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Ask HN: tips for fueling your brain each day?
16 points by uberc on Dec 9, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 20 comments
When I get tired, either at night or in the afternoon, it "feels" like it's my brain getting tired more than my body. It's harder to concentrate, make decisions, and see things clearly.

My core solution is pretty simple: do various things to ensure I get a good night's sleep (which for me is 7.5 hours without waking up) and take a 20-minute nap in the afternoons. If I do these two things, my mind feels stronger for longer, more often at its best. If I don't, it can feel weak and drained and distracted.

I have also found eating less sugary foods tends to help, as does exercise, though I can't see as direct a impact on brain energy as sleeping and napping.

I suspect there's a lot more I could do. The brain consumes a great deal of a person's energy, perhaps even more dramatically for folks like me (and I suspect many on HN) whose minds are always buzzing with thought all day long, and I'd like to find more ways to "feed" it on a day to day basis.

So I ask you fellow hackers: what sleep, food, exercise, or other habits have you found to be most effective in fueling your day-to-day brain power?

I've been transitioning to the troglodiet (tm): fresh veggies, legumes, meat. More or less the caveman diet, Atkins, paleo, Eat to Live, etc.

This Dr Terry Wahls TEDx talk has been very motivating.

Minding Your Mitochondria http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLjgBLwH3Wc

Dr. Wahls is mitigating her MS thru nutrition. For me, eating lots of vegetables makes my chronic psoriasis go away. When I slack on the nutrition (eg traveling), my psoriasis comes back.

I believe, but cannot prove, that psoriasis is basically external arthritis. I figure better nutrition is improving my health overall, including brain function.

One side effect I did not expect: I now crave hearty kale salads. Years ago I had a gf who was really gunghu for kale, chard, sorrel, and other leafy greens. I could handle it once or at most twice a week. Blech.

Now things are different. Better recipes certainly help. I think once my body got used to the good stuff, it demands more.

Moderate exercise and plenty of sleep too, of course.

Good luck.

That video was intensely great. Personally, when I'm unable (or rather, too lazy) to eat a lot of veggies, I just pop a couple of spirulina and chlorella (algae) tablets, which have all the vitamins except D and B12, if I remember correcly.

Specifically, these ones: http://www.swansonvitamins.com/swanson-greenfoods-formulas-c...

I appreciate this point since I really hate vegetables. Can these tablets replace them?


Motivating video indeed. The slide showing what percent of Americans fail to get the RDA for various nutrients is eye-opening. Thanks.

I drink tea instead of coffee. This is probably the smartest thing I've done as a programmer. I find that drinking tea makes me able to retain my energy over a longer period than with coffee (or colas, which absolutely nukes my energy after a short period). I probably consume three teapots of white tea (specifically White Peony/Bai Mu Dan) per day. I find this particular tea oddly stabilising and being lighter than black and green tea, it's not as savoury, which means I can drink it all day long.

Interesting. On the tea,

Do you end up getting the same amount of caffeine over the course of the day?

Where do you buy your tea?

Probably not the same level, as the tea has a lot less. I think for white tea it's probably on the order of 5-30mg per cup, although this is quite random and varies greatly from season to season and with when the leaves are picked. (I suppose using this reasoning that the first flush teas are more loaded than later pickings)

I order my teas online at jingtea.com and palaisdesthes.com

A side note; I just ordered another 250g bag of this: http://jingtea.com/tea/type/white/white-peony which I highly recommend!

I like to do what I call mind-candy or life-candy. Simply, it is just to engage in enjoyable acts.

Some of mine are: Watch an engaging documentary, read part of a book, take my laptop to an interesting place to work, (museum, park, cafe with a great view) cook a great meal or even buy a snack I love. Have coffee someplace nice, go for a walk in a scenic area, call an old friend, play with a dog.

I also like to watch documentaries or other factual programming. I DVR nature shows--the life of the ant was a good one--and sometimes even play them in the background while working. Being a skier and outdoor enthusiast, watching some ski movies pumps me up and helps me work. (Warren Miller movies are my favorites.) This may be more encouragement than brain health. Letting the Dick Proenneke documentaries play in the background is inspiring.

These activities can take a lot of time if you let them, but you can also be done with little commitment. I cook dinner anyway, with proper planning, making a special meal adds a negligible amount of time. Having a meeting somewhere? Do it in a public area of the museum or other inspiring setting.

Hydration, which requires more than mere water. You need electrolytes and other things to stay properly hydrated. That piece shouldn't be "news" to anyone. We have an entire industry built on producing sports drinks which contain sugars and electrolytes.

I find sea salt is better than table salt. Certain carbs, like aloe drinks, better than sugar per se. And I find that I stay better hydrated when I get enough of the right oils and avoid oils that I personally have issues with. I find butter and palm oils helpful, but I would suggest you try an elimination diet and figure out for yourself which oils are helpful for you as an individual and which are a problem.

I find drinking a lot of water keeps me alert. I read that the brain uses a lot of water so I started drinking water and trying to stay hydrated at all times. Not sure if its placebo or it actually works. I have also started meditating recently and I find it very good to relax before I go to sleep. It also keeps me happy and sane.I use this site, I haven't upgraded to the paid version. http://www.getsomeheadspace.com I find the below a good blog for productivity and well being articles. http://www.bakadesuyo.com

It sounds awful, and you don't need to buy the advertised product online. I recommend you give this a try just one morning and let me know how you feel.


I use locally roasted coffee and Kerry Gold Irish Butter (Grass-fed butter). It has changed my life.

Also, for food, I follow the Upgraded Life / Bulletproof Diet. Also awesome and amazing, but I was almost eating paleo 2.0 anyways. Before this I was following the Slow-Card Diet as described by Tim Ferriss in 4 Hour Body.

For sleep I recommend these things. I've been experimenting for the past month and I now regularly sleep only 5 hours a night and I feel AWESOME all day with the Bulletproof coffe / Bulletproof diet combo and these things:

1.using F.Lux or just turning down your screen's brightness an hour before bed time 2. 20 minutes before bed I like to take a 15 minute shower. Start with hot water and lather up, followed by 10 minutes of progressively colder and colder water and sit in the shower for 3 more minutes under ice cold water. The temperature change will cause your body (Brown Adipose Tissue) to try to burn up the outer layers of fat (White Adipose Tissue), heating up your system. You will fall asleep pretty quickly as an added benefit, as long as you try to go to sleep right after. 3. Have some saturated fats before bed. That 'groggy' head you might wake up with is because you are dehydrated and have low blood sugar when you wake up.

Drink plenty of water, avoid foods with lots of sugar and avoid pasta as is makes you tired. Also, instead of eating 3 big meals per day, eat small meals/snacks often, it will keep your energy going.

Don't forget to exercise and of course to get some sleep! That what works best for me.

"as does exercise, though I can't see as direct a impact on brain energy as sleeping and napping."

You sleep better if you exercise effectively.

exercise as you already mentioned and Green Tea. Lots of Green Tea.

Good tip. As someone who doesn't do well with coffee -- it makes me twitchy -- I find green tea helpful. I drink it several days a weak, in part for the general anti-oxidant health benefits, in part for the caffeine boost. But I feel like it sharpens my brain to use my available energy better, more effectively, so perhaps unlike most caffeine-consumers I tend to drink it only when I already feel fully rested. It doesn't seem to provide extra energy when my brain is already tired. In fact I fear in those cases it just prevents me from taking a quick nap which helps much much more to recover my brain energy. That's my experience with green tea so far -- I definitely want to explore it more.

If you into it you will find tea is popular with monks for sustaining meditation. Tea has more than caffeine, there are other useful compounds as well. Much better for focus than coffee.

If you are good at power naps (i.e. can drift off in under 10 minutes in the right conditions) you can try a tea rebound nap; make a strong cup of tea and drink it quickly just before you lay down for a snooze. You'll drift off before it hits and by the time your 20-25 minute timer finishes your brain is doubly refreshed.

I find the 'hard-reset' aspect of a nap to be essential some days, and it is completely different in nature than the 'energy' aspect. More to do with unresolved problems to solve than actual energy.

Interesting. I'm going to try that. Yes, the hard-reset of a power nap can be hugely efficient. I almost feel like I get two days in one thanks to the fresh energy I have afterwards.


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