The Best Nootropics For Studying: How The Brain Works!

The Best Nootropics For Studying: How The Brain Works!

February 18, 2019

The mammalian brain is the most complex and powerful organ known to man, yet it is highly misunderstood (especially in humans). Our brain is like the “control center” of the body; it’s the center of all thought and enables us to process and interpret information about the world around us. It’s no wonder then that the world of “smart drugs” (nootropics) intrigues many people, especially high schoolers and college students.

Read on as this article will dive into how the brain learns on a physiological level, as well as key factors that influence learning and the best nootropics for studying.

Anatomy of the Brain

The average human brain contains 100s of billions of cells (e.g. mainly neurons and glial cells) that are scattered throughout several regions that serve distinct responsibilities. Examples are the medulla oblongata, prefrontal cortex, and cerebellum.

Anatomically, the brain is separated into left and right hemispheres by the longitudinal fissure (a crevice that runs down the middle of the brain from front to back).

The left hemisphere of the brain is generally responsible for functions such as analytical thoughts, language, logic and reasoning.

Therefore, if you're good at solving complex mathematical equations and scientific problems, chances are you're “left-brained.”

The right hemisphere of the brain tends to be for functions like artistry and creativity, as well as intuition and holistic thought.

Naturally, most artists, writers, and musicians are considered “right-brained”; it’s analogous to handedness (i.e. most people are dominant with one hand over the other).

Regardless of which hemisphere you’re better with, you can (and should) certainly engage both the left and right hemispheres of your brain to enhance your learning and cognitive function.

Science of the Nervous System (Neuroscience)

The brain is part of the central nervous system (CNS) in humans, along with the spinal cord (which is a dense area of nervous tissue). The spinal cord is responsible for transmitting signals between the brain and the rest of the body, which allows for things like movement (by contracting muscles). Thus, when certain regions of the spinal cord are injured, paralysis can result (since the brain and certain muscles lose their ability to receive the proper signals).

Moreover, the peripheral nervous system is largely responsible for transmitting sensory information back to the CNS so the brain can process it.

For example, the skin is a sensory organ and part of the peripheral nervous system; when you touch something with your hand, it triggers a nerve impulse that transmits the information through neurons back to the CNS and your brain processes it.

In school, listening to your teacher talk about a topic triggers auditory senses that help your brain process the information.

But, how do these signals (nerve impulses) work?

When a neuron receives an impulse (which can arise from external or internal stimuli), it rapidly sends the information to the adjacent neuron and this continues in a domino-like fashion.

What’s amazing is how fast nerve impulses are transmitted, often taking less than a mere five milliseconds to complete the process. In fact, nerve impulses travel faster than a visible flash of lighting, which has a speed of around 220,000,000 miles per hour!

Intuitively, the nervous system is the most integral network in the body for helping us both process and respond to our internal and external environments. This is ostensibly why caffeine, coffee, and energy drinks are so popular among humans, since caffeine helps stimulate the nervous system (and therefore is one of the better nootropics for studying).

Caffeine for Studying: Why Most Students Are Doing it Wrong

Several studies have noted that students (especially at the high school and college levels) have a tendency to increase their caffeine intake as they progress through their classes. [1, 2] Caffeine can enhance your ability to focus and concentrate, but many students don’t use it appropriately.

For example, research suggests that roughly two in every three students consumes caffeine because they don’t get enough sleep. [3] Moreover, many of these students get their caffeine from sugar-laden energy drinks, often drinking 3-5 products per day. This is far from ideal for studying (and general health, for that matter).

Instead, your best bet is to keep your caffeine intake from sugar-free sources, like fresh-brewed coffee or CAFFEINE L-THEANINE and limit it to 300 mg per day (which should be plenty for most people). Also, make sure you get enough sleep! Caffeine is not going to make up for sleep deprivation and will only mask the issue. (We talk more about the importance of sleep for studying later in this article.)

This segues into the meat and potatoes of this article, which is understanding how the brain learns and using that knowledge to improve your studying. (We will also discuss the best nootropics for studying throughout.)

What Is Learning?

Learning is the process by which new information is encoded, stored, and eventually recalled by the brain. Therefore, the brain learns as a result of sensing stimuli and processing pertinent information.

The word “learning” is often used interchangeably with “memorizing” but the two aren’t necessarily synonymous. You can memorize things without understanding them. Learning is more about being able to recall and comprehend information.

For example, every word you read right throughout this article is a form of visual stimuli for your brain. You can simply memorize them or you can take it a step further to process and understand what they are conveying (i.e. you can learn).

Many factors affect how we learn new information and whether or not it is correctly encoded, stored, and able to be retrieved. It is still not well understood exactly where the brain preserves information, but preliminary findings suggest that the hippocampus is the primary region of information storage. [4]

In fact, Alzheimer’s disease is typically the result of damage to the hippocampus, resulting in loss of memory (i.e. stored information). Many Alzheimer’s sufferers forget events that occurred within minutes after they have taken place.

Furthermore, when a traumatic injury to the head occurs, amnesia may result - which is essentially the loss of prior knowledge. It is not uncommon for amnesiacs to forget even the most rudimentary facts, such as their very own name or where they live.

That being said, neuroscientists postulate that the brain actually has various regions that store information based on the type of learning that is involved (e.g. spatial, declarative, etc.). [5] Moreover, sensory overload can also be a culprit of corrupting information processing.

Imagine the last time you were trying to study when there were a lot of distracting sounds and people bothering you; chances are you found it extremely difficult to take in much of the information you were focusing on.

Storage of Learned Information

When you can’t remember something that you’ve previously been taught, odds are you haven’t actually forgotten it, you just haven’t stored the information properly so that it can be actively retrieved.
Technically, your brain never forgets anything unless amnesia or traumatic injury occurs.

However, it remains a mystery as to why the brain doesn’t store and retrieve certain learned information properly. Lack of repetition and concentration appear to be two variables that have major ramifications on this phenomenon.

Concentration comprises encoding and storing the information you learn, whereas repetition (i.e. actively concentrating on what you learn, repeatedly) is what helps your brain recall the information in the future.

For example, think about the last time you were driving the car with loud music on and realized you got lost. Most likely, you turned off the music so you could concentrate specifically on figuring out where you needed to go.

This is not to say that all music is bad for concentration, but when you focus exclusively on material you are attempting to learn, the chances of thoroughly taking in the new information quickly and efficiently increases dramatically.

Once you’ve processed the new information, feel free to turn the music back on as you repetitively recall what you just learned.

Using nootropics for studying, like L-tyrosine and rhodiola, can also help you focus and eliminate distractions. In fact, a recent study in 24 young adults found that those taking a nootropic supplement similar to AMBITION™ were able to hold their attention and avoid distracting tasks significantly better than the placebo group. [6]

Primary Factors that Impact Your Brain’s Learning Capacity

There are myriad factors that influence the brain’s ability to learn efficiently. You can use the following information to your advantage and optimize how your brain learns. Keep an eye out for the best nootropics for studying as well.

Visual Sensory Stimuli Are Essential

The cerebral cortex is the wrinkly, outermost layer surrounding the brain that contains many nerve cells (neurons). It is largely responsible for higher thought processes such as speech and decision making. It is divided into four lobes, the frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital lobes. These lobes process different types of information depending on the senses involved (e.g. touch, sight, sound, etc.).

Research suggests that upwards of 30% of the neurons in the cerebral cortex are devoted to processing visual stimuli. [7] Believe it or not, as we age and accumulate knowledge, the cerebral cortex goes through a process called corticalization which is the wrinkling of the cortex. Thus, if you have a more wrinkly brain, the more intelligent you are!

Not only that, when it comes to absorbing new information, the eyes supersede other sensory organs. Essentially, the cerebral cortex is exceptional at filtering out irrelevant signals and adding information about objects whose presence/shape is known.

As a result, the brain creates a modified representation of the visual world around us that is suited towards our immediate goal(s).

As an example, think about how hard it would be to do well on an exam in a Human Anatomy class if you never actually saw a human skeleton beforehand.

No matter how much you listened to your teacher lecture on the different bones and joints that make up the human body, your brain would struggle to learn much without the necessary visual stimuli that it craves.

Given this, make sure to incorporate visual stimuli into your studying by using things like flashcards with images, colors, and diagrams.

We also recommend using Neurofactor CoffeeBerry® to enhance your visual sensory learning, as research suggests it can increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) by as much as 100%. [8] BDNF is a peptide made in the brain that regulates neuroplasticity and neurogenesis, thereby enhancing learning and mood. [9]

Catch some Z’s

Aside from the multitude of health ramifications that sleep deprivation can impose, it also significantly impairs the brain’s ability to take in new information.

Despite sleep not being well understood in terms of its full purpose, a study conducted at Harvard Medical School showed that the first 30 hours after learning new information are the most critical for retaining that knowledge. [10]

When subjects were deprived of sleep for 30 hours after training and then tested after two full nights of recovery sleep, they showed no significant learning improvements despite having normal levels of alertness.

Therefore, sleep deprivation during this timeframe will significantly decrease your brain’s capacity to learn, as processing new information will be low on its priority list.

In short, you’re far better off forgoing the all-nighters in favor of getting a good night’s rest and saving the studying for the following day (even if it means “cramming” in the morning before an exam). Of course, your best option is to not procrastinate so you don’t put yourself in that position to begin with.

If you have trouble sleeping, the nootropics in Primal One Sleep Aid can help you relax and nod off for the night, thereby boosting your information retention and memorization.

Furthermore, there is research that supports intermittent “power naps” for enhancing the brain’s learning proficiency. [11]

Researchers postulate that naps clear out the brain’s temporary storage space, so it can absorb new information upon waking. It appears that non-Rapid Eye Movement (non-REM) sleep is when this memory-clearing process takes place, and naps between 30 - 60 minutes are mostly non-REM sleep.

If you find yourself with some spare time in the afternoon, lie down and take a 30 - 45 minute nap in between studying. It might be helpful to take some L-theanine prior to napping, as it can help you calm down and relax your mind. You’ll feel much more alert and ready to soak up the new information after waking.

Become the Teacher

There’s a reason teachers are so proficient at teaching their respective subject(s), it’s because they are constantly learning as they teach. The teaching process often takes the form of a ‘return to learning’, to the benefit of both the student and the teacher. [12]

Thus, one of the best ways of learning something is teaching it to somebody else.

Even if you are a student, you can still act as a teacher by writing your notes as if you are going to teach your peers on concepts you’re studying. Try keeping a notebook where you write about new information you learn from a teacher’s perspective; then recite it as if you were giving lessons on the information.

Acetylcholine is one of the most important neurotransmitters for memory recall and cognitive function. [13] As such, CDP-choline and other cholinergics are beneficial nootropics for studying, particularly when you’re taking notes.

Focus on the Big Picture

Getting lost in the details, also referred to as missing the forest for the trees, is more than just an adage. Your brain ultimately retains new concepts and information better when it has some prior knowledge to relate it to. Thus, by hanging onto the big picture, new relatable details are easier to learn. [14]

Moreover, learning is stronger when correlating new information with what you already know, as well as using reasoning and logic. This is primarily because the fibres in your brain, called dendrites, actually grow as you learn.

However, dendrites can only grow from existing dendrites. In other words, you have to build a foundation of knowledge in order to expand your learning capacity.

It may help to imagine your brain as being an immense closet filled with clothes that are sorted into their respective categories (e.g. jumpers, shorts, pants, shoes, etc.). When you acquire a new piece of clothing (i.e. new information) you can put it on the necessary shelf or in the correct category.

This way you’ll know precisely where to look when you want to grab that piece of clothing (i.e. recall the new information). To make the most of this factor, utilize diagrams in your studies that revolve around the bigger picture and branch off into major concepts, which then branch off into minor concepts and so forth.

Key Takeaways and Best Nootropics for Studying

The brain is the central processor of human thoughts, much like the processor of a computer. The more you learn, the more your brain is capable of and the faster it becomes at the tasks you practice.

Keep in mind that your goal when learning new information is to constantly recall that knowledge so you don’t forget it before it’s time for exams.

Remember that the first 30 hours after learning something are critical, so make sure you’re well-rested and actively studying during that time frame.  

Furthermore, think about what you learn in your daily life as information that can be used far beyond the present day.

Why spend countless hours studying and trying to learn new information only to forget it when you actually need to put it to use in the real world? Long-term learning can last for decades if not your entire life, especially when you intermittently retrieve the information.

For example, employers want you to come out of school with all of the necessary knowledge so you can excel in your profession; you won’t be an appealing job candidate if they have to reteach you all of the things you’re already supposed to know from your education.

On that note, using nootropics for studying is a great way to help you optimize learning and memory. To help those who are new to the world of nootropics, we have an all-in-one Mental Performance Kit that will help take your studying to a new level! If you’re a regular coffee drinker, be sure to monitor your intake and don’t overdo it.

Now,  go ahead and start making your brain a little wrinklier!

References:

[1] Ahmad, M., E Hinna, R., & Tayyab, A. (2017). Knowledge and trends of caffeine consumption Among medical and non medical students of Lahore Pakistan. Pakistan Journal of Neurological Sciences (PJNS), 12(2), 24-30.
 
[2] Simpson, E. (2016). Perceived Stress, Caffeine Consumption, and GPA of Undergraduate Students at a Large Public University.
 
[3] Cole, J. S. (2015). A survey of college-bound high school graduates regarding circadian preference, caffeine use, and academic performance. Sleep and Breathing, 19(1), 123-127.

[4] Schapiro, A. C., Turk-Browne, N. B., Botvinick, M. M., & Norman, K. A. (2017). Complementary learning systems within the hippocampus: a neural network modelling approach to reconciling episodic memory with statistical learning. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 372(1711), 20160049.

[5]  Gallistel, C.R.; Matzel, Louis D. (2013-01-02). "The Neuroscience of Learning: Beyond the Hebbian Synapse". Annual Review of Psychology. 64 (1): 169–200

[6]  Daou, M., Sassi, J. M., Miller, M. W., & Gonzalez, A. M. (2018). Effects of a Multi-Ingredient Energy Supplement on Cognitive Performance and Cerebral-Cortical Activation. Journal of dietary supplements, 1-12.

[7]  Maunsell, J. H. (1995). The brain's visual world: representation of visual targets in cerebral cortex. Science, 270(5237), 764.

[8]  Camandola, S., Plick, N., & Mattson, M. P. (2018). Impact of Coffee and Cacao Purine Metabolites on Neuroplasticity and Neurodegenerative Disease. Neurochemical research, 1-14.

[9]  Fan, D., Li, J., Zheng, B., Hua, L., & Zuo, Z. (2016). Enriched environment attenuates surgery-induced impairment of learning, memory, and neurogenesis possibly by preserving BDNF expression. Molecular neurobiology, 53(1), 344-354.

[10]  Stickgold, R., James, L., & Hobson, J. A. (2000). Visual discrimination learning requires sleep after training. Nature neuroscience, 3(12), 1237-1238.

[11]  Mednick, S. C., Nakayama, K., Cantero, J. L., Atienza, M., Levin, A. A., Pathak, N., & Stickgold, R. (2002). The restorative effect of naps on perceptual deterioration. Nature neuroscience, 5(7), 677-681.

[12]  Cortese, C. G. (2005). Learning through teaching. Management Learning, 36(1), 87-115.

[13]  Leaderbrand, K., Chen, H. J., Corcoran, K. A., Guedea, A. L., Jovasevic, V., Wess, J., & Radulovic, J. (2016). Muscarinic acetylcholine receptors act in synergy to facilitate learning and memory. Learning & Memory, 23(11), 631-638.

[14]  McAllister, A. K. (2000). Cellular and molecular mechanisms of dendrite growth. Cerebral cortex, 10(10), 963-973.




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