Click here to jump to: 12 Ways to Increase Brain Power For Architecture School – PART 2
A healthy, clear, and efficiently working brain is one of the architecture student’s greatest assets. I’d like to give you a few life hacks to supercharge yours.
Around two years ago, I had a sort of nutritional epiphany that allowed me start living every day with a clear and efficient mind, and I’ve never looked back since. Today I’m going to share with you some of the life-hacks I really wish I knew back when I was younger. They’ve helped me live with constant energy and a clear mind, warding off crankiness and increasing feelings of well-being.
How I was able to browse through the peer-reviewed research and find the perfect brain-power plan for me is a different story all together – which merits a separate post or two. For now, I’d like to just give you the rough outline, principles and tidbits for the top 12 highly effective ways to make your brain feel like a million bucks every single day.
This is going to be a two-part series merely meant to be an introduction to future posts. Each of these 12 points will then have their own individual entries, discussing in more detail the scientific backing and ways you can effectively and safely implement their use in your lifestyle.
Without further ado, I invite you to expand your mind.
1. Ditch the sugar.
There’s a reason why this is number 1 – I’ve found that it’s the most common reason why a lot of people unknowingly make themselves hungry and tired all the time. If you’re the type of person that has a sugary drink with or in between meals, I ask that you pay close attention:
I’ll keep this as simple as I can. Sugar sharply spikes your hormone insulin, which in turn elevates your blood sugar, and after a few hours your blood sugar will crash down. Now, elevated insulin isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you have some sugar after you do strength training, for example, the insulin will effectively shuttle those nutrients into your recovering muscles.
However, if your insulin is elevated all the time, which in turn means your blood sugar is elevated all the time – this sets up a chain of processes that are near guaranteed start of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, fat storage, and a whole lot of other nasty stuff. And all it takes is a couple of soft drinks or sugary juice a couple of times every day to make you an insulin elevated time-bomb. It’s no surprise that the rise of the sugary beverage correlates with the rise of the surprise infamy of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes in modern societies.
But I digress. This post is about powering up your brain – and sugar prevents that, big-time. Here’s why. Sugar is fast-digesting, while things like vegetables, nuts, and meats are slower digesting. The more slow digesting something is, the less it spikes insulin and elevates blood sugar – and vice versa.
When your blood sugar is spiking (a couple of minutes after you drink that sugary goodness), you’ll have a small burst of energy, tricking you into thinking that the drink did you a whole lot of good.
But once you’re nearing the peak elevation of your blood sugar, you’ll notice that your brain becomes clouded, you feel sluggish and sleepy, and find it hard to pay attention.
Things get worse once your blood sugar starts to crash. Your body responds by making you ravenous, and your brain is suddenly extra tired and distracted. Sugar crashes spike your hunger pangs and cravings, causing you to want another dose of sugar. Indulge in that dose, and the cycle of an energy spike followed by a horrid energy crash begins anew. All the while, you are worlds away from the kind of productivity you’re aiming for.
Imagine this scenario: It’s 11 pm, and you’re frantically working on a project that is due tomorrow morning. To give yourself an energy boost for the night, you decide to down one of those sugary caffeinated energy drinks advertised on TV.
Things start out well, and you’re working like a mad-man. You’re pumped and are getting the job done. But this only last an hour or two, and suddenly you are extremely sluggish, your stomach is grumbling, and your mind is lagging. You don’t know why it’s happening, but all you know is you feel like poop, you want to lie down, and getting through the night is like climbing a mountain. What gives?
You made a common, crucial mistake students do. You downed a sugary drink thinking it would give you energy for hours, but caused you to crash and burn instead.
So then, during a critical bout of work where you need maximum productivity, what should you be putting into your mouth? I’ll get to that in a bit.
2. Get enough sleep at night.
Yes, I said the “S-word”, which is effectively taboo in many sub-cultures of architecture school. It shouldn’t be. Because while it might seem cool to immerse yourself in the popular notions of Archi life, getting enough sleep on most nights is one of the best investments you will ever make – and it is possible if you have the discipline. That, and if you’re lucky with professors.
Getting enough sleep is extremely beneficial to brain (and total body) performance. It puts your cells’ recovery mode on hyperdrive, primes your body for learning and memory recall, decreases hunger pangs (lack of sleep makes you want to binge because of an elevated stress hormone called cortisol), decreases stress, and host of other awesome stuff. Bottom line – you should commit to sleeping enough if you want constant energy throughout the day.
How much sleep do you need? It honestly varies with age, activity levels, and even genetics. However, a good starting point is around 7 hours – and then see how you feel and adjust from there. Will be going in depth on this in a future post.
Also note that the quality of sleep is shown to be even more important than the length of the sleep. Your body’s sleep for the night is actually divided into around 90 minute “sleep cycles”. Perhaps the most important part for recovery and refreshment is the tail-end part called REM or “Rapid Eye Movement” sleep. The thing is, you can sleep for eight hours, but if you keep waking up because of noise, light, or heat before you reach REM sleep, you’re still going to wake up tired. Make sure your sleep environment is somewhere you can really doze off – quiet, dark, and cool.
3. Drink enough water.
Drinking enough water is the golden rule for health. Hydration is one of the foremost needs of all our cells. Happy cells are hydrated cells, and they make us feel awesome. Of course proper hydration is great for flushing out toxins, maintaining healthy and clear skin, preventing cramping, but it is of enormous importance to keeping you full of energy and clear-minded.
The next time you feel strangely sluggish on a normal day, drink a glass of water and chances are, you’ll start feeling a lot better. Dehydration is a sneaky little thing – we are unaware of it but even mild dehydration downgrades the efficiency of a lot of our body’s processes, including that of our brain. It protects membranes, greases the groove for neuro-transmission, making you more alert and receptive.
Don’t wait to feel thirsty before drinking water. Once you reach the point of thirst, it already means you’ve waited too long to dehydrate, and your cognitive function has already declined. It’s best to jump the gun by drinking water regularly throughout the day.
Try this: Drink 2-3 glasses (330 to 500 ml) of water upon waking, 3-4 glasses throughout the day, and another 2-3 glasses during the evening. I guarantee that when you shift to a proper hydration strategy, your skin will clear up, your energy levels will soar, and you’ll have a greater sense of well-being.
4. Make sure you’re getting enough Omega-3’s.
There are few things I absolutely swear by, and Omega-3’s are one of them. Chances are, you aren’t getting enough. Omega-3 fatty acids (specifically EPA and DHA), are essentially one of the most important fats your body needs to function, and ingesting them in reasonable abundance cause a host of documented benefits.
They increase the HDL good cholesterol in your body, aid in nutrient partitioning, improve your body’s use of insulin, reduce risk of diabetes, reduce risk of heart disease, staves off depression, the list goes on and on. One crucial benefit for urban dwellers is that it has been shown to be protective against the negative effects of air pollution.
Moving on to your brain – sixty percent of our brains is composed of Omega-3 fatty acids. When you don’t get enough, expect a decrease in your thinking power. But if you give your brain what it needs and then some, expect to be surprised at how clear and fast your thinking becomes. I can personally attest to the fact that getting the effective amount of Omega-3’s each day has been an invaluable complement to my commitment to Brain Power.
A good effective amount backed by research is ingesting around 2.4 grams of Omega-3’s daily. You can get it from fish like tuna, salmon, and sardines, eggs, flaxseed oil, broccoli, and the like. Of course tracking your consumption can be a bit tedious, so complementing your diet with a Fish Oil supplement is a smart choice. Just make sure it is from a reputable brand with a proven track record. I personally invest in a good Fish Oil supplement, take my 2.4 grams worth every day, and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made for my health and well-being.
5. Make nuts your snack of choice.
Remember the scenario I gave earlier in this post? The one where you were cramming on a project and that sugary energy drink you downed in good faith totally short-circuited your efforts? Here’s what would have been a lot more effective.
If you really wanted a constant source of energy for your work night, you’d ditch the sugary drink and instead reach for a bag of nuts and a bottle or two of water.
Peanuts, walnuts, almonds, cashews, pistachios, macadamias – whatever your palate and budget can go by, nuts are a super-food for your brain, and a great strategic tool for a long work night. Here’s why.
Nuts are high in protein and fats, which provides a constant and steady source of energy. They don’t buzz you and then crash you like fast-digesting sugar does, but instead give you a zen-like clarity without a mind-fogging slump. But before you freak out because I said “high-fat”, know that they are predominantly made of unsaturated fats, which are good for your cardiovascular function. (Besides, saturated fats aren’t as bad as they’re made up to be, but I’ll talk about that in future posts)
The protein and fat double whammy of nuts is a match made in heaven for your brain. Protein increases mental alertness and staves off feelings of tiredness. The fats in nuts provide fuel for your brain – especially because they are also a great source of Omega-3’s. Tadaaa!
Remember, this isn’t an excuse to binge on two enormous bags of almonds every night – unless you’re also training to be a sumo wrestler. Eat your nuts slowly and as you need them. And again, stay hydrated.
6. Enjoy a cup of brewed coffee.
I love coffee – the kind that is brewed and not spiked with an ungodly amount lethargy-inducing sugar. And while I’m not advocating that anyone become an addict, a nice cup of Joe to start your day or help you get through a work night can be a great thing indeed.
Coffee, with its rich antioxidants and caffeine, is host to a whole lot benefits. It reduces risks of Type II diabetes, certain kinds of cancer, Dementia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and the like. It increases physical performance, burns fat, and improves mood.
For your brain, other than protecting it from degenerative diseases over the long term, coffee ramps up your immediate cognitive power. The caffeine makes your brain’s neurons fire quicker and more efficiently, upgrading your cognitive processes. To add to this, the drowsiness and mental cloud we experience after hours of thinking is caused by our brain’s binding of adenosine– and coffee hinders this process, clearing your head and allowing you to work better, longer.
So let’s upgrade our all-nighter technique even more. Ditch the sugar-laden energy drink and ready a small bowl of almonds, a large bottle of water, and a small cup of coffee.
I guarantee your mind will feel a whole lot better and clearer, you’ll avoid the crash and ravenous hunger pangs, and your work nights will never be the same again.
If you’re not a coffee drinker, you’ll have to start slow and go through a bit of a feeling out process. Start with one small cup when you need it – too much of anything is a bad thing; it’s always best to stick with a minimum effective dose, and different people react to caffeine differently.
Yes, coffee can be addictive, but the fear that you’ll need more and more coffee to get the same effect isn’t necessarily true. I’ve been having only one cup in the morning and an optional cup in the afternoon for years – and no, my body has not been craving any more than the status quo. It all amounts to discipline – and perhaps what makes coffee so addictive is the large spike of sugar that often accompanies it – another reason to go for black or simply creamed java.
This concludes the first part of this introductory feature on increasing brainpower. Know that none of these 12 tips are meant to be “quick fixes”. For them to really work like a charm, they have to be synthesized into a complete and comprehensive plan – which you will need to learn, craft, and cater to your specific needs.
Stay tuned for PART 2, where you’ll be enlightened on 6 other life hacks for your brain!
Click here to jump to: 12 Ways to Increase Brain Power For Architecture School – PART 2