Unplug at night
Light from electrical appliances and devices can affect your sleep – an important factor for a better-working brain – and increase insomnia. Switch them off an hour before going to bed so you can wake up fresh the next day.
It’s the most important meal of the day, and may improve short-term memory and attention. “Make sure your breakfast has a good balance of protein from sources such as eggs (which are rich in choline, found to improve memory and alertness), nuts, seeds and dairy, and low glycaemic carbohydrates like oats that won’t cause your blood sugar level to spike,” says Pooja Vig, nutritionist and co-founder of The Nutrition Clinic.
Improve brain coordination
Train yourself to focus by doing cross-crawl exercises that strengthen the connection between the left and right sides of your brain, advises Maggie Shen, Feldenkrais practitioner and Brain Gym instructor.
What to do: March in place and use your hand to touch the opposite knee while lifting that knee up. At the same time, look in the direction of the hand you’re using. Do the same for the other side. Keep alternating until your muscles feel tired, then stop.
Work to the beat
“Classical music helps you retain factual information, while emotive pop and rock songs produce a heightened state of excitement that helps boost creativity,” says Sunita Kaur, director of Asia at Spotify, a music-streaming service. Check out Spotify’s work-friendly playlists, like The 50 Greatest Pieces of Classical Music, Pop Top Tracks (with songs by Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez and more) and Re-energize (with lively tunes like D.A.N.C.E by Justice and Sail into the Sun by Gentlemen Hall).
You can also try the music app Focus@will on your Apple and Android devices. It offers instrumental music channels that are scientifically designed to improve your attention span. Stream a 60-minute classical playlist with a free account, or get the paid version ($3.99/month or $34.99/ year) to access other genres such as acoustical, up tempo and jazz.
Use essential oils
“Put a drop or two in your hand and inhale deeply,” says Claudia Hofmaier, wellness coach and founder of Essential Healing. The oils stimulate the limbic system of your brain (the seat of our emotions) and enable you to relax and think more clearly. Make sure you use high-quality essential oils.
Try these oils:
BASIL Fights mental fatigue and relieves tension headaches.
CEDARWOOD Increases mental focus and concentration.
ROSEMARY Eases nervousness and mental fatigue.
PEPPERMINT Combats mental and physical fatigue, alleviates tension and boosts concentration.
A simple exercise called Hook Ups can help you manage your emotions, reduce anxiety and clear your mind, says Maggie.
What to do: While seated, cross your right leg over your left at the ankles, and cross your right wrist over your left wrist. Link up your fingers and gently turn your clasped fingers in towards your body until they rest at the centre of your chest. Stay in this position and breathe evenly for a few minutes until you feel noticeably calmer.
Take regular breaks
A recent study at Florida State University found that top performers in different fields usually work for 90 minutes straight, before taking a break and starting again. Setting aside a few minutes for yourself can help you rest your brain, avoid exhaustion and refocus.
Get your java
Caffeine triggers the release of dopamine, a chemical that stimulates alertness. A moderate amount can perk you up, keep you sharp, and improve your mental performance for up to 45 minutes. But limit your daily coffee to one or two cups, as too much caffeine can cause jitters and interrupt your nightly sleep, which is key to keeping you alert the next day.
Instead of coffee, you can add a drop of peppermint essential oil to a cup of water for a quick pick-me-up!
This article was originally published in Simply Her March 2014.