Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Two strategies for combating mental fatigue
Research from Denmark finds that mindfulness and music help sustain attention.
- Four weeks of mindfulness training and 12 minutes of binaural beats were found to increase attentional capacities after being mentally fatigued.
- This research from the University of Southern Denmark provides important interventions during a stressful time.
- Mental fatigue leads to higher incidences of workplace and traffic accidents as well as an inability to retain information.
Mental fatigue is always a problem in our distraction-heavy world, but it's particularly troublesome as we constantly check for the latest updates on the state of our societal health. Specifically, mental fatigue occurs after extended periods of cognitive demand. This results in an inability to focus on tasks and can often lead to accidents and an inability to retain information.
Since the advent of the smartphone plenty of research has focused on helping us combat mental fatigue. In his bestselling book, Matthew B. Crawford suggests craftsmanship—he left a D.C. think tank to become a motorcycle mechanic—is as intellectually stimulating as it is physically demanding, improving attentional skills. For others, such as computer science professor Cal Newport, it means getting off of social media and only checking email once a day.
Fixing antique motorcycles or eschewing social media is not in everyone's cards, however. Thus, practices like meditation have entered the national conversation. Though some question its validity as a performance enhancement technique—they believe it should only be a tool for spiritual development and self-introspection—there's solid evidence that a regular practice offsets attentional deficits.
All it takes is 10 mindful minutes | Andy Puddicombe
Then there's an intriguing new study from the University of Southern Denmark Faculty of Health Sciences. The team of Johanne L. Axelsen, Ulrich Kirk, and Walter Staiano (from the University of Valencia) discovered that the combination of mindfulness meditation and binaural beats helps combat mental fatigue and regain attentional abilities.
Binaural beats are two tones, one played in each ear at slightly different frequencies. An auditory illusion occurs when your brain produces a beat at the junction of those two frequencies. Thus far, research has been spotty on their efficacy. Most positive reviews have been anecdotal. For some people they seem to have no effect. For others (such as myself) they make a great accompaniment to a meditation practice. Beyond focus, binaural beats are said to help reduce anxiety, increase relaxation, and assist in creating positive moods.
Four groups were invited to partake in this research: a novice mindfulness group, an experienced mindfulness group, a binaural beats group, and a control group. For this study, the team conducted five phases:
- Volunteers' moods were assessed using the Brunel Mood Scale (BRUMS), after which they completed a sustained attention task (SART)
- They were given a 90-minute mental fatigue treatment using a AX-CPT task
- Their mood was again assessed, followed by immediate interventions
- One group listened to a 12-minute mindfulness meditation provided by Headspace; another group listened to 12 minutes of binaural beats; a third group was told to relax for 12 minutes
- Finally, each volunteer was again given a sustained attention task
Spring Point Ledge Light looms in the background while Ezra Silk of Portland practices mindfulness and loving kindness mediation on East End Beach Monday morning.
Staff photo by Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images
The SART was designed to fatigue the groups. As the team writes,
"The results showed that the music group and the experienced mindfulness group were least affected by mental fatigue and its effect on the SART %NoGo success rate, whereas performance of the control group and the novice mindfulness group was reduced by mental fatigue."
Those with a longstanding mindfulness practice and a history of using binaural beats seem to maintain sustained attention even after being fatigued. Less experienced meditators are more easily tired, while those told "just relax" without a framework also fared poorly. The team found that four weeks of mindfulness training was enough to help combat cognitive exhaustion.
Such information is always useful, but especially so at this moment. Times of uncertainty are cognitively brutal. This is the first time in history that the entire world is experiencing an epidemic while being connected to social media. In some ways, it can be calming, but the opposite is also occurring, with conspiracy theories and misinformation rampant.
Unplugging, as Newport suggests, is great for your mental health, but let's face it: many of us will keep our eyes glued to the screen. Taking some time out, even 12 minutes, appears to help. Right now, we'll take progress in inches.
- How Mindfulness Meditation Works - Big Think ›
- Mental health management is an under-appreciated life skill - Big ... ›
- Why we find information overload so exhausting - Big Think ›
A new study finds that dogs fed fresh human-grade food don't need to eat—or do their business—as much.
- Most dogs eat a diet that's primarily kibble.
- When fed a fresh-food diet, however, they don't need to consume as much.
- Dogs on fresh-food diets have healthier gut biomes.
Four diets were tested<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTU5ODI1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjY0NjIxMn0._w0k-qFOC86AqmtPHJBK_i-9F5oVyVYsYtUrdvfUxWQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="1b1e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="87937436a81c700a8ab3b1d763354843" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Credit: AntonioDiaz/Adobe Stock<p>The researchers tested refrigerated and fresh human-grade foods against kibble, the food most dogs live on. The <a href="https://frontierpets.com.au/blogs/news/how-kibble-or-dry-dog-food-is-made" target="_blank">ingredients</a> of kibble are mashed into a dough and then extruded, forced through a die of some kind into the desired shape — think a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_extrusion" target="_blank">pasta maker</a>. The resulting pellets are sprayed with additional flavor and color.</p><p>For four weeks, researchers fed 12 beagles one of four diets:</p><ol><li>a extruded diet — Blue Buffalo Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe</li><li>a fresh refrigerated diet — Freshpet Roasted Meals Tender Chicken Recipe</li><li>a fresh diet — JustFoodforDogs Beef & Russet Potato Recipe</li><li>another fresh diet — JustFoodforDogs Chicken & White Rice Recipe.</li></ol><p>The two fresh diets contained minimally processed beef, chicken, broccoli, rice, carrots, and various food chunks in a canine casserole of sorts. </p><p>(One can't help but think how hard it would be to get finicky cats to test new diets. As if.)</p><p>Senior author <a href="https://ansc.illinois.edu/directory/ksswanso" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Kelly S. Swanson</a> of U of I's Department of Animal Sciences and the Division of Nutritional Sciences, was a bit surprised at how much better dogs did on people food than even refrigerated dog chow. "Based on past research we've conducted I'm not surprised with the results when feeding human-grade compared to an extruded dry diet," he <a href="https://aces.illinois.edu/news/feed-fido-fresh-human-grade-dog-food-scoop-less-poop" target="_blank">says</a>, adding, "However, I did not expect to see how well the human-grade fresh food performed, even compared to a fresh commercial processed brand."</p>
Tracking the effect of each diet<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTU5ODI1OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3NjY1NTgyOX0.AdyMb8OEcjCD6iWYnXjToDmcnjfTSn-0-dfG96SIpUA/img.jpg?width=980" id="da892" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="880d952420679aeccd1eaf32b5339810" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Credit: Patryk Kosmider/Adobe Stock<p>The researchers tracked the dogs' weights and analyzed the microbiota in their fecal matter.</p><p>It turned out that the dogs on kibble had to eat more to maintain their body weight. This resulted in their producing 1.5 to 2.9 times the amount of poop produced by dogs on the fresh diets.</p><p>Says Swanson, "This is consistent with a 2019 National Institute of Health study in humans that found people eating a fresh whole food diet consumed on average 500 less calories per day, and reported being more satisfied, than people eating a more processed diet."</p><p>Maybe even more interesting was the effect of fresh food on the gut biome. Though there remains much we don't yet know about microbiota, it was nonetheless the case that the microbial communities found in fresh-food poo was different.</p><p>"Because a healthy gut means a healthy mutt," says Swanson, "fecal microbial and metabolite profiles are important readouts of diet assessment. As we have shown in <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jas/article/92/9/3781/4702209#110855647" target="_blank">previous studies</a>, the fecal microbial communities of healthy dogs fed fresh diets were different than those fed kibble. These unique microbial profiles were likely due to differences in diet processing, ingredient source, and the concentration and type of dietary fibers, proteins, and fats that are known to influence what is digested by the dog and what reaches the colon for fermentation."</p>
How did kibble take over canine diets?<p>Historically, dogs ate scraps left over by humans. It has only been <a href="https://www.thefarmersdog.com/digest/the-history-of-commercial-pet-food-a-great-american-marketing-story/" target="_blank">since 1870</a>, with the arrival of the luxe Spratt's Meat Fibrine Dog Cakes—made from "the dried unsalted gelatinous parts of Prairie Beef", mmm—that commercial dog food began to take hold. Dog bone-shaped biscuits first appeared in 1907. Ken-L Ration dates from 1922. Kibble was first extruded in 1956. Pet food had become a great way to turn <a href="https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/choosing-dog-food/animal-by-products/" target="_blank">human-food waste</a> into profit.</p><p>Commercial dog food became the norm for most household canines only after a massive marketing campaign led by a group of dog-food industry lobbyists called the Pet Food Institute in 1964. Over time, for most households, dog food was what dogs ate — what else? Human food? These days more than half of U.S. dogs are <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/magazine/who-made-that-dog-biscuit.html" target="_blank">overweight or obese</a>, and certainly their diet is a factor.<span></span></p><p>We're not so special among animals after all. If something's healthy for us to eat—we're <em>not</em> looking at you, chocolate—maybe we should remember to share with our canine compatriots. Not from the table, though.</p>
What makes some people more likely to shiver than others?
Some people just aren't bothered by the cold, no matter how low the temperature dips. And the reason for this may be in a person's genes.
Eating veggies is good for you. Now we can stop debating how much we should eat.
- A massive new study confirms that five servings of fruit and veggies a day can lower the risk of death.
- The maximum benefit is found at two servings of fruit and three of veggies—anything more offers no extra benefit according to the researchers.
- Not all fruits and veggies are equal. Leafy greens are better for you than starchy corn and potatoes.