Do you have a task that needs 100% of your focus but you constantly find yourself staring into space or scrolling through your phone? Having difficulty concentrating is frustrating enough, but it can be a deterrent to many aspects of life. It can cause issues at work, school and even in relationships.
Exam season is here which is often a stressful and overwhelming time for students which can lead to a lack of focus. For the rest of us, well, life is busy, and we may struggle to juggle several tasks at home and work simultaneously, and our minds may wander elsewhere.
There are likely several factors that lead to loss of attention, such as hormonal imbalances, vitamin deficiencies, stress, fatigue, poor diet and other health issues that may need professional and medical assistance.
SYMPTOMS FOR LACK OF FOCUS
- Difficulty keeping still.
- Inability to memorise information.
- Brain fog.
- Lacking physical energy.
- Repetitively making mistakes.
- Being distracted easily.
- Missing important deadlines, appointments or meetings.
- Forgetting where you place objects.
If you are stressed about your need for more focus, we have suggestions that could help.
GET ENOUGH SLEEP
Sleeping is a necessity for human survival. On average, sleeping 7-9 hours a night is recommended. Yet, according to the National Institutes of Health, about 1 in 3 adults in the United States reported not getting enough rest or sleep every day with around 50 to 70 million Americans estimated to have chronic or ongoing sleep disorders.(1)
An recent article published in WebMD explains how lack of sleep can hinder you from thinking clearly and keeping your emotions at bay.(2) It also suggested that excessive sleepiness can damage work performance, wreak havoc on relationships, and lead to mood problems.
Matthew Walker, professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, described in his book Why We Sleep a 40% deficit in the ability to make new memories when sleep-deprived!
A study conducted on rats administered Reishi orally three times a day and showed a significantly increased total sleep time and non-rapid eye movement sleep, which is the more restful sleep state.(3)
In another study, Reishi has been shown for its potential to interact with the GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric acid) pathway, lowering neural activity in the brain.(4) GABA is an essential amino acid neurotransmitter and is likened to a relaxation chemical. When it fits into its receptor site, a new impulse is prevented and therefore has an inhibitory effect that lowers our prefrontal cortex's neural activity. This might explain anecdotal reports of Reishi’s calming effects, especially for those whose minds and bodies are continually strained!
HEALTHY EATING HABITS
Unsurprisingly, hunger can lead to a lack of focus, headaches and fatigue. However, choosing the right food to eat can assist in sharpening your concentration. A healthy diet may also lower the risk of many health problems like heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes and a study suggests it also affects cognition and academic performance.(5)
Eating a well-balanced diet means consuming the proper nutrients and vitamins to help your brain function. It should include:
- Berries are rich in flavonoid compounds called anthocyanins which increase blood flow to the brain. Flavonoids may also support memory and learning.
- Leafy greens are high in sources of beta-carotene, folic acid, lutein, and vitamins E and K1, which protect brain tissue from cellular damage and inflammation.
- Fatty fish like sardines and salmon are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which our brain needs to function and develop. It provides more oxygen so that we retain new information and keep old.
- Nuts & seeds are also high in omega-3 fatty acids and contain vitamin E which is also linked to cognitive function.
- Eggs are rich in B vitamins and choline. B vitamins can decrease inflammation and oxidative stress. Choline plays a factor in regulating mood, memory and intelligence.
- Avocados are a nutrient-dense food and just half an avocado counts towards your five a day. They are high in lutein, a dietary component linked with cognitive benefits.
- Dark chocolate and cacao are high in flavonoids and can improve human cognitive function. Check out our blog on cacao to learn of its incredible benefits.
How can LION’S MANE help with brain development and memory?
Social media is often the catalyst for distraction and has been noted as the cause of an “attention war” and blamed for the decline in our ability to concentrate. A 2022 study found that people’s attention spans are getting increasingly shorter than they used to be (49% vs 23%) and that adults check their phones up to 80 times a day!(6)
As much as social media can be a disturbance, other contributing factors include brain fog – a feeling of sluggishness or poor concentration. Often a response to a lack of sleep or physical exercise, poor circulation, and poor nutrition, brain fog can also be caused by inflammation, negatively impacting the brain’s readiness to reach and maintain an alert state.
Lion’s Mane mushroom has been reported to increase Nerve Growth Factor (NGF). NGF is a protein that has the ability to stimulate the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain associated with thinking, learning and emotions. NGF is essential in maintaining and developing neurons, a process known as neurogenesis.
Lion’s Mane may also increase the strength of neural pathways, which can potentially foster creativity, embed memories and improve memory recall. This study on mice found that Lion’s Mane resulted in a significant improvement in spatial short-term and visual recognition memory.(7)
Check out one our recent blogs on Lion’s Mane – the brain boosting fungi to discover more of its incredible benefits.
@dirteaworld The FRUITING body of the Lions Mane mushroom. If you buy any mushroom wellness product make sure you buy extracts from FRUITING bodies ! #lionsmane #mushrooms #healing #healingtiktok #brainhealth #functionalmushrooms ♬ [Chill out] Relaxing / Cafe / LoFi(976581) - Chill Soul Labo
Taking breaks from 5 to 90 minutes is recommended between periods of work or study to help increase attention. Harvard Business Review explains that the more relaxed and disengaged from work people feel during a break, the more likely they will be to benefit from taking time off.(8) Allocating some time for quality breaks will help reduce stress and increase energy to get back to the task, as long as you have a timer nearby that lets you know it's time to get back to work or studying!
A few adequate breaks include:
- Walking - Walking will enable you to disassociate from your work and be therapeutic. Especially if you leave your phone behind or in your pocket and just focus on your surroundings!
- Meditate/Nap - A meditation session or a short nap after learning enhances learning and memory. Stanford Professor of Neurology Andrew Huberman recommends about 20 minutes of meditation or napping for each 90-minute learning cycle.(9) Researchers at the Columbia University Medical Centre claim that meditation can change the structure and function of the brain through relaxation, which can reduce stress and anxiety, increase focus, and improve memory and attention(10)
- Exercise - An article in healthguide.org suggests that physical activity boosts dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels—all of which affect focus and attention.(11) It is also an effective way to improve concentration, motivation, memory, and mood as well as enhance cognitive ability and the ability to learn new skills. Try to aim for 180-200 minutes of cardio per week, a couple of sessions of load-bearing exercise per week and aim for zone 2 heart rate,
- Caffeine - In small doses, caffeine breaks can enhance memory by blocking adenosine (responsible for sleepiness and fatigue), increasing alertness, and increasing dopamine. DIRTEA Coffee is a great option as it’s only got 50mg of caffeine per serving which is approximately 80% less caffeine than a standard coffee.
GOALS & REWARDS
Goal setting comes in many forms, such as time-based, qualitative and quantitative, and outcome and process-driven goals. Goals are there to place the focus on achieving your tasks.
According to Fred Lunenburg's Goal Setting Theory of Motivation, research supports predictions that the most effective performance seems to result when goals are specific and challenging, when they are used to evaluate performance and linked to feedback on results and create commitment and acceptance.(12)
Including a reward system can help you become motivated to achieve your goals as they reinforce positive behaviour.
The Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown (CCU) in Lisbon and University College London (UCL) have delved deeper and found that using a reward system increased serotonin levels involved in learning and cognition.(13)
Timeboxing is a productivity management activity that involves setting your daily tasks by the hour. This is a way to break down daily tasks into set periods, which helps you focus on each task rather than procrastinating. In a study of 100 productivity hacks, timeboxing was ranked as the most useful.(14)
EMBRACE THE COLD
As weird as this sounds, using cold water therapy may be a simple and cost-effective way to improve our level of focus. By taking a quick 1–5-minute cold shower or plunge in an ice bath (if you’re lucky enough to have access to one), once a day is an incredible way to wake your senses and increase concentration.
A 2009 study measured concentration before and 30 minutes after cold exposure which showed up to an hour or more effect of increasing reaction times, working memory and epinephrine, a neurochemical that will place your thoughts in a tunnel vision mode, allowing you to increase cognitive work with no distraction for a brief period.(15)
Dr Soberg, a renowned expert in health and wellness, recently conducted a study with several peers on the effects of cold-water immersion on the human body.(16) She discovered that adequate cold exposure per week helps increase focus, energy, and mood and significantly increases dopamine levels in the brain and blood.
The study explains that a minimum of three minutes immersed in the cold will be needed to receive all these incredible health benefits. It also showed increases in dopamine up to 250%, which can last for hours in ways that support immune function and improve cognitive focus.
INFLUENCE OF FREQUENCY
It is said that listening to soft and light music can enhance concentration, but we also want to introduce you to binaural beats, the frequency difference between two tones.
Binaural beats in the alpha frequencies are believed to boost relaxation, decrease anxiety, and create a positive focus for the individual. Lower beta frequencies have been linked to increased concentration, problem-solving, alertness and improved memory.
A study showed that binaural beats impact the efficiency of allocating attention over time.(17)
5 KEY TAKEAWAYS
1. Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) may be increased by Lion’s Mane.
2. Taking 5–90-minute breaks during work or study has been shown to help increase attention.
3. Sleeping is essential to rest our brain for us to prepare to learn new information and retain old.
4. Invest in timeboxing. It’s a great way to break down daily tasks into set periods, which helps you focus on each task rather than procrastinating.
5. Eating the proper nutrients will help keep our body and brain healthy.
- National Institutes of Health (2022). ‘What Are Sleep Deprivation and Deficiency?’ Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/sleep-deprivation#:~:text=According%20to%20the%20Centers%20for,at%20least%20once%20a%20month. (Accessed: 8 May 2023).
- WebMD (2021). ‘What Lack of Sleep Does to Your Mind.’ Available at: https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/features/emotions-cognitive (Accessed: 8 May 2023).
- Cui, X,Y., Cui, S,Y., Zhang, J., Wang, Z,J., Yu, B., Sheng, Z,F., Zhang, X,Q., and Zhang, Y,H. (2012) ‘Extract of Ganoderma Lucidum Prolongs Sleep Time in Rats’. J Ethnopharmacol. 139 (3), pp. 796-800. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2011.12.020.
- Chu, Q,P., Wang L,E., Cui, X,Y., Fu, H,Z., Lin, Z,B., Lin, S,Q., and Zhang, Y,H. (2007) ‘Extract of Ganoderma Lucidum Potentiates Pentobarbital-Induced Sleep Via a GABAergic Mechanism’. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 86 (4), pp.693-8. doi: 10.1016/j.pbb.2007.02.015.
- Naveed, S., Lakka, T., and Haapala, E,A.(2020) ‘An Overview on the Associations between Health Behaviors and Brain Health in Children and Adolescents with Special Reference to Diet Quality’. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 17 (3), pp. 953. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17030953.
- Kings College London (2022) ‘Are Attention Spans Really Collapsing? Data Shows UK Public Are worried – But Also See Benefits From Technology’ Available at: https://www.kcl.ac.uk/news/are-attention-spans-really-collapsing-data-shows-uk-public-are-worried-but-also-see-benefits-from-technology. (Accessed: 8 May 2023).
- Brandalise, .F, Cesaroni, V., Gregori, A., Repetti, M., Romano, C., Orrù, G., Botta, L., Girometta, C., Guglielminetti, M,L., Savino, E., and Rossi P. (2017) ‘Dietary Supplementation of Hericium erinaceusIncreases Mossy Fiber-CA3 Hippocampal Neurotransmission and Recognition Memory in Wild-Type Mice’. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2017:3864340. doi: 10.1155/2017/3864340.
- Harvard Business Review (2014) ‘Research: We’re Too Busy to Follow the Rules’ Available at: https://hbr.org/2014/09/research-were-too-busy-to-follow-the-rules?registration=success. (Accessed: 8 May 2023).
- Youtube (2021). Using Science to Optimize Sleep, Learning and Metabolism. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nwSkFq4tyC0&t=2980s. (Accessed: 8 May 2023).
- Colombia School of Professional Studies (2021) ‘How Meditation Can Help You Focus’ Available at: https://sps.columbia.edu/news/how-meditation-can-help-you-focus#:~:text=Researchers%20at%20the%20Columbia%20University,Improve%20memory%20and%20attention%20span. (Accessed: 8 May 2023).
- org (2023). ‘ ‘The Mental Health Benefits of Exercise’ Available at: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-living/the-mental-health-benefits-of-exercise.htm#:~:text=Physical%20activity%20immediately%20boosts%20the,such%20as%20Ritalin%20and%20Adderall. (Accessed: 8 May 2023).
- Lunenburg, F, C. (2021) ‘Goal-Setting Theory of Motivation’ International Journal of Management, Business and Administration. 15 (1).
- Iigaya, K., Fonseca, M,S., Murakami, M., Mainen Z, F., and Dayan, P. (2018) ‘An Effect of Serotonergic Stimulation on Learning Rates for Rewards Apparent after Long Intertrial Intervals’. Nat Commun 9, 2477, https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-018-04840-2
- Filtered (2018). The Definitive 100 Most Useful Productivity Tips’ Available at: https://learn.filtered.com/hubfs/Definitive%20100%20Most%20Useful%20Productivity%20Hacks.pdf. (Accessed: 8 May 2023).
- Duncko, R., Johnson, L., Merikangas, K., and Grillon, C. (2009) ‘Working Memory Performance After Acute Exposure to the Cold Pressor Stress in Healthy Volunteers’. Neurobiol Learn Mem. 91(4):377-81. doi: 10.1016/j.nlm.2009.01.006.
- Søberg, S., Löfgren, J., Philipsen, E,F., Jensen, M., Hansen, E,A., Ahrens, E., Nystrup, B,K., Nielsen D,R., Sølling, C., Wedell-Neergaard, A-S,. Berntsen, M., Loft, A., Kjær, A., Gerhart-Hines, Z., Johannesen H,H., Pedersen, K,B., Karstoft, K., and Scheele, (2021) ‘Altered Brown Fat Thermoregulation and Enhanced Cold-Induced Thermogenesis in Youn, Healthy, Winter- Swimming Men’ ScienceDirect. 100408 doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.xcrm.2021.100408.
- Colzato, L,S., Barone, H., Sellaro, R., and Hommel, B.(2017) ‘More Attentional Focusing Through Binaural Beats: Evidence from the Global-Local Task’. Psychol Res. 81(1), pp.271-277. doi: 10.1007/s00426-015-0727-0.