Your super-efficient digital assistant
seewhatmitchsee/ShutterstockThere's a reason so many people joke that their smartphones are their "brain"—because it kind of is becoming your brain. Google, Alexa, Siri, and other digital assistants have taken the burden of remembering details off your mind, meaning that your brain misses out on making those connections. Case in point: What's your mom's phone number? Heck, millions of people don't even know their own phone number. By acting as a personal memory bank, these services are making you smarter at knowing how to get information but dumber when it comes to remembering the actual information itself, according to a study published in Science. Learn more about how technology is making you dumber.
That late-night Netflix binge
Denys Prykhodov/ShutterstockWe're all chronically sleep deprived these days, and one of the first things to suffer when you lose zzz's is your brain—and it doesn't take much sleep loss to start impairing your mental abilities. "Study after study has shown that even an hour or two less sleep each night for just a few consecutive nights can have negative effects on the brain," says Vernon Williams, MD, sports neurologist and director of the Center for Sports Neurology & Pain Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute. "From delayed reaction times that can put you in danger while driving to mental fatigue and depression, burning the midnight oil can have serious brain repercussions." When looking to improve your sleep, make sure you avoid these sleep aids that are actually hurting your slumber.
Your secret junk food stash
Syda Productions/ShutterstockCandy, soda, fast food, and other modern inventions are one of the most common (albeit delicious) ways to drain your brain, Dr. Williams says. "One Australian study found that just five days of eating junk food could impair memory function, attention, speed, and mood," he says. "The idea is that poor diet leads to inflammation in the brain, which can damage its structures." Instead, focus on the healthiest foods to eat in every decade of your life.
That gym class you keep meaning to hit
Uber Images/ShutterstockYou may think all you're hurting is your waistline, but not getting enough exercise can damage your brain, Dr. Williams says. "Exercise has so many brain-boosting benefits, including a better mood, sharper mental performance, improved memory, and less pain," he says. Overwhelmed? Start with these 25 simple tips to start exercising today.
All that romantic mood lighting
Evgeny Atamanenko/ShutterstockKeeping the lights low may increase the feeling of ambiance (and make it harder to see the dirt on the floors!), but it won't help your brain, according to a study done by Michigan State. Researchers found that spending too much time in dimly lit rooms and offices may actually change the brain's structure and hurt your ability to remember and learn, especially when it comes to spatial tasks. Here are 12 ways to get smarter in your spare time.
Your multitasking lifestyle
Mikhail Kadochnikov/ShutterstockThink that you're an excellent multitasker and that doing several things at once makes you smarter? It's likely having the exact opposite effect, says Joe Bates, MD, a psychiatrist and author of Making Your Brain Hum: 12 Weeks to a Smarter You. "Jumping from one thing to another without completing a task is training your brain to not focus on one thing, making you literally scatterbrained," he says, adding that this leads to making bad decisions, feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, and forgetting important things. Don't miss these other 50 secrets your brain wishes you knew.
The constant notifications on your smartphone
GaudiLab/ShutterstockInstead of using our phones as a handy tool we use to help us, many of us are letting technology control us, Dr. Bates says. The constant barrage of texts, emails, voicemails, games, and other alerts is a never-ending distraction, making it impossible to focus and think, he says. "This can turn into an actual addiction by programming the brain to want to keep checking your phone, as it gives you immediate gratification," he explains. "Smartphones keep getting smarter and demanding our attention in even bigger ways, so for the sake of your brain health, you need to discipline yourself to engage thoughtfully and thoroughly and mindfully on projects throughout the day." Not to mention that turning your phone off for a few hours is one of the 50 tiny changes that will make you instantly happier.
That glass (or three) of wine with dinner
Africa Studio/ShutterstockAnyone who's ever had a "deep" conversation with someone who's had a few too many drinks knows how quickly booze can dumb you down. But did you know that overindulging in alcohol also has long-term harmful effects on your brain? "In addition to the possibility of impaired brain function as you age, drinking puts people at a higher risk for liver disease, strokes, depression, and many other diseases that also impair brain function," says Mary Ellen Moore, DO, a family medicine physician with Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Illinois. Put down that third glass and have one of these brain-boosting foods instead.
Your 9 to 5... or 7 to 9
Dean Drobot/ShutterstockThere is some truth to the old adage "work smarter, not harder." When it comes to maximizing your mental abilities, working too much can have the opposite effect, making you a less creative and less accurate thinker, says Kate Martino, a physician's assistant and weight-loss coach. Just like any other body part, your brain doesn't do well with a lot of stress, and it needs to rest sometimes. "Stress can impact your memory, make you feel moody, make it hard to focus, and the longer you're stressed out, the less brain clarity you'll have," Martino says. Learn more scary things that happen to your brain when you're stressed.
Your workspace at the local coffee shop
Branislav Nenin/ShutterstockYou may think that being able to work anytime anywhere is a major job perk, but setting up shop in a noisy environment, such as a coffee shop or airport terminal, could make it harder for you to work. Being surrounded by constant noise impairs the brain's ability to learn new things and hurts your memory, according to a study published in Frontiers of Psychology. Check out these other ways to set up your workspace to boost productivity.