In contrast to how physical fatigue works, we don’t yet fully understand why our brains tire after long periods of intense focus and thinking, writes The Economist. According to scientists from Salpêtrière University Hospital in Paris The cause of the so-called cognitive fatigue Cognitive fatigue) are chemical changes that occur in the prefrontal cortex of the brainwhich results from the high activity of neurons in this region. These changes simply appear as a feeling of exhaustion.
When our mind is intensely focused, neurons are very active. Maintaining this state for several hours builds up potentially harmful substances in the brain and sends us a clear signal: it’s time to stop working. The experiment that allowed the researchers to reach the above conclusions is described in the prestigious academic journal Current Biology.
Cognitive fatigue after a long time mental work
According to an article in The Economist, researchers asked study participants to complete thinking tasks for just over six hours. Half of them were given easy tasks, and the other half – difficult ones.
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During the observation, the participants were asked to make a certain decision. They were asked if they would prefer to earn €50 for riding an exercise bike for 30 minutes on energy level 6 or €37 for 30 minutes on level two. Participants who were given more difficult tasks were more likely to choose the option to receive a smaller monetary reward, which was also associated with lower intensity effort. It was also observed that this group of participants made their decisions without much thought.
An additional predictor of fatigue in participants performing more difficult tasks was the time their pupils dilated, which increased significantly as the experiment progressed.
During the experiment, the scientists, using magnetic resonance spectroscopy, made observations Changes that occur in the brains of participants who perform easy and difficult tasks. The analysis showed higher concentrations of glutamate (glutamic acid) at the synapses of the lateral prefrontal cortex of the participants performing high-level tasks. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in processes such as learning, memory, and sleep. So scientists showed it Cognitive fatigue is associated with increased glutamate concentrations in the prefrontal cortex – We read.
The beneficial role of sleep
Let’s summarize the conclusions. Intense mental work not only makes us feel tired, but it also impairs our cognitive control. It is a collective term that includes capacity (in general) for mental effort, self-control, and willpower. Mentally tired, we make decisions along the line of least resistance and without much thought, choosing what costs us the least effort and waiting.
How do you fix it? Matthias Bisiglione, co-author of the study, says so “There is evidence that glutamate is released from synapses during sleep.”. Quite simply: in order for the brain to return to balance, it needs rest, and restorative sleep is preferred. The world also advises people They avoided making important decisions when they were tired We read in Neuroscience News.
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