and when you’re daydreaming. It can seem like your brain does all the heavy lifting when you’re focused, but when you let your mind wander, your creativity and introspection thrive. When you’re resting your brain is still hard at work processing new information, resolving tensions or stressful situations, affirming your identities and ethics, and giving you a deeper understanding of your behavior. That’s why it may seem inspiration hits when you’re daydreaming or zoning out.
One reason constant work and distractions can burn you out is they tax your insula, a part of your brain that regulates attention. The insula activates when you switch your attention from one task to another – checking your phone in the middle of a meeting, for example. If you’re working too hard, or attending to too many tasks at once, your insula burns out. It can’t regulate your attention well, and you have trouble focusing. Studies suggest that the massive flow of inconsequential information you take in every day taxes your insula and leaves you struggling to focus.
Below, you’ll find my favorite hacks for brain renewal and to give your insula a break.
My top hacks for daily brain renewal:
1. Take a nap
A 7-10-minute nap can improve your alertness for up to 3 hours, and the short duration means the nap won’t interfere with your sleep. Anything longer than 20-30 minutes can just make you more tired, though, so stick to a quick snooze. For even better results try a Bulletproof coffee nap.
Meditation decreases excessive brain activity. It also increases alpha brain waves that are associated with creativity and relaxation.
Regular meditation calms down signaling between your medial prefrontal cortex and insula, relieving feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress and allowing you to address them from a more rational perspective.
At the same time, meditation strengthens the connection between the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and the insula, increasing your empathy and facilitating positive interactions with those around you
3. Take a walk in nature
Studies on the brain in nature revel that walking in nature has positive physical and mental effects on the brain, including not dwelling on negative things. Try walking among the trees if you’re feeling worn out. Bonus points if you daydream on the walk, too, as studies show that people who daydream do better on tests and that daydreaming increases creativity.
4. Upgrade your sleep
Quality sleep is one of the most fundamental means to improve brain function. Forty-eight percent of Americans report that they’re sleep deprived. Improved sleep is one of the most Bulletproof biohacks. Here is a pretty detailed article on my favorite sleep hacks. You should check out this podcast also.
5. Try listening to your ultradian rhythm cycle
The late physiologist Nathaniel Kleitman, who discovered REM (the progression from light to deep sleep every 90 minutes), also found a parallel rhythm during your time awake. Many people go from an alert state to a less optimal one every 90 minutes. It’s in that less optimal state that your body sends you signals from hunger, loss of focus, drowsiness to restlessness. Rather than using willpower to overcome those moments, take a short break to reset the cycle.
6. Upgrade your nutrition and supplements
Your mind runs well when your neurons signal one another quickly. Getting high quality fats from foods like XCT oil, avocado, chocolate, grass-fed beef, and wild-caught fish can help your neurons communicate efficiently. You should also avoid foods that promote inflammation or harbor toxins can protect you from mental fatigue. Some supplements, like vitamin D, can also upgrade your brain.
When it comes to work, less can be more. If you feel tired all day and your work quality is suffering, try taking some time for yourself. You might find that you get more done and stress yourself out less.