Linked: Scientists Explain Why Our Brains Feel Tired After Thinking Really Hard

This is a study that might have some pretty wide-ranging implications for how we work and learn. The typical school and work days for people who are in jobs requiring intense mental labor might not be getting the best from people.

“According to a study published Thursday in the journal Current Biology, prolonged, intense cognitive activity literally causes potentially toxic byproducts like an amino acid called glutamate to build up in our brains. These byproducts are thought to adjust our decision-making and provoke us to stop thinking so very hard and gravitate toward more relaxing, low-stress activities. And this might be the human body’s way of protecting itself from burnout.”

Think about how we organize our days. Is having someone sit in one place learning or working all day a recipe for mental fatigue? Of course, it is. That also means that the longer a person goes without taking some significant breaks, the less they are learning. Or, in the workplace, the more mental labor required to do your job, the more likely it is that you’ll start to make some bad decisions and mistakes after a certain point.

So those 12-hour days are probably not doing anyone any good. You’re simply doing lower-quality work instead of doing what your brain wants you to.

I think we should look at the research around sleep, mental fatigue, meeting fatigue, etc. We might just find a better way for everyone to be more successful.

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