Not Getting Enough Sleep Greatly Impacts Brain Function
If you’ve ever tried to ace a test or get through the workday on too little sleep, you probably have some idea of the short-term effects of sleepiness on your brain. Lack of sleep makes it difficult to concentrate, makes you less alert, and slows your reaction time. Sleep is when your brain solidifies new information to memory, so going without it can severely affect your ability to remember. If you go without sleep for longer periods, it can cause lasting damage to your brain. One study in mice found that sleep deprivation can irreversibly damage or even kill the brain cells that control the sleep-wake cycle, which determines when we naturally feel sleepy and when we’re most alert. Disrupting this cycle affects your brain’s ability to think and function normally. It can also seriously impact your mood.
Too Many Salty Snacks Decreases Cognitive Function
If you’re looking for a way to make your diet more brain-friendly, you might consider cutting down on salty snacks. In older adults,eating too much salt was linked to a decrease in cognitive function. One study found that mice on a high salt diet developed signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The high-salt diet caused damage to the blood vessels that carry blood and oxygen to the brain. This can affect cognition and lead to an increased risk of stroke and aneurysm. Oddly enough, the researcher found that it’s actually changes in the gut that disrupt the flow of blood to the brain, proving that what you eat can have a serious impact on your brain. The good news is that when the mice were switched to a regular diet, the blood vessels in their brain recovered. That means it’s not too late to make small changes to your diet to improve brain health.
Too much sugar is bad for your brain for many reasons. Because eating sugary treats is highly pleasurable, your brain responds to them the same way it responds to addictive drugs. Foods that are high in sugar activate the “reward” part of your brain that processes and response to pleasure. This part of the brain can start to change in response to particularly rewarding things. Your brain may even start to crave the “reward” feeling you get from sugar, which can lead to a loss of self-control and overeating. Some research suggests that too much sugar has a negative effect on memory, attention, and mood. High levels of glucose (sugar) in the blood can damage the blood vessels that carry blood to the brain. There’s also some evidence that people with diets high in sugar are at a higher risk for anxiety and depression. Like salt, some of the damage from eating too much sugar does appear to be reversible.
Skimping On Veggies Is Making Your Brain Decline Faster
We all know we should eat more vegetables but here’s one more reason to pile them on your plate: Green leafy vegetables may help your brain stay healthier longer. A study in older adults found that just one serving a day of vegetables like spinach, kale, and collard greens was associated with slower cognitive decline. Researchers tracked the participants’ diets for five years and discovered that people who ate green leafy veggies every day did better over time on tests that measure brain health. The MIND diet, which is designed to prevent age-related cognitive decline, is rich in green, leafy vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fish, berries, and beans. Why are green, leafy vegetables in particular so good for the brain? They are packed with lutein, a substance that prevents brain inflammation and protects brain and eye health.
Coffee is great for a short-term boost, but when consumed in excess, it can cause real problems for your brain. Too much caffeine can cause anxiety and sleep issues. People who drink coffee in very high quantitiesâsix cups or more per dayâare at an increased risk of dementia. But don’t put down your latte just yet. Lots of studies show that, in moderation, coffee is great for your memory and may help reduce decline in brain health as you age. The key is not to overdo it. A couple of cups a day is fine, beneficial even. But if you’re regularly reaching for your fourth or fifth cup, it might be time to consider cutting back. It’s also important to remember that, although it’s common, caffeine is a drug that is mind-altering by design. It blocks the brain chemical that makes you feel sleepy during the day. That impacts your brain and can cause you to develop dependence.
Water is important for keeping every part of our body healthy, including the brain. Staying hydrated gives you energy and keeps your brain functioning at peak performance. Mild dehydration has been shown to seriously impact memory and mood. One study found that young women who were mildly dehydrated after exercise had trouble concentrating and experienced headaches. The same experiment in men found that they felt anxious and had trouble retaining information. Drinking water is also associated with better focus and overall cognition. In one study, people who drank a glass of water before a cognitive test performed 14 percent better than those who had no water.
Skipping Your Workout? Your Brain Function Is Suffering
Exercise strengthens the body but could it also have the same effect on the brain? There is some evidence to suggest that it might. A Canadian study found that regular aerobic exercise boosts the parts of your brain that control learning and memory. One essential brain protein in particular, called BDNF, increased during exercise. This protein is involved in many vital brain functions, including memory and the growth and survival of new brain cells. Exercise has also been shown to reduce stress and inflammation, both of which are detrimental to brain health. By increasing blood flow to the brain, exercise supports the survival and function of the cells that keep our brains ticking.
You may have heard that drinking alcohol kills brain cells. It turns out that well-known brain “fact” is actually a myth. The reality of what heavy drinking does to your brain is much more complex but scary nonetheless. The most dangerous impact that alcohol has on the brain is altering brain chemistry. Even a single drink can change the chemicals that brain cells use to communicate enough to affect your judgment, memory, speech, coordination, and mood. Heavy or binge drinking can severely impair your cognition and memory. It can even slow down your heart rate and the amount of blood and oxygen that reach your brain, which can be life-threatening. One U.K. study found that even moderate drinkers have less grey matter, the outer part of the brain that processes information as it enters the brain.
Not Spending Time With Friends and Family (or Pets) Cause Brain Damage
Humans evolved to be highly social and live in communities. This socialization wasn’t just important for our ancestors’ survival. It’s also critical for the health of our brains. Long periods of social isolation are linked to brain damage and cognitive decline. Studies show that socializing with spending time with loved ones boosts your mood and improves overall mental and physical health. People who socialize regularly perform better on memory and cognition tests. And in older adults, socialization is connected to a reduced risk of dementia. If socializing with humans isn’t your thing, the good news is that spending time with an animal companion is also very good for your brain health. People who own pets have better mental health, less stress, and slower cognitive decline as they age.
Blasting Loud Music Damages How Your Brain Processes Sound
When your favorite song pops up on the playlist, your first instinct might be to turn up the volume. But you might want to think twice about blasting your musicâor any noise for that matterâtoo loud. A group of scientists at the University of Texas found that being around very loud noise may damage not only your ears but also how your brain processes sound. In the study, rats who were exposed to loud noises had damage to the tiny hair cells in the ear that carry sound to the auditory cortex, a part of the brain that processes sound and speech. If these cells are damaged, your brain may not be able to process sounds the same way. And it doesn’t take extreme sounds to do permanent damage. The highest volume setting on many headphones is loud enough to harm the cells. Long-term exposure to loud noise can cause chronic stress that is harmful to brain health.
Stressing Out (Long Term) Affects The Structure Of Your Brain
Speaking of stress, it’s one of the worst things you can do to your brain. In the short term, stress affects your memory and ability to think clearly. When you’re stressed out, you’re more likely to react emotionally rather than logically and may find it difficult to focus. Stress releases a wave of stress hormones that affect how the brain functions. Too much of the hormones can cause serious health problems, including memory loss, anxiety, and depression. Stress has also been found to kill brain cells in rats. Chronic stress takes on toll on the entire body, including the brain. In fact, stress alters the entire structure of your brain. People who experience chronic stress or trauma have abnormal white matter, the part of the brain that contains the cables that carry electrical signals between brain cells. Chronic stress can cause several parts of the brain to shrink, including the parts that help you form memories and regulate emotions.
Burning Yourself Out at Work Has Many Negative Brain Effects
Hard work may be good for your bank account, but too much could be terrible for your brain’s health. Not finding a balance between work and relaxation leads to stress, which has many negative effects on your brain’s structure and ability to function properly. Too much work may cause tension headaches and difficulty sleeping, which makes focusing and remembering important details difficult. Overworking can also wreck your mental health, making you feel moody, anxious, or depressed. People who work over 55 hours a week do worse on cognitive tests than those who work 40 hours. Just as your body needs to recover after physical activity, your brain needs time to rest from mental activity. Finding a good work-life balance and giving yourself enough time to rest and do things that you enjoy are key to preserving your mental well-being and preventing work burnout.
Spending Too Much Time On Social Media Ruins Your Focus
Most of us are guilty of mindlessly scrolling on social media. In a span of minutes, we can consume news, watch videos, read celebrity gossip, and get updates from loved ones. That much information all streaming into our brain at once can be overwhelming and can cause overstimulation. Some research suggests that the way that we interact with social media, constantly seeking new and more interesting content, makes it more difficult for us to focus and avoid distractions even when we’re offline. It might also make it harder to remember and process new information. One of the most dangerous things about social media is the negative impact it can have on your mental health. Several studies have linked social media use to depression and anxiety in teens and college students. And adults aren’t immune from these effects. Like other habits, social media can become addictive if you don’t moderate your use of it.
Dwelling On the Negative All The Time Will Actually Change Your Brain
People say you should always see the glass half full. Turns out, they may be rightâat least when it comes to your brain’s health. Pessimism isn’t just a mood killer. It can actually change how your brain works. Our brains are highly motivated by rewards. We’re much more likely to complete an unpleasant or boring task if we believe there will be a positive payoff at the end. Pessimism can take over our brains’ natural motivation toward reward by making us feel that the reward is not worth a bit of discomfort. This could make you avoid things that you used to enjoy, a hallmark of depression and generalized anxiety. Dwelling too much on negative things is also linked with cognitive decline, memory loss, and a higher risk of dementia later in life. In fact, repeated negative thinking in older adults was associated with early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.
You might think that the biggest danger of sitting at a desk all day is a sore back. But recent evidence has shown that it might be bad for your brain too. A small study at UCLA found that people who regularly sit for long periods throughout the day had thinning in the part of the brain associated with forming memories. As you age, this part of the brain naturally thins, leading to memory issues. But this study suggests that a sedentary lifestyle could speed that process up. Thinning of the brain region is also an early sign of dementia. Sitting too much has a negative effect on other organs as well. A sedentary lifestyle increases your risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease, which can impact how much blood, nutrients, and oxygen are delivered to the brain
Avoiding The Doctor Could Keep Them From Catching Problems In Your Brain
The key to preventing serious health issues is to catch them as early as possible. Keeping your body healthy will in turn help keep your brain healthy. That means it’s important to stay on top of all aspects of your health and go to the doctor at the first sign of trouble. Avoiding the doctor may allow health conditions that can affect your brain to worsen. Many health problems can indirectly affect your brain health if they are not treated or managed properly. High blood pressure and cardiovascular disease increase your risk of stroke and aneurysm. Diabetes that isn’t well-managed can cause permanent damage to the brain. Digestive issues can cause stress and are linked to anxiety and depression. Diseases that affect the immune system or cause inflammation can have a detrimental effect on the brain’s health.
If You Don’t Get Enough Natural Light, You Could Suffer From Depression
Natural light is a mood booster. It could also be a brain booster. A huge study in the U.K. found that people who didn’t spend much time outdoors in natural light had a higher risk for depression. Lack of sunlight negatively affected mood and also caused trouble sleeping. Natural light plays an important role in regulating our sleep-wake cycles. Being deprived of natural light for long periods of time disrupts that cycle, causing a host of mental health issues. In fact, the extended lack of sunlight that occurs in some areas in the winter can cause a type of depression called seasonal affective disorder. This disorder can be treated with lamps that simulate sunlight.
Playing Full-Contact Sports Could Have Lasting Effects On Your Brain
Playing sports is a great way to stay in shape. But full-contact sports like football, soccer, and hockey may put you at risk for concussions and traumatic injuries that can have devastating effects on the brain. Concussions are common in contact sports at all levels from children up to professional athletes. Although one concussion is unlikely to cause long-term issues, repeated concussions can cause a serious condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. This disease impairs thinking and causes mood and behavioral issues. It has no cure and gets progressively worse over time, often resulting in dementia. Brain scans of former professional athletes found changes in the structure of their brains compared to non-athletes. And the alterations were more obvious in athletes who played sports with higher levels of contact. Similar results were seen in college athletes who play full-contact and collision sports.
Not Taking a Break When You’re Sick Will Mess With Your Brain’s Ability To Cope
When you’re sick, your whole body needs time to heal. The brain is no exception. Although it may be tempting, going back to working while sick can have negative impacts on your brain health. Many of the symptoms that we associate with being sick may actually be our brain kicking into action to help us feel better. A study found that mice who are sick experience fever, chills, and loss of appetite due to a brain region that controls body temperature and appetite. In fact, when that brain region is activated in mice who are not sick, they experience the same symptoms as sick mice. That indicates that the symptoms may not actually be a result of the infection but the brain’s response to it. Another study found that mice moved less while sick to conserve energy, a behavior that is controlled by the brainstem. These studies suggest that the best thing we can do for our body when sick is to listen to our brain and take a break.
Using Recreational Drugs Will Actually Alter Your Brain
Recreational drugs like ecstasy are designed to alter our brains. Aside from the obvious risks of addiction and overdose that come with recreational drug abuse, these substances can change how our brains are wired. Brains cells are connected to each other and communicate using chemical and electrical signals. These signals control most brain functions, including learning and memory, focus and attention, decision-making, and critical thinking. Drugs alter how brain cells connect and communicate with each other. Some of those changes are irreversible. Recreational drug use can cause memory loss, kill brain cells, and increase the risk of mental health disorders, stroke, and seizures. Even cannabis use, which has well-documented health benefits, is not without risks. Marijuana use can impair memory and slow reaction time.
Not Cracking Open a Good Book Can Increase Chances Of Dementia
It should come as no surprise that reading is good for the brain. But you might not be aware of all the ways that curling up with a good book can improve brain health. Several studies show that people who read more have slower cognitive decline as they age and a lower risk of dementia. Reading keeps your memory sharp and helps you focus, even as age naturally impacts the parts of the brain that control those skills. Getting immersed in a book can reduce stress and helps you fall asleep. There’s also some evidence that helps your brain cells form new connections and may increase the length of your life.
Not Getting Your Vitamins Is Starving Your Brain Of What It Needs
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is one of the best things you can do for your brain. As the most powerful organ in your body, your brain needs lots of nutrients to perform. Fish and nuts provide you with omega-3 fatty acids that help support overall brain health and memory. Flavonoids, found in berries, citrus fruit, green tea, and dark chocolate may slow cognitive decline as you age. Vitamin D from milk and mushrooms, vitamin E from avocado, nuts, and olives, and vitamin C from citrus fruit and a variety of vegetables all help keep your brain sharper for longer. Add in green leafy vegetables packed with lutein, folate, and Vitamin K, and you’ll have a diet that could be the key to a healthier brain and a healthier you!
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