When trying to learn more, most people neglect their bodies and solely focus on their minds. They will cut out time for sleep in favor of time for learning, they will lock themselves in their room all day in order to study, they will eat less because it is less to think about, and they will neglect physical activity. While all these things seem like they will help you learn more, they actually do the opposite. Our sleep, diet, and exercise are essential to our mind.
You can think of your mind like a car. In order for our car to function, we need to do things to maintain it. We need to give our car gasoline (or electricity), we need to make sure our car is running properly by taking it in for maintenance, and we need to make sure we are not overstraining our car. If we follow each of these things, we will get the most out of our car. In this example, our diet is the gasoline, exercise is maintenance, and ensuring we do not overstrain it is sleep.
Diet is the first and foremost thing we should be doing to ensure our body functions properly. We need to ensure we are eating enough, and we need to ensure that we are putting the right things into our body.
If you are unsure how much you should be eating a day, use this calculator to find the amount of maintenance calories you need to maintain your weight. You can figure out if you are underweight or overweight using the Body Mass Index Calculator. However, losing and gaining weight goes beyond the scope of this post, and it is something that you should research on your own.
So, let’s assume you are your ideal weight. Now, you want to ensure that the fuel you are giving your body is the right kind of fuel. It is possible you are getting all the calories you need from terrible sources. When you do this, your weight won’t change, but your mood definitely will.
First, I would recommend removing all fast-foods from your regular diet (1). There is nothing wrong with getting a cheeseburger once in a while, but if its a regular stop for lunch, then you need to change things up. Additionally, you are going to want to try to cut back in food that is high in trans fat or any food with a lot of added sugar (2)(3)(4).
Okay, now you know what not to do. How about what you should do? Well, let’s start with what the brain is made of, fat. Your brain is about 60% fat, so it’s not surprising that eating a lot of healthy fats is good for your brain. Some examples of good fatty foods are nuts, salmon, and avocados. But don’t overload the fat! You are going to want to keep a well-balanced diet (5)(6). What’s that mean? Keep a good mixture of carbs and protein in there as well. As a matter of fact, you should be at least eating 0.36 grams of protein per pound of body weight to maintain your muscle composition (7) (don’t worry, you’re probably doing this already unless you are on some extreme diet).
How about superfoods? They’re great, but also don’t obsess too much over them. A lot of the superfoods can add up in price, so don’t worry if you can afford them all. Here’s a good list of ones that should be cheaper and easy to find:
- Blueberries reduce oxidative stress in your brain (8)
- Turmeric prevents cognitive decline (9)
- Broccoli reduces inflammation (10)
- Pumpkin seeds have powerful antioxidants
- Cocoa nibs help protect the brain
There are plenty other brain superfoods, but I don’t want to overwhelm you. If you want to find more you can easily look them up.
The last thing I want to mention, but I won’t cover in this guide is nootropics. Nootropics are brain enhancing drugs and supplements. I am planning several posts on them for the future, but I won’t cover them in this guide as there is a ton to say. And, do not do any nootropics before you cover everything in this guide! The stuff in this guide should be step one before you branch out into more extreme things.
Exercise is essential to a healthy body. Exercise helps you in three main areas: mood, energy, and sleep.
Just doing some basic exercise consistently will boost your mood and make you happier (11). It’s no secret that if you’re miserable, you will have some trouble thinking.
When you exercise, you also get into better shape which means your energy levels will be higher (12). Higher energy levels promotes more motivation which has a direct correlation with your success at learning.
Lastly, exercise promotes better sleep (13) which I will cover in the last section in this post.
So how should you exercise? Honestly, it’s up to you! If you are looking for the most bang for your buck, a 30 minute jog, three times a week is probably going to be great, but it also comes down to your physical goals. Personally, I do strength training six days a week, and I do sprints three. I doubt that doing more than a basic amount of exercise will make a big impact, but I also think you should adopt some goals about where you want to be in six months and tailor your routine around that.
I saved the most important for last. The reason I say this is because, sleep deprivation has the ability to ruin everything else you do right. Sleep is crucial! And the worst part about sleep deprivation, is most people don’t even realize how much it is affecting them (14).
How much should I sleep? Well, this depends. Each person varies, but the most common number seems to be eight hours. If you find you need more than that, I recommend you go to your doctor and check for deficiencies. And there is a small subset of the population that can function on less than eight hours. If you are in that portion of the population, you will know. For most people, just bet on eight hours of solid sleep.
So, what’s good sleep? Good sleep is when you spend enough time in each sleep stage every night. What are the sleep stages? Well that’s outside the scope of this post, and in order to even figure out how much time you spend in each stage, you need a tracker.
But, there are things you can do to make sure your sleep is good.
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every night.
- Stop drinking caffeine six hours before bed.
- Do not use your phone while in bed
- Make sure the room is a comfortable temperature
- Make sure your room is dark when it should be (ex. It’s not bright at 12 am)
- Make sure your room is a calming space (don’t do work in your room)
Coming to the End
Once you have each of those things done, you have started your journey towards having your mind perform at its optimal state. If you are already advanced in what I covered here, but you want to learn more, here are some links to other blogs that cover biohacking (optimizing yourself for performance):
- The Tim Ferriss Show
- Ben Greenfield
- Serge Faguet (this guy does insane stuff, definitely check him out)
- Peter Attia
Thank you for reading, and if you have any questions, comment below!