All day, you engaged in serious concentrate work. Right now, your brain is fried. wiped clean. Exhausted. However, you need to complete a project. Should you keep going?
According to recent scientific findings, you shouldn’t.
In a study published in Current Biology, French researchers discovered that performing mentally demanding tasks for longer than six hours causes a buildup of glutamate, a chemical involved in learning and memory that can be harmful at high levels, in the brain’s prefrontal cortex.
According to study author and researcher at the Paris Brain Institute Antonius Wiehler, PhD, fatigue “could be an adaptation to minimise the accumulation of glutamate.” In other words, your brain may be signalling you to stop in order to prevent your glutamate levels from rising when you feel weary.
40 participants were split into two groups by the researchers. While the other was given simpler activities to complete, one group was required to work on intellectually taxing assignments for more than six hours.
The group that had to work harder displayed greater indicators of exhaustion at the end of the day, such as decreased pupil dilation (related to lower levels of effort, Wiehler adds) and a propensity to favour quick rewards and less effort.
For instance, they opted for a lower payment now rather than a larger one later. Additionally, they were more likely than the control group to select a lower degree of difficulty for a 30-minute activity and a lower level of resistance for a 30-minute stationary bike ride.
In other words, they made decisions that required less effort and less self-control.
According to Wiehler, “It must have become more expensive for them to apply control.”
The researchers also observed the subjects’ brain chemistry using magnetic resonance spectroscopy, detecting higher glutamate levels in the hard thinkers.
Since glutamate is a resource inside cells but can be hazardous in excess outside or between cells, Wiehler emphasises the importance of limiting glutamate release.
How Can Brain Function Be Restored?
You are not a machine, is one thing we can conclude from this study. After an intellectually taxing day, you need to rest to recharge your brain.
Sleep and breaks are crucial, according to Wiehler. Therefore, be careful to take 10- to 15-minute breaks frequently during the day and obtain a full 8 hours of sleep each night.
And, he advises, try to make significant decisions when you’re rested.
You may try scheduling your meals in advance to prevent eating unhealthy foods after a long day, or you could attempt working out early so you can exert more energy.
“We’ll inquire as to how [glutamate level] is restored when we sleep. How long must [sleep] last? How long should pauses last?