As you age, your brain begins to slow down, and you find previously unchallenging cognitive tasks difficult. This effects on your cognitive performance can be problematic, especially if you have a family history of neurodegenerative diseases.
But what if we told you there are habits you can add to your daily routine that will boost your brain’s function? You can enjoy a sharpened mind right now and in the future by changing up some of your activities. Here are four healthy habits to increase cognitive performance, supported by science and research.
1. Prioritize High-Quality Sleep to Improve Cognitive Performance
Anyone who’s stayed up late knows how a lack of sleep negatively affects cognitive performance. After burning the midnight oil, you’ll find that you reduce the ability to focus the next day. This impact isn’t just a short-term effect. Over time, constantly lacking high-quality sleep will damage your brain’s ability to function.
According to studies, a lack of sleep causes the brain’s neurons to become progressively more overworked. This causes decreased performance in various cognitive tasks, such as the following activities.
1. Impaired Cognitive Performance and Reaction Time
Research shows that a lack of sleep produces similar short-term cognitive issues to being drunk. Even a couple of hours of missed sleep is sufficient to make driving on the road dangerous!
2. Reduced Executive Function
When you lack sleep, it’s harder to perform everyday tasks that generally require little effort. You can’t plan, carry out, and take the steps necessary to complete these tasks, say studies.
3. Decreased Memory Retention
Without sleep, your brain cannot correctly commit things to memory. You’ll become very forgetful quickly and can’t pay attention to what needs to be recalled. Some research even suggests you may form false memories due to a lack of sleep!
4. Damaged Cognitive Flexibility
You can’t quickly adapt to different situations when you’re sleeping deprived, according to studies. Your thinking becomes more rigid, you’re not able to maintain resilience to unexpected incidents, and you cannot think creatively.
5. Poor Mental Health
Expert research indicates that a lack of sleep causes heightened stress and mood issues. This can contribute to disorders like depression and anxiety in the long run.
Worse still, those are just the short-term cognitive performance effects of one night of inadequate sleep. In the long run, constantly being exposed to poor sleep is responsible for a massive increase in the risk of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s, say studies.
According to research by the National Sleep Foundation, healthy adults require between seven and nine hours of daily sleep. And no, you can’t distribute the required weekly sleep hours as you like and “make up” for lost sleep on the weekends. Studies have shown that catching up to sleep debt is unfeasible, with four days of rest needed to make up for just a single lost hour.
But it’s not just the hours of sleep that matter – it’s the quality of that sleep. If you’ve ever slept for a good eight hours but woken up feeling drowsy and exhausted, that points to poor-quality sleep. It may involve your sleep getting disturbed too much, your brain failing to produce the right chemicals, or a sleep disorder.
Poor sleep hygiene is the most common reason for low-quality sleep that impacts cognitive performance. Good sleep hygiene requires:
- Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, even when not strictly necessary for your schedule.
- Maintaining comfortable bedding suitable for your preferences, such as the right firmness of the mattress.
- Keep as little light on as possible when you’re asleep, so your brain correctly produces sleep chemicals.
- Avoid stimulating activities, food, and drink in a couple of hours leading up to bedtime.
- Getting off screens and devices in the hour before bedtime to prevent the light from those screens from sabotaging sleep hormone production.
- Maintaining the correct temperature of your sleeping room for your preferences.
- Creating a quiet sleeping environment.
- See a doctor for any notable sleep concerns, such as feeling exhausted with good sleep hygiene and healthy sleeping hours.
2. Puzzles and Brain Games Can Stimulate Cognitive Performance
You put your brain to lots of use every day. So when you engage in various tasks, it continues to experience growth and development on its own. But there are some additional activities you can use to train your mind for even higher cognitive performance. Some of these activities can also prevent impairment and degeneration later on, or so says research! Here are puzzles and games to try.
· Challenge Your Brain by Playing Chess
Studies show that cognitive, leisurely activities like chess can improve various cognitive functions. This includes executive function, memory, and the speed at which you process different information.
Sudoku and other number puzzles can be beneficial for the cognitive performance of older adults. Some research even indicates that regularly doing these puzzles can cause long-term improvements in cognitive function, putting you above your peers in terms of mental competency.
· Crossword Puzzles
These viral puzzles can be real head-scratchers, making them such good material. Studies even show that they may prevent memory decline later in life for those at risk of cognitive impairment.
· Checkers Can Improve Cognitive Performance
If chess does it, it’s of little surprise that checkers can do it, too! Studies have shown that checkers and other games that stimulate cognitive function can help the brain’s health. They’re correlated to better cognitive health that fights generation and more considerable brain volume.
· Jigsaw Puzzles
Jigsaw puzzles require pattern recognition and the ability to literally and figuratively put two and two together. Research indicates that this process helps to activate several different cognitive functions. You’ll experience enhanced cognitive performance in skills like working memory, perception, reasoning, and mental rotation. Frequent versions of these puzzles may even reduce symptoms of brain aging.
3. Meditate Regularly for Better Cognitive Performance
Like all organs in the body, the brain requires sufficient oxygen to perform its functions effectively. This is why shallow breathing can affect your brain, and a lack of oxygen for a prolonged amount of time can cause brain death, even if the rest of you remains alive.
Neuroplasticity and neurogenesis are two notable processes that need sufficient oxygen for optimal performance. The former refers to creating new brain connections to compensate for brain cell deterioration. The latter refers to developing, producing, and maintaining new brain cells.
While you can power these processes with normal breathing, scientific evidence suggests that breathing more deeply will further aid them. Most people don’t focus on their daily breathing, as respiration is such a natural and automatic subconscious process.
As such, a need arises for more focused breathing practices. Performing activities where you breathe calmly and deeply can achieve this and may even help your breathing become more relaxed and deep in the long run. That’s where meditation comes in.
Meditation, especially mindfulness meditation, has been proven in research to help reduce the progression of various cognitive impairment disorders. This is partly due to how meditation can reduce stress, but there are other notable changes as well.
For example, the meditation practice engages the hippocampus, a memory and learning center. Mindfulness keeps the hippocampus strong, so you enjoy boosted cognitive performance while preventing or slowing age-related decline.
If you’re not a fan of meditation and find it boring, there are similar meditative practices that can engage and occupy you better. Yoga, for example, focuses on deep breathing while also providing much-needed exercise. Indeed, yoga reduces stress similarly to meditation, which has allowed it to boost cognitive performance, too. Research has already found lots of links between the health of your brain and the practice of yoga!
4. Continually Learn New Things for Increased Cognitive Performance
Not being in school doesn’t mean you have to stop learning new things. In fact, your cognitive performance may come to a standstill if you quit utilizing your brain for additional learning.
Studies have shown that the secret to maintaining sharpness through aging is by continually learning various skills, including incredibly complex and “demanding” ones. While less demanding skill sets can provide benefits, challenging yourself in the same way you were challenged with learning at a younger age is essential for cognitive performance.
On top of that, those same studies have shown that simply doing any old activities is much less effective than novelty. This means that learning and experiencing new things is more important to cognitive performance than repeatedly engaging in already-known challenging activities. The openness to different experiences matters, especially as the brain ages.
While learning anything at all will have a benefit, some tasks and skills are proven to have additional benefits to cognitive performance. Here are some of them:
· Cognitive Performance Improves By Studying A New Language
If you can only speak one language, why not learn another? Studies have shown that bilingualism, or the knowledge of two languages fluently, can boost cognitive performance. This is because knowing these languages helps to strengthen different parts of the brain and their connections to each other. This could reduce the risk of cognitive impairment and slow the rate of decline.
While exercise, in general, is suitable for cognitive performance, some high-demand sports have even better benefits. Certain athletic sports require cognitive skills that include adapting to new situations and information. They might also require multitasking, sustained attention, and quick planning. Research shows that the brain can benefit from these types of sports, repairing faster processing speeds and heightened attention spans.
· Music Enhances Cognitive Performance
When you play instruments, you have to coordinate many different parts of the brain. Studies have indicated that learning to play instruments correlates to a much younger and healthier brain and can protect you from cognitive impairment.
Do note that any new hobby or activity can still benefit you. If instruments, languages, and sports aren’t interesting to you, seek out a hobby you can enjoy that requires motor control, coordination, and mental stimulation. These can be activities like dancing, painting, knitting, drawing, and embroidering. What matters is that you’re repeatedly engaging in novel activities!
Final Thoughts On Some Healthy Habits To Increase Cognitive Performance
Cognitive performance and the health of your brain have a lot to do with your everyday life. Positive, healthy habits are primarily responsible for making your brain smarter today and more robust for the rest of your life!