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No time for downtime? Here’s how to recharge your brain

September 2, 2010

Do you feel stressed, tired, fatigued, rushed, drained, zapped?  Join the club.  Add an economic crisis to multiple jobs, kids, elderly parents and a body crushing lifestyle and lots of Americans feel whacked over-the-head overloaded.

What’s the antidote?  Simple – use your body the way it’s built. If you want your brain to work  well you first want to know how your brain works.  Hint – it’s not a machine.  It is a living, wondrously inventive, rapidly renewing organ.  You see your hair grow, your nails grow, but do you see your brain grow?  That’s what your brain does during rest, your body’s rebuild and renew program.  To get your brain to work better, there’s rule #1 – rest for success.

Ask the rats at UCSF.  Researcher Loren Frank found, as described in the New York Times that rats sent exploring need to stop and rest in order to develop long term memories.  If you want to learn, you need to rest – and that’s not including people’s first definition of rest – sleep.

When I ask humans about rest improving their brains, I get different answers.  One reporter in Dallas explained, “I can’t rest – I’m in the newsroom.”  A news editor in Sacramento told me the opposite – that she was so wiped by working early morning hours, two jobs and a two year old that she forced herself to rest for an entire weekend – to really sleep, and not do any work.  Afterwards she felt rejuvenated, filled with new ideas and new energy – in other words, rested.

So here are just a few simple ways to get your brain in full working order and have fun:

Walk It – Even a 20-30 minute walk can grow you new brain cells, in sleep, in memory areas.  Can your computer do that? No. It’s you who gets to rebuild and rewire every day.

Sleep It – You need REM sleep and deep sleep to learn, and perhaps around 7-8 hours total to prevent heart disease, stroke, depression, and infections, all of which can really mess up brain function.  Like food, rest is required for your survival.  Every sleep deprived animal eventually dies.  If you know what you’re doing, like adding predreaming to your presleep rest time ( and you can improve brain function plus make sleep fun.

Get It Out in Nature – Cognitive psychologists still feel stumped as to why people learn better walking in nature rather than in a mall.  They shouldn’t.  Getting out in nature improves mood; resets immunity; and increases vitamin D.  And natural settings provide huge amounts of unconscious information the brain can then use to make better decisions.

Make It More Creative –  New ideas often arrive by  adding different experiences to the old ideas in our storehouse of memories.  So stroll out of your comfort zone – writers can read children’s books; teachers and parents  can watch a group of playground kids handed a new toy; any cook can visit an Asian or Latin grocery and try new vegetables and sauces.

Use Quick Active Rest Techniques –  Very few know that spiritual rest techniques in under a minute can provoke senses of awe and transcendence.  Then again, most people don’t know that there are four different kinds of active rest – physical, mental, social, and spiritual – and that they can be played together through the day like music, really cutting back on stress.

Use Your Body Clocks –  Your computer doesn’t care if it’s 4 PM or  4 AM, but you do.  Short term memory is best in the morning, long term memory in the evening.  Lots of people feel most creative in the morning, though overall alertness often peaks in the evening, a great time to visit with family and friends – asking them all kinds of sometimes far-out questions, which can boost your creativity.

Pay Attention to Attention – All your brain really has is attention, your ability to focus, concentrate, and think.  The brain only does one thing at a time.  Distract it, overload it, do too many things at once, and your productivity, mood, and creativity will suffer.  Take breaks or you’ll make mistakes.

Enjoy Sex – Walks can grow brain cells, but in rats, so does sex (  What better way to grow new memory cells than to be with someone you love, who cares about you, who you feel understands you (sex is also a great way to obtain social rest, with its many benefits for heart, brain arteries, and mood.)

So don’t believe Woody Allen in the movie “Sleeper” when he says the brain is his “second most favorite organ.”  Make it your favorite organ.   Treat your brain as the creative, wondrously renewing center of your mind and it will treat you well, working better and letting you laugh a lot more.  When you use your body the way it’s built you’ll change your appearance, your productivity, and your pleasure.  Change your brain, change your life.

Rest, sleep, Sarasota Sleep Doctor, well-being, regeneration, longevity, body clocks, insomnia, sleep disorders, the rest doctor, matthew edlund, the power of rest, the body clock, psychology today, huffington post, redbook, longboat key news

7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 2, 2010 10:21 AM

    Great article. There seems to be a growing trend toward taking pride in sleeping and resting less. I’ve heard people brag about how little sleep they need or saying they don’t require vacation time. When I hear this from management candidates it makes me wonder about the kind of leadership they would bring to my organization.

    • September 7, 2010 5:39 PM

      Dear Susan,
      Couldn’t agree more. The macho attitude towards sleep and rest completely ignores how much regeneration our bodies do; it’s taking the machine view of human life. We know what happens to machines.

    • September 27, 2010 9:59 AM

      Dear Susan,
      It is a macho thing. There’s a series running on MSNBC today and this week about how dangerous it is, especially in transport. Pilots and drivers have microsleeps all the time and don’t know it. You can drive a train with your eyes open and be completely asleep.


  2. September 21, 2010 2:23 PM

    Hi Mathew,

    I really enjoyed this blog. I really have a difficult time to just sit down and rest. I have arthritis and I have a lot of pain every day. I struggle precisely because I won’t allow myself to rest. Could you offer any tips?

    Thanks for such a wonderful blog,

    • September 27, 2010 9:57 AM

      Dear Irene,
      Please try to think of the day as cyclic. There are periods to be active physically, periods to rest. Arthritis still requires physical action (motion is lotion) but certain times of day, like the evening, may be easier to move in then the morning.


  3. Chris permalink
    December 28, 2011 3:24 PM

    Dear Matthew,

    Question: Besides rest – sleep is there another way your brain can possibly enter restful states that could be close to the equivalence of the same thing? For instance Music…and it possible that when one of those things becomes second nature for enjoyment your brain rests..because its not ‘thinking’ about the activity and simply ‘enjoying’ it? I chose music because it seems like the most powerful of all presence for lack of a better word that could do this. I have not done enough research on this but I am wondering if there is such a thing yet as a portable enough cat/mri scanner to use on someone during such an activity to see how the brain reacts. I myself being a dancer attest my energy level, my labido, and even my youthful inner nature and outer looks to dance. I have been doing it since i was 6 and without it I don’t believe i would have the energy I do. So I’ve long had this theory that possibly music/dancing or combination thereof at a certain point of developement can recharge your brain as well…if not possibly AS WELL as sleep? Considering the fact that the affects music has shown in studies to have on people psychologically this is not that far fetch of a hypothesis is it?


    • December 29, 2011 10:07 AM

      There are many ways to energy and zestfulness – of which dancing is a great choice.
      For active rest, there is physical, mental, social, and spiritual rest. I go through about 40 specific techniques for these in the book “The Power of Rest.”

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