How far would you go to upgrade your brain? How much would you pay for such brain improvement?
While future technology may allow us to link our brains to the cloud, there are several simple hacks and inexpensive supplements available that you can use to turn up the juice and get your brain fired up – and protected for the long term.
Here’s a quick overview of natural brain boosters to get you started!
Go to Sleep!
The science of sleep is still revealing how sleep works and restores us to tip-top shape. Shift workers who are changing schedules know the power of sleep all too well. The rest of us might be taking it for granted, though, and pushing the limits for benefits that don’t exceed the consequences.
Our biology used to be timed by the rising and setting of the sun, unless you were one of those fancy pants folks who could afford candles. Now our lives are lit up around the clock in this digital age, and yet our bodies still take their cues from the sun and similar light frequencies.
3 Tips for Better Sleep
1. Avoiding screens in the hours before you hit the sack can really pay dividends in getting quality sleep.
Blocking the blue light that screens and other lights generate can be accomplished with specialty sunglasses called blue blockers. If devices are your Achilles heel, many devices come equipped with screen filters that lessen the amount of blue displayed onscreen. Apps can be downloaded to accomplish the same task. I use an app called Twilight on my android phone. Love it.
2. Magnesium is an underrated supplement that can help with your sleep (and dreams).
Magnesium lysinate/glycinate chelate pills before bedtime or magnesium chloride oil sprayed before bedtime are the preferred options. Avoid food or milk at least 30 minutes prior to enjoying magnesium. Caution: The oil is itchy for some.
3. Binaural beats can also be used to facilitate great sleep and even lucid dreams.
Binaural beats are frequencies that need to be played through stereo headphones because two different frequencies are being played at any given time. Binaural beats can cause the brain to enter the desired brainwave state, whether you want theta waves (meditation, sleeping), delta waves (deep sleep), or alpha waves (focus, relaxation, learning, memory).
I’ve found binaural beats to be incredibly helpful for studying, creating, and wild dreams. You can find them through paid apps, Amazon Prime Music, or for free on YouTube.
Getting the heart pumping and the blood flowing cannot be overstated when it comes to cognitive performance. The good news is that we don’t need to go register for that triathlon…unless you’ve been telling yourself that you’re really going to do it this time, for real.
A little bit of exercise can go a long way – especially if the walk from your desk to the bathroom and back or from the car to the office is the longest walk of your day. I don’t have enough space in this article to list all the benefits of a little exercise – just find something you like and MOVE!
3 Exercises Specifically for Brain Improvement
1. Neurobics – Ever heard of neurobics? Think of it like P90X or Jazzercize – for your mind! Instead of sweatin to the oldies though, neurobics can be activities like brushing your teeth with the opposite hand while standing on one foot (a favorite of mine that I assign to the kids at bedtime), closing your eyes and walking around your house by memory, or making the argument for something you’re actually against.
Feel free to get creative and create variations and alternatives to the exercises I’ve suggested – Now you’re exercising creativity! Feeling extra daring? Imagine the life you desire.
2. Memory Palace – This is a tactic for advanced recall that involves walking through your palace (home) and attaching the things you want to remember to odd sights, sounds, and smells that you encounter as you make your way through your palace. The wilder the imagery and assault on your senses, the easier it will be to recall the events in the story you are telling or the points of the big presentation you are making. It sounds weird. It is weird. But it’s a lot of fun and works. Memory champions harness the memory palace to take them to glory.
3. Meditation – Life is busy, but If we don’t take a little time for ourselves, we’re missing out. It can be as simple as enjoying some stillness, silence, and acknowledging thoughts that arise and letting them go. You deserve a couple minutes to yourself to start the day.
Examine Your Diet! (get rid of brain fog)
If you experience brain fog after eating, sadly it may be the result of the carbs in your diet.
Many people find relief from brain fog when they eliminate carbs from their diet almost entirely. However, it could just be a type of carbohydrate that you are eating that is the problem. In that case, experimenting with eliminating certain foods to find sensitivities and intolerances is one route to explore.
Another alternative involves shifting to a slow carb diet where carbs that are low on the glycemic index are preferred because they take longer to digest and do not spike the insulin response like foods high on the glycemic index do.
Fasting and intermittent fasting are ways of using the timing of meals to work around brain fog. Intermittent fasting has personally worked wonders in my life.
Beyond a Good Diet
You don’t have to turn your home into a chemistry lab to get results like Bradley Cooper’s character in the movie Limitless (2011). You might already recognize some of these brain smart supplements, but if you’re willing to get a scale and the equipment to pack capsules yourself, you can save yourself some serious scratch in the long run.
Here’s a list of molecules you can add to your daily regime for a very noticeable brain boost without worrying, like Bradley Cooper’s character, that your brain might implode (in fact, your brain will thank you for decades to come).
It’s a tried and true powerhouse that many of us are familiar with already. Caffeine provides bang for your brain-boosting buck. Unfortunately, undisciplined use and overdoing it has caused caffeine to be associated with jitters, naughty kids hyped up on Mountain Dew, and extreme sports. Don’t like the negative side-effects of caffeine? Keep reading!
Natural sources: Coffee, tea, cocoa
Typical supplement doses: Don’t get carried away. 100 mg can go a long way. I enjoy 100 mg of extended-release caffeine from The Genius Brand plus a couple cups of tea throughout the day. Assess your own tolerance, adjust as needed, and don’t be afraid to take a break every once and a while.
Pairs well with: L-Theanine
Truly the “Yang” to caffeine’s “Ying”, L-theanine is found in tea leaves – specifically green tea leaves. L-theanine has a way of smoothing out any harshness that caffeine might have while modulating its effects on blood pressure and heart rate. L-theanine improves memory and increases brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which improves the function and longevity of neurons.
Natural sources: Green tea, and to a lesser extent black tea
Typical supplement doses: 200 mg is a common dose, keeping a 2:1 ratio of L-theanine to caffeine.
Pairs well with: Caffeine
3. Choline / Alpha GPC
When I first deconstructed the ingredients in an expensive off the shelf “smart drug” that I was trying, my research led me to understand that choline was one of the main reasons I was enjoying the positive results that I did. Alpha GPC is a more expensive form of choline, which is itself quite inexpensive. However, Alpha GPC is a nutrient that crosses the blood-brain barrier, allowing one to take less and get a superior effect. That effect – our bodies use choline in the brain to manufacture acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter. Alpha GPC has been linked to improved memory, preventing cognitive decline, and even improved muscle performance. Alpha GPC is being tested in higher doses on individuals with brain damage.
Natural sources: Eggs, beef liver
Typical supplement doses: 300 mg – 600 mg /day.
Pairs well with: Huperzine A
4. Huperzine A
Used as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, huperzine A is a cholinesterase inhibitor. It helps increase the number of neurotransmitters in the brain by slowing their decay. So if you’re reading this list in order, you can see that when combined with a source of choline that excels at crossing the blood-brain barrier, neurotransmitters are going to enter a kind of Goldilocks zone. Alpha GPC helps your body create more neurotransmitters and huperzine A keeps them in good shape for a longer amount of time. Huperzine A is also great for enhancing the dream state.
Natural sources: The Chinese club moss Huperzia serrata
Typical supplement doses: 200-400 mcg / day
Pairs well with: Choline / Alpha GPC
5. Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR)
Want to protect your brain and your sight, control cortisol, increase dopamine, and lay the groundwork for increased acetylcholine? ALCAR has been shown to do just that.
Unfortunately, I discovered ALCAR 16 years ago when it was expensive and I was a poor private first class in the Marine Corps. In all my experimenting with supplements for improved athletic performance back then, ALCAR stood out from the crowd because of its immediate effect. Fortunately, ALCAR has come down in price significantly in the last 16 years, especially if you are willing to buy it in bulk powder and put it in capsules yourself. ALCAR is also used in treating senility and Alzheimer’s disease.
Natural sources: L-Carnitine is found in a wide variety of foods, but the acetylated form is needed to cross the blood-brain barrier.
Typical supplement doses: 500 mg – 2000 mg /day taken in the morning.
Pairs well with: Alpha GPC, Huperzine A
6. Lion’s Mane
Mushrooms are awesome. If you aren’t familiar with Paul Stamets, check him out and learn why he thinks mushrooms can save the world. I’ve enjoyed Lion’s mane through beverage products made by the fine folks at Four Sigmatic (not a paid endorsement). Lion’s mane has numerous benefits. Brain-wise, it contains hericenones and erinacines, both of which can stimulate brain cell growth. It’s also used in treatment of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Natural sources: Lion’s mane mushrooms, powders derived from the mushroom are also made into mushroom coffee and mushroom hot cacao. This is hit or miss. I hate coffee, but I loved Four Sigmatic’s mushroom coffee. My wife loves hot cocoa and she hated Four Sigmatic’s mushroom-based hot cocoa. (I liked it.)
Typical supplement doses: 2,000 mg / day (~ 1 teaspoon)
Now if all of these safe, natural brain boosters get you to a point of wanting to see what else is out there to improve brain performance, check out racetams. They don’t have nearly the track record of the ingredients listed above, but they create some pretty awesome effects.
I hope this quick overview inspires further investigation! Whether you want to pay for a boost, or are only here for the freebies, follow up on some of these and give them a shot! Everyone responds differently, but perhaps today is the day you’ll find something that rocks your world!
Last thoughts, Dr. Seuss style:
Brain improvement – that’s for me!
I’ve found brain improvement that is free.
Even brain improvement from a tree!
Brain improvement through my ears?
Yes, brain improvement that lasts for years and years!