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Why A Day Of High-Demand Thinking Can Lead To Bad Choices

It is common knowledge that a day of strenuous physical activity is exhausting and leaves you with little energy at the end of the day. By the time you’ve gone to work, stood on your feet for eight hours, and come home, you have little energy left for things like hobbies, exercise, or even cooking. Did you know the brain is the same way?

A long day of complicated tasks, social interactions, and intense cognitive effort can exhaust your brain. It won’t have the resources needed to make the optimal decisions that will lead you to the extraordinary life you envision. Why is this, though?


The Science Behind Brain Fatigue

A 2022 study in Current Biology used magnetic brain imaging to measure the brain activity in participants in two groups. One group was given a high-demand cognitive task, and the other a low-demand one. Afterward, they were asked to make various choices. The results were unsurprising.

Much like we don’t want to do anything at the end of a physically exhausting day, neither does our brain. The high-demand group was more likely to choose the options that were low-effort and quickly handled the task, regardless of the optimal results.

The research found that the high-demand group had more glutamate levels in the brain than the low-demand group. This glutamate exhausts our cells and prevents us from adequately utilizing our prefrontal cortex, the active cognition center of the brain.


How Tired Brains Lead To Bad Choices

A tired brain doesn’t inherently force one to make bad choices like that delicious candy bar in the fridge might. Instead, it impairs one’s ability to hash out all the details and results of certain choices. It causes people to default to whatever is easiest because the brain lacks the energy to do more work.

These low-effort choices are often less than optimal. If something is easy, it will probably not be the best option. So, how can we prevent ourselves from making these bad choices and ruining all the other efforts we put in?


How To Support Thinking

Just like with the body, one can take steps to improve their mental capacity and prevent poor choices.

Proper Rest

While sitting and laying down helps your muscles recover, sleep helps your brain recover. Getting enough sleep, generally, no less than seven hours a night can significantly improve your ability to perform complex mental tasks.

Taking breaks from tasks throughout the day can also give your mind a breather.

Photo: Shutterstock/Fizkes

Stay Active

Regular exercise and activity promote health in all areas, and the brain is no exception. Getting your heart rate up and blood flowing encourages the production of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, all neurotransmitters that improve and maintain the body and mind’s balance. Most people recommend at least 30 minutes of medium exercise per day.

Photo: Studio

Eat A Healthy Diet

The body is only as good at the food you put in it. Try eating foods with healthy fats, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Nutrient-rich foods promote the production of all the neurotransmitters needed to keep the brain running well. Some great choices include avocados, berries, leafy greens, nuts, and coconut oils.


Reduce Stress & Consider Taking Supplements

Stress causes the body to produce cortisol, an active aging hormone. It causes the body to slow down digestion and remain in alert mode. This affects sleep and cognition as well. Chronic stress can lead to other health issues like hair loss, early graying, and GI tract problems.

Though unregulated and still undergoing research, there is a case for certain supplements that boost memory and cognition. Gingko Biloba, omega-3 fish oil, and vitamin B12 are a few with notable impacts on one’s mental capacity. Of course, always consult your healthcare professional about the safety of taking supplements.