"Eat it, need for energy conservation!"
The human body is a miracle. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't always be finding ways to game the system to gain a little bit more of an advantage. We've previously shown you how to hack your brain into overdrive and pointed out that your body hides all sorts of secret powers from you. You just have to know how to make it give up its secrets.
Imagine you're pulling an all-nighter trying to meet a deadline, or driving all night trying to figure out which warehouse the Joker stashed Harvey Dent in -- whatever the case, you're incredibly tired and sleep is not an option. Traditionally you'd either take a nap or have some coffee (or a urine-staining energy drink), but it's one or the other -- either try to get a quick nap, or power through on a chemical high.
But science, true to form, took these two seemingly contradictory options and decided to merge them together, like when WCW invaded the World Wrestling Federation. And it worked, and not in the order you'd expect.
Researchers found that a cup of coffee followed by an immediate 15-minute nap is a notably more effective method of staying awake and alert for longer than either coffee or a nap alone. Which is a bit odd when you think about it, since you'd expect the caffeine to keep you awake, leaving you teetering on the edge of falling asleep but not quite going over (this is known in the scientific community as the Edward Norton-Brad Pitt boundary). But the trick to the "caffeine nap" is that caffeine doesn't act immediately -- it takes about 45 minutes to be completely ingested, but the effect of the drug kicks in after only 15 minutes.
See, what caffeine actually does is block your brain's ability to respond to adenosine, a chemical that builds up in your bloodstream the longer you're awake. The more adenosine you have in your body, the more your brain tries to get you to sleep. So by drinking coffee (or soda or a nice can of BAWLS) and then diving directly into bed, you can sleep for 15 minutes and get the regular restorative effects of a nap. By the time you wake up, the caffeine you've ingested is swimming in your bloodstream and dulling the effects of adenosine, stabbing your tiredness in the face.
Ever since you were a kid, it's been drilled into your head that if you're about to do anything more active than sitting completely still and farting in a beanbag chair, then you'd better damn well stretch your arms and legs first. That is, unless you enjoy cramps, injuries and an empty trophy case.
But it turns out that what the coaches thought was good for you was actually leaving you worse off. Static stretching -- the kind where you reach down to touch your toes and hold -- before an intense workout or game will not only wear you out quicker but also make you more liable to injury. And that's because when you stretch, your limbs consider the possibility that they're about to be snapped off, so they tighten. Furthermore, you're lengthening the muscles' fibers, which wears them down and leaves you weaker during the actual workout.
A study at the University of Nevada tested participants by having them stretch before running. Results showed that those who stretched generated less force from their leg muscles than those who did no stretching at all. Other studies have found decreases of about 30 percent in muscle strength after stretching. And on top of all this, as we mentioned before, these stretches don't warm you up -- they tighten the muscles, which is about as far as you can get from the ideal state of having them warm and loose.
So, what, you should avoid stretching? No -- stretching in itself is fine. It improves your flexibility, and experts recommend you do it a few times a week. But it's only fine by itself, like a miniature version of exercise, or at the very most done after a workout. Doing it before the workout is what the research is saying to avoid.
All right, so do you go right from bed to pulling a sled full of rocks through the snow like in Rocky IV? No, the alternative to stretching is to do some warm-up exercising before breaking into your regular Herculean fitness regime. A quick jog is much more effective than static stretching (in both improving performance and reducing injury), but ideally you'd base your warm-up on whatever it was you were about to do -- for example, runners would do things like squats or lunges before the inspirational training montage music kicks in.
At some point you've probably seen that spinning ballerina GIF floating around online, the one that supposedly tells you whether you're "left-brained" or "right-brained." We won't go into the details here, but not only is the ballerina test bullshit, but the thing it's testing (that logical people rely on the left hemisphere and artistic people the right) is a fairly large over-simplification. In reality, both hemispheres work together for pretty much everything.
However, it is true that your two hemispheres aren't identical. In the case of sound, it's long been known that your left hemisphere kicks ass at deciphering verbal information like speech, and the right hemisphere excels with tones and music. It is also known that your left brain controls the right side of your body and vice versa. But because the information between the hemispheres is shared (through the corpus callosum -- yea, Latin), it shouldn't make much difference which ear you use to listen to things, right?
Nope. It turns out that because the left ear is always sending shit (music) to the right hemisphere and the right ear is always sending shit (speech) to the left hemisphere, the ears themselves have actually evolved in the way they process sounds.
As a result, your right ear is measurably better at processing speech, and your left ear more so at tones and music. Now, don't go expecting that turning your head to give the appropriate ear will produce a surround sound digitally remastered version of what you've normally been hearing, but there will be an improvement. This is important to remember the next time you're sneaking through the air vents of an evil corporation, or just trying to figure out whether that is in fact a Peter Gabriel song you're hearing in the supermarket.
Back pain is a special kind of agony that makes you perform all your day-to-day tasks in ridiculous slow motion. And not the awesome kind of slow motion -- all the bullet dodging and dramatic theme music is replaced with bitter rage and sweat-laced anxiety over the logistics of getting out of an armchair. And as soon as somebody sees you grunting around the house, they'll say, "You need to get in bed, mister! You'll wind up crippling yourself if you don't rest that back!" It makes sense, until you realize that science says they're wrong.
The New England Journal of Medicine (supported by other research) came to the conclusion that "as little as two days of bed rest may lead to a slower recovery than the avoidance of bed rest, as well as to longer sick leaves." That's right -- they say just to walk it off.
There's also the frightening notion suggested by some studies that "bed rest alone may make back pain worse and can lead to secondary complications such as depression, decreased muscle tone and blood clots in the legs." All of this research is in reference to acute lower-back pain, which is the common "Holy titgoblins I pulled my back, put the fridge down PUT IT DOWN" kind.
To recover from your horrible wrenching back agony, scientists say that you have to earn it. Standing up and moving around, doing exercises, even just going about your regular day-to-day business is all much better for the recovery process than simply staying bedridden like Gilbert Grape's mom and allowing the damaged tissue in your back to stiffen and atrophy.
Chances are, when summer vacation or the holidays come around and you're given time off work or school, your sleeping patterns falter a little bit ("a little bit" is a phrase that here means "you play video games until the 'a.m.' and 'p.m.' dot on your alarm clock has completely lost its meaning"). The thing is, you know you're going to be screwed once the holidays are over and you have to go back to getting up at 6 or 7 a.m., and that you'll be a zombie at work or school for at least a week. Sure, you could do the responsible thing and gradually set your alarm earlier and earlier each day until it's just right, giving you a smooth and healthy transition to work-life. Or, you could use one of your body's cheat codes and readjust your sleep cycle by starving yourself for about 16 hours.
You might know that the main way our body regulates its biological clock (and circadian rhythm) is through light. So when your brain is detecting light, it has your body behave as it should in the daytime (higher energy, greater strength, more bowel movements, etc.), and when the brain notices that the environment is dark after an extended period of brightness, then it imagines you're about to go to sleep, and it releases hormones (like melatonin) that make you sleepy. What you might not have known is that scientists recently found a second clock, and instead of depending on light, this one is food-based.
Imagine you're a predator out hunting for food (and Jesse Ventura), but all the regular animals you would eat are nowhere to be found. You spend the entire day looking for food and find nothing. About 16 hours later your brain starts freaking out. It knows that if you can't find food, the jig will most certainly be up. So at this point, your brain doesn't give a tinkerer's damn about sunlight and sleep cycles -- it just wants you to find something to eat, and fast. You stay up well into the night and eventually find some nocturnal prey, devouring it desperately. Your brain (through the food-clock) makes a note of this time and declares it to be your new biological morning.
It makes sense -- your brain is now under the impression that if you want to survive, you can only go hunting at night. So it decides you should sleep during the day (to conserve energy for the hunt) and boom, your sleep-wake cycle has been reset. Congratulations! You've tricked evolution!
For more ways to turn yourself into a badass, check out 5 Superpowers You Didn't Know Your Body Was Hiding From You and 5 Ways To Hack Your Brain Into Awesomeness.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out Debate: Should Hotels Charge for Wi-Fi?.
And stop by LinkSTORM to learn how you can Cheeto dust in steroids (using your imagination).
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