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Matthew J. Edlund M.D.
Matthew J. Edlund M.D.

No Time for Downtime? Unplug and Recharge Your Brain

If you want to remember and learn - get rest.

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, here's rule #1 - rest for success.

Ask the rats at UCSF. Researcher Loren Frank found, as described in the NY Times (…) 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.

About the Author
Matthew J. Edlund M.D.

Matthew Edlund, M.D., researches rest, sleep, performance, and public health. He is the author of Healthy Without Health Insurance and The Power of Rest.

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