Do you suffer from brain fatigue?

The answer to that question is yes, we all suffer from brain fatigue.

In the morning, after a good night’s rest and a healthy breakfast your brain power is at its peak level for the day; from there on its nothing but downhill.

Our brains are amazing supercomputers; helping us to plan, make decisions, remember and solve complex problems.  It also gets tired very easily and we don’t give it a lot of help in that department.

We abuse our brains daily.  Whether it’s multi-tasking, taking on too much or just not understanding the limitations of our brain.

If you were in a relationship with your brain it would have dumped you years ago!

Understanding brain fatigue

How many decisions can you make in a day?

You might think that depends on whether they are difficult decisions or not.  Surely we can make a million little decisions and still have enough brain power left over for the big ones.

Unfortunately your brain doesn’t work like that.  So whether you are trying to decide if you should fly to London non-stop or if you should supersize your McDonald’s lunch – you’ve used up your daily allowance of decisions by one.

The decision-making network of your brain doesn’t prioritize.  Each decision (big or little) you make throughout the day is slowly causing brain fatigue.

And it’s not just decisions – every status update you read on Facebook results in a little bit more brain fatigue.

Every time you check e-mail – more brain fatigue.

21st century information overload

In the 80’s exciting technology was PacMan or Space Invaders – I loved both of those games and would play for hours on end.  Fortunately I had to go somewhere to play them – it wasn’t like I dragged a PacMan machine around with me.

But in today’s era with all our devices fitting into our pockets – we are so connected to technology – it’s become our master and we are the slave.

We take in five times as much information in 2011 as we did in 1986 – the equivalent of 175 newspapers! I’m going to take a wild guess that stat isn’t improving.

But our brains capacity for processing information remains at 120 bits per second.

In order to comprehend what one person is saying to us we need to process 60 bits of information per second.  If you are listening to two people at the same time you are at capacity and this is why it’s so hard to comprehend what two people are saying at the same time.

How many times do you try to listen to a conference call while checking e-mail at the same time?  You think you’re being more efficient but in reality you are just taxing your brain and causing it to fatigue sooner than if you just listened to the conference call and then checked your e-mail later.

We are overwhelming and overloading our brains to our detriment; most of the time when we are doing this we are sitting down.  that’s one of the the worst things we can do for our brain!

Sitting is the new smoking

Our bodies were meant to be moving – not 24/7 but a lot more than we are actually doing.

The longer we sit the more foggy our brain becomes.

When you’re moving, fresh oxygenated blood is being delivered to your brain – your brain is an oxygen-hog taking 25% of your total oxygen consumption.  The brain needs fresh blood and oxygen constantly in order to keep the balance of your “feel-good” neurotransmitters and hormones.

Take for example, dopamine which we need for motivation.  If you’re sitting for too long and your brain is feeling deprived of oxygen the last thing it’s going to do is produce dopamine.  Without dopamine good luck trying to finish writing that report!  You can read more on dopamine and motivation here.

Super Brain’s Cryptonite is Time

In the morning you’re “Super Brain” with super intelligent strength and powers but by evening you’re just “Brain.”  Still the same adorable wrinkly 2 pound mass of tofu like substance you were in the morning; just without the super powers.

Understanding the limits of your brain is just as important as understanding it’s potential.  If there is one word to keep in mind for keeping your brain running strong I would say it’s balance; knowing when to say no is as important as knowing when to say yes.  If you want more tips on how to keep your brain running strong read my previous blog post “5 Simple Ways to Increase Your Brain Power.”

The bottom line is if you work with your brain instead of against it you’ll be able to reduce brain fatigue and keep your super powers around a lot longer.

12 Responses

  1. Hi Meredith,

    Great post. Just thinking about what we have to do in a day can be exhausting and what is the knee-jerk reaction from most people when they sense overwhelm? Reaching for a distraction that just uses up more brain juice 🙂

    It really is about finding the balance and making the technology work for us. Automating decisions as much as possible is a great way of getting more out of the day. Sitting down for 10 minutes and doing up a shopping list on an app on my phone uses up way less energy than making 50 odd decisions as I walk around the supermarket. I’ve done both and it’s a no-brainer – shopping list every time.

    1. Hi Keith,

      Thank you for that suggestion about the supermarket – sometimes I will go in without a list and as you’ve pointed out there are a million decisions we can make in there – OK maybe not a million but A LOT!

      Thanks for your comment!


  2. Hi Meredith

    I love the ‘sitting is the new smoking’ info! As an ex smoker (11 years now, hurrah for me), the thought that I’m now potentially damaging my health by sitting too much (and I recognise this) was a wake up call. Since reading this I’ve started to alternate between sitting at the laptop and standing with it on the kitchen bench. Of course also taking regular breaks and stretching, and getting outside for a walk when I can.

    What I’ve also noticed, and I’m sure I’m not alone, is that in the middle of the night I can write the most amazing sentences for a blog post, and hope I can remember them in the morning. I even take paper to bed with me, and a pen, to write them down. Of course I don’t, because I am too sleepy. And sadly I rarely recall exactly what I was writing by the morning. What I will aim to do though is write early in the day rather than leaving it until later, certainly makes sense from what you’ve written.

    Oh, and leave out the social media procrastination until later in the day …

    1. Hi Sandra,

      I am an ex-smoker too. Now we have to become ex-sitters. 🙂 I do the same as you – alternating between sitting and standing – but I also add in 50 jumping jacks for the transition to get the blood flowing.

      Thank you for your comment!


  3. That statistic comparing what we take in now vs 1986 is incredible. I’m sure it just keeps growing and growing every year too with the growth of technology and social media. Coincidentally enough, I was just reading about “decision fatigue” and how making multiple decisions every day can reduce our mind’s ability to do them. So as we make decisions throughout the day, we get worse and worse at making them just because our brains are tired. So crazy. I agree that we should understand our limits, I’d rather limit my brain than have it become a foggy mess.

    1. Hi Steve,

      Yes, it does keep growing. Technology is a great tool, but we have to manage the flow of information – it’s overwhelming! And we have to manage the number of decisions we are making too – we just don’t have an endless supply.

      Thanks for your comment!


  4. This is an important article!

    No doubt we should all learn to take care of our most important tool: the brain.

    Nutrition, exercise, fresh air etc. are all good, but how about our own inner mental attitude towards the world?

    If we are full of attachments lifes small event will keep using brain power because we can not let it go. On the other hand, if one have been practicing buddhism, taoism, yoga or other spirituel systems one can gradually learn to keep an inner peaceful attitude, that lets you resist lifes small crises.

    All the best!

    1. Hi Holger,

      Well said. Our attachments however big or small are a huge drain on our brain and mental well being. Sounds like you’ve got a good handle on that.

      Thanks for your comment!


  5. Meredith,

    Thank you so much for sharing this article! I feel equipped to be even more productive by continuing to explore what balance looks like when it’s done well in my life and business.

    Thanks again!


    1. Thanks Daphne – I’m so happy you’re able to take some ideas away to find more balance!

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