Imagine being worn out and less productive after spending the entire day “thinking.” However, it’s difficult for you to persuade people that you’ve had enough of pondering. They say it doesn’t sound like a serious issue.
One does get tired after sitting around for hours thinking hard, and researchers now have new data to support this.
Their research, which was published on August 11 in Current Biology, shows that the prefrontal cortex can become toxic as a result of continuous, intense cognitive exertion. While a result, you become less in control of your decisions and are forced to wait as cognitive tiredness sets in or take low-cost, passive activities.
According to Mathias Pessiglione of Pitié-Salpêtrière University in Paris, France, “influential theories indicated that exhaustion is a sort of illusion built up by the brain to make us stop whatever we are doing and turn to a more rewarding pastime.” The accumulation of noxious compounds brought on by cognitive labor, according to our research, causes a true functional alteration. As a result, weariness would be a cue to cease working, but for a different reason: to protect the integrity of brain function.
reusing harmful chemicals produced by neuronal activity
The brain cannot continually calculate, but machines can.
This prompted Pessiglione and colleagues—among them the study’s primary author, Antonius Wiehler—to investigate the nuances of mental tiredness and ascertain its nature. They hypothesized that the necessity to recycle potentially harmful byproducts of brain activity was the cause.
They required proof to support their suspicions. To do this, they tracked the chemistry of the brain throughout a workday using magnetic resonance spectroscopy. For the experiment, they divided the participants into two groups: those who had difficult cognitive tasks to complete and those who had relatively simple ones.
Only the group working hard showed signs of weariness, such as decreased pupillary response. People in that group also demonstrated a shift in preference for options that promised benefits with minimal work and a short wait time. Importantly, they also had larger glutamate concentrations in the prefrontal cortex of the brain’s synapses. The authors concluded that it was consistent with past data and supported the idea that glutamate accumulation makes additional prefrontal cortex activity more expensive, leading to harder cognitive control after a cognitively intensive day.
Sleep is essential.
Is there a workaround for this?
I’m afraid not, Pessiglione replied. “I would use two tried-and-true methods: rest and sleep! There is strong proof that glutamate is removed from synapses as you sleep.”
There might be useful ramifications. To identify extreme mental tiredness, prefrontal metabolite monitoring may be helpful. This could aid in modifying work schedules to prevent burnout. He also counsels against making significant judgments when you’re sleep-deprived.
The goal of the study is to understand why the prefrontal brain is particularly prone to glutamate buildup and exhaustion. Future research will also examine whether the same brain indicators of weariness might forecast the prognosis of illnesses like depression or cancer.