• I Am Gen Z – A Brilliant Documentary

    I’ve been to several documentary film festivals over the years. I’ve taken great pleasure in watching the fruits of talented film-makers’ labours writ large on cinema screens. But I’ve never before featured in such a film myself, until last night that is. Not only did I fulfil the lifetime ambition of seeing myself up on the big screen, but the film I featured in was extremely good. Like many presenters, I usually don’t enjoy watching my performances on TV; we are each, after all, our biggest critics. Yet, for the first time ever, this didn’t happen last night. I actually enjoyed watching my contribution because it was beautiful shot, I had been brilliantly directed by the incredible Liz Smith and my contributions had been edited so smoothly into a truly compelling narrative. There I sat, sipping an over-priced soft drink through a straw, noisily munching on popcorn, at a Rain Dance Film Festival screening of I Am Gen Z in the Genesis Cinema, Bethnel Green and found myself genuinely blown away.

    I am Gen Z – surviving in a world broken by tech

    The response of the audience during the Q&A I participated in at the end was even more surprising to me because, in my experience, they are often quite awkward affairs. But not this time. The response from the 200 strong audience was overwhelmingly positive. They all seemed to feel that the documentary had really captured the essence of an extremely important topic, one that worries people on a daily basis, but that feels somewhat futile in terms of our capacity to improve matters.

    There was effusive praise for the director and producer, but also for the creative use of music and graphics to help keep the audience tuned into the large volume of information conveyed by countless contributors. The regular use of footage from many young stars of the Tik Tok scene really helped to re-express the sentiments conveyed by the various experts and academics interviewed on both sides of the Atlantic, making it feel much more accessible and consolidating each point made by using personal testimonies to compliment the theoretical foundations.

    Much concern was expressed regarding what individuals can actually do to gain all the benefits that technology can offer while simultaneously evading the various traps and pitfalls lurking in the realms of social media over-engagement. I shared my own approach of strictly limiting when, where and how much I engage with various different aspects of technology. I check emails 2-3 times a day at a time of my choosing – I switch off all notifications. I don’t let any application on my smartphone send me notifications. My aim is to train the attentional network of my brain to favour the top-down processes that help me maintain my focus on whatever I am doing, rather than the bottom-up circuits that are designed to break it. I take the time to set up my smartphone so that tones and pop up notifications cannot regularly interrupt me by triggering the bottom-up process that would otherwise direct my attention elsewhere. If you regularly allow your devices to interrupt you with calls, texts and notifications, you are effectively allowing bottom-up (distraction) circuits to be strengthened, which will inevitably make sustained focus harder.

    I encourage people to, at the very least, observe and mull over (at length) the positive and negative impacts of technology. Once identified, the positives can be allowed to flourish, but it is vitally important to consider the negative impacts of technology and take steps to reduce their impact in your life. Take for instance the entrainment to behaviours that make tech companies more profit (e.g. techniques that encourage us to spend more and more time engaging with their products) but at the expense to you of displacing time you might otherwise have spent doing something that contributes more positively to your quality of life instead. This includes spending time outside in nature, taking regularly exercise, communicating with people face-to-face, playing sports, pursuing hobbies, etc (for more, see Sort Your Brain Out below).

    Other experts in the field, who contributed to the documentary and were also in the audience, mentioned the Gross National Happiness initiative in Bhutan that provides digital literacy classes from the age of 5 and the positive tech movement that uses applications to help people with ADHD better manage their symptoms. All of these suggestions have merit, but the important thing to remember is that the artificial intelligence that creates the algorithms that guide our digital experiences cares about one thing and one thing only: increasing our levels of engagement, regardless of whether it damages individuals (channelling users towards inappropriate content e.g. proana, self-harming sites, paedophilic content were all covered in this doc) or indeed societies as a whole (for more on this see my review of The Little Black Book of Data and Democracy).

    In addition to these monthly blogs I also regularly tweet neuroscience-related articles (@drjacklewis) and the second edition of Sort Your Brain Out, which came out a couple of months ago, is now available for purchase (online and in all good bookshops).

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  • 1 year later: 52 episodes of VR Reviews on YouTube

    A year ago I set myself a challenge.

    Film, edit and upload one episode of Brain Man VR Reviews per week.

    I chose to do this because I think VR has the potential to change our lives in a positive way, if only we can use it wisely.

    I wanted to track how my brain adjusted to the demands and opportunities presented by lots of different types of VR experience.

    What better way to achieve that than film myself exploring VR worlds over the course of several years!

    75% of episodes in this first series have reviewed games played in virtual reality. Tasks like moving objects, exploring rooms, solve puzzles, moving to the beat of a tune, hitting targets, flying through space, racing skydivers over mountaintops, creating inventions and so on..

    But 25% are reviews of VR “experiences” – where you are inside the story, with actors, animated characters and dancers physically in the space with you, each scene appearing at a different compass heading as the narrative unfolds.

    It has been a brilliant journey. I have learned so much about VR. And so I wanted to share some of my favourite episodes with you here.

    Over the next few months I’ll be sharing my top picks from the series.

    Starting with the last ever episode of Brain Man VR Reviews in which I handed the reins over to a couple of brainy friends who set out to tackle: Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes

    One of my favourite TV series of the last couple of years is called Britannia. It tells the story, with huge creative latitude, of the Roman invasion of Britain. When I heard that one of London’s finest VR companies, with a reputation for producing not just outrageously high definition virtual reality environments, but also dropping real actors into your midst while in VR, I just had to review this one… BRITANNIA VR

    When I watch movies set in space, or see astronauts on the International Space Station on the news, I often wonder what it’s like to float around in a gravity-free environment. I’ve always been particularly envious of those rich enough to do the NASA experience where a jumbo jet flies in a way that recreates zero gravity, if only for a few minutes.

    This envy evaporated immediately when I realised I could do it in VR. Better still, with thrusters in your wrists, START SHELTER enables you to zip through space to raid nearby space junk for the raw materials you need to survive. You bring these salvaged resources back to the lab – in your very own miniature space station – to build equipment to prepare food, repair asteroid impact holes in your spacecraft and get various jobs done. I’m always on the look out for VR experiences that have the potential to provide a convincing illusion of being able to get away from the stresses of everyday life for a while. This one fits that bill very well…

    Some VR experiences are like watching a film but better, because you are actually inside the film and the action appears all around you. Being fully 360-degree immersed in a story is incredibly exciting but sometimes its frustrating to just be a passenger; watching and listening to what happens around you, but not able to actually do anything.

    Other VR titles, as mentioned above, are pure games. There’s not much in the way of a coherent storyline to follow, but plenty of things you can do to earn points, hit targets, crack puzzles etc.

    A more ambitious set of VR creations try to fuse the two together. They have you solving puzzles while fully immersed in a compelling storyline. In the case of PROZE you are in a Soviet laboratory, hacking into computers, tuning satellite frequencies and connecting cables. If you manage to complete the first set of challenges, the story suddenly takes over and you are whisked away in to a mesmerising adventure of suspicion and intrigue. (NB this was filmed after several failed attempts!)

    By now, artists have been beavering away in VR for decades. Finally they have a place to exhibit their 3D, interactive, scale-defying works of art. It’s called the MUSEUM OF OTHER REALITIES

    Substances like psilocybin (in the juice from magic mushrooms) and LSD (created in a lab) have been studied for their medicinal properties for years. Recent neuropsychopharmacological investigations have shown that pscilocybin in particular has great promise for treating major depression. Wouldn’t it be great if you could trigger a similar psychedelic experience using just light and sound?! That was the aim that the creator of SOUND SELF had in mind, when he coded it to respond to sounds made by the person wearing the VR headset by changing the trippy visuals seen through the goggles and playing back some, but not all, of the sounds you make at a later point in time. It’s like an audio looper on steroids and is probably the best, most engrossing, run and rewarding way of doing mindful meditation that I’ve ever experienced.

    Next month, I’ll be recommending some more top virtual reality experiences so WATCH THIS SPACE.

    In addition to these monthly blogs I also tweet about the latest neuroscience research to breakthrough into the lay media on a regular basis (@drjacklewis).

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  • My New Scientist Online Talk on 30th July 2020 at 6pm BST

    To celebrate the launch of The Science of Sin in paperback format, NEW SCIENTIST have invited me to give an online talk, this Thurs 30th July 2020 at 6pm (British Summer Time).

    Online talk for New Scientist at 6pm (BST) on Thurs 30th July 2020

    The subject matter I discovered during the writing of my first solo book has now had plenty of time to ferment into what I strongly believe is an incredibly important message to us all: many of the types of anti-social behaviour characterised in the past by the 7 deadly sins stems from poorly managed inner turmoil.

    I outline what brought me to this conclusion in a 40 min talk followed by a 20 minute Q&A at the end. So, wherever you are in the world, please consider buying a ticket. It will not only give you access to the talk for a full week, but will also help to support a truly important source of high quality science journalism.

    I’ve been reading New Scientist since I was a child and its capacity to constantly scour the countless science papers that are printed in the academic literature every day in search of insights into how the universe works and what makes creatures like us tick never ceases to amaze me.

    In a world that is becoming increasingly saturated in made-up nonsense many people find themselves more confused than ever.

    New Scientist continues to translate complex science into plain English (without giving into the lazy temptation of dumbing it down to the point where it loses its import) and as such provides an invaluable source of information to scientists and non-scientists alike.

    Please do consider picking up a ticket and I’ll look forward to answering your questions on Thursday!

    In addition to these monthly blogs I tweet daily (@drjacklewis) and am in the process of reviewing a different Virtual Reality game or experience on YouTube every single week for a full year (BrainManVR).

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  • The Science of Sin in VR

    I’ve travelled the length and breadth of the country giving my Science of Sin talk over the past couple of years but sadly, it seems, those days are over.

    I realised that my love affair with virtual reality positions me extremely well to simply switch my usual science communication activities over to the virtual so here are the fruits of one of my first few experiments: performing The Science of Sin in front of a live global audience of 3 people!

    (One audience member in Canada, one in Europe and one in South Korea)

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  • Dr Jack Lewis – Motivational Speaking Update

    DrJackLewisKeynoteSpeakerI’ve been on the motivational speaking circuit for over 10 years now. And throughout that period I’ve noticed that the demand for talks that explain how our brains work and how we can get more out of them only increases!

    During the first 5 years the demand came mainly from the British mainland. I travelled the length and breadth of the country to speak at schools, science festivals and businesses. But since then I’ve been invited to speak all over central Europe, western Europe and the USA.

    Talks in educational institutions used to be primarily aimed at students, helping them to understand how best to get their brains into gear as they prepared for examinations. Yet in more recent times this work has extended into promoting a brain-focused approach to improving well-being at all levels of education. In particular I’ve found it particularly rewarding to help teachers, lecturers and other support staff to understand what they can do, in practical terms, to help students develop greater resilience (i.e. to cope with stress without it spilling over into mental health issues).

    Over the first few years, the keynote talks I gave across various industries tended to be focused on increasing productivity at all levels of the business by sharing practical tips (backed by scientific evidence) regarding everything the human brain needs to function at an optimal level. Increasingly these brain optimisation tips (or BOPs) are just used at the beginning and end of each talk, with the main, middle segment focused on a more specialist subject matter developed for the particular audience in question.

    While the neuroscience of decision making and science of creativity have been two firm favourites for a decade, clients have increasingly been requesting talks on bespoke subject matters. For example, last year the National Trust asked me to do a talk about unconscious bias and empathy, THRIVE asked me to cover the neuroscience of meditation and run some mindfulness workshops, while Siemens and a couple of other major engineering firms working on huge infrastructure projects asked me to deliver the neuroscience of decision making talk with a specific focus on matters relevant to health and safety.

    One utilities company in the north-west of England whose Health and Safety record is very nearly perfect even commissioned me to do some research on strategies that might help them promote better mental health throughout their organisation.

    There is a huge amount of insight that neuroscience can provide on a wide variety of topics. It’s always satisfying to find that, in tailoring my talks to the specific needs of a client, I’m constantly stumbling upon new areas of neuroscience and psychology with which I wasn’t previously familiar. No matter what the organisation’s priorities have been in terms of what they want their staff to take away from my talk, a few days of digging around in the neuroscience literature ALWAYS yields some inspiration; shedding an interesting new perspective on virtually any topic.

    Another interesting development has been that content from The Science of Sin – a book I wrote in 2018 that looked at modern neuroscience and psychological studies relevant to the concept of the seven deadly sins – has proven to be very useful in talks focused on improving well-being. Warner Brothers asked me to do a talk as a part of their well-being week and my whistle-stop tour of why our brains make us do the things we know we shouldn’t, stimulated a fantastic debate that extended well beyond the 10 mins of Q&A. It seems that everyone struggles to control one temptation or other (humans always have) and grasping the role of psychological pain in bringing out our worst behaviours was deemed as illuminating as understanding the techniques that can help to successfully reduce it in order to improve our self-discipline was deemed useful!

    Here’s a list of some of the most popular, “classic” talks that I’m asked to return to again and again.

    Talks For Business: Neuroscience of Decision Making

    In the last few of years I’ve been working more and more with senior management teams across Europe to help them understand insights from neuroscience that are relevant to their specific business needs. For example, I helped one of Europe’s “Big Four” auditors win a highly lucrative new business contract by sharing with them my Neuroscience of Decision Making talk in the context of reverse engineering the pitch process in light of the flaws in how the human brain evaluates information when making important choices. By exploiting a large corpus of knowledge generated over the past decade or so from neuroeconomic investigations the realities of how risk, uncertainty and benefit are evaluated in the human brain can be explored in order to concoct strategies that improve the likelihood of developing a successful pitch.

    Talks for Business: Neuroscience of Creativity

    Since the first outing of my Neuroscience of Creativity talk in 2013 it has evolved into a half-day workshop experience. I’ve been rolling this Innovation Workshop out over the course of 2015 with various members of the Senior Leadership Team at one of the world’s biggest broadcasters by sharing with them everything that science has to offer in terms of techniques that work and those that sound good but ultimately don’t. By assisting them to create an environment that genuinely promotes innovative thinking right at the very top of the organisation and convincing them of the worth of approaches in an evidence-based fashion, the idea is to reduce resistance to some of the seemingly unorthodox strategies in order that they might be allowed to permeate freely throughout the rest of the company.

    Sort Your Brain Out

    Sadly many people proclaim that their busy lives simply leave no time to read books. Adrian Webster and I have turned our best-selling book Sort Your Brain Out into a live event. Since our first booking late last year we have been enjoying a steady increase in demand for our motivational speaking duet over the past few months and very much hope that this trend continues in the years to come. We are both represented by Gordon Poole Agency and our speaking agent James Poole is always on hand to discuss booking enquiries.

    Talks for Schools

    Over the years I’ve been invited to speak at many schools across the UK. The aim is usually to engage young learners, usually in the build up to their big exams, with an upbeat neuroscience narrative that brings to life what exactly is going on inside their brains as they learn. Once students grasp that all their efforts are leading directly to huge changes in the wiring of their brains, how memory works and adaptations that brains undertake to support new skills acquisition, motivation levels invariably rise.

    I give them insights into straight-forward techniques to get brains working better: whether memorising information more thoroughly, managing exam stress more effectively and simply encouraging them to see school as the only viable way (currently) of sculpting young brains in preparation for dealing with whatever adult life might throw at them.

    If you’d like me to do a talk for you, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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  • Brain Man VR on YouTube

    I’m delighted to announce the launch of my new YouTube channel BRAIN MAN VR. Each week I share some tips and tricks on how to get more out of your virtual reality experiences and review one or two games available on the HTC VIVE and many other VR headsets. I’ve been working on this project for over a year so I’m really happy that I’m finally ready to commit to releasing a brand new episode every week for a year! So, from now on, when you realise it’s Tuesday – head to Brain Man VR and check out the latest and greatest games from the wonderful world of virtual reality.

    I’ve been extremely excited about virtual reality ever since I got the chance to visit Prof Mel Slater’s VR lab when he was based at University College London. I went into a magical world that had been created by scribbling child-like crayon drawings of houses, trees, plants and butterflies, which were scanned in and distributed throughout the 3D virtual room. You might think that the simplistic nature of the images might have ruined the chances of making a person wearing a VR headset truly believe they had been transported into another world. On the contrary, I genuinely felt like I was in a wonderland and the vivid, chaotic crayon squiggles only helped to enhance the sense of enchantment. I was already completely hooked on the concept of VR before I’d gone into the other experience that Mel had arranged for me and my neuroscience PhD colleagues. The second experience was composed of much more sleek and sophisticated graphics depicting human-like avatars in a bar setting. It was designed to help people get over their social phobias. As soon as I walked in the bar, the attractive blond woman at the bar immediately greeted me and asked me what my name was. I didn’t answer straight away as I was distracted by these thoughts: surely an illusion can’t possibly hear anything I say if I respond? My hesitation meant that when I eventually spoke out loud, the avatar spoke over me with another sentence. When she didn’t then reference that we’d spoken over each other the illusion of really, truly, genuinely feeling like we were in a bar together was shattered. And before I’d even come across the terminology, I immediately had a sense for the difference between the two components of a genuinely immersive VR experience – the presence AND plausibility.

    Place illusion involves producing sights in the head-mounted display and sounds via the headphones that update perfectly when you move your head and body around in the physical space, just as they would do in the real world. Plausibility illusion is slightly different. All the ingredients of the Place Illusion can convince the human brain that they genuinely have been transported into an alternate universe, yet if two people speak over each other and then don’t say something suitable to acknowledge the error and perhaps make a comment to smooth over the social aberration, then the experience can no longer seem plausible.

    Back then, for a set up with enough ooomph to create a completely convincing and genuinely immersive virtual reality experience, the costs were in the realm of £250,000. These days you can get a decent stand alone, VR headset for £400 and so finally, after almost half a century after people started taking the concept of virtual reality seriously, this phenomenon is ready for the people. I’ve spent the past year experimenting with my first VR headset. It’s an HTC VIVE kit that I actually bought 4 years ago. I then had to patiently wait for 2 years while I saved up enough money to buy a graphics PC powerful enough to “drive” the headset and motion controllers. I then had to wait 6 months for all the parts to arrive and then summon the courage to try and assemble the PC without breaking anything! Scary, but with lots of help from a benevolent team of YouTubers who give up their spare time to create tutorials to help others with various tech difficulties, I finally got it done.

    I am going to release one episode of my new YouTube channel Brain Man VR every week for a year. Starting today. Wherever you are in the world, every Tuesday, you can go to Brain Man VR and watch me review one or two virtual reality games to a) see what all the fuss is about if you don’t currently own a VR set b) see which games you might want to buy if you do have a VR rig and c) either way get a regular insight into what’s happening in the rapidly developing and incredibly exciting world of virtual reality.

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  • Dr Jack’s Comedy Debut on BBC2

    I’ve long been of the opinion that there is no reason why you can’t mix neuroscience and comedy. And this month I finally managed to prove it by appearing on the very first episode of a brand new, big budget, primetime BBC2 comedy show called the RANGANATION (to watch the episode, if you live in the UK, just click the link before 20th June 2019 when the episode will be taken down from the BBC iPlayer; my bit is: 31:30-37:30). The show, presented by the extremely talented and successful comedian Romesh Ranganathan airs on Sundays at 9pm; a slot in the schedule that gets great viewing figures. The show involves discussing current affairs with a pair of special guests and then posing related questions to a panel of 25 men and women representing different places across length and breadth of the UK from all sorts of different backgrounds. My job was to come on half way through to supplement the light-hearted banter on the topic of consumer technology with the latest science regarding what intensive use of smartphones might be doing to the human brain.

    Romesh Ranganathan is a bit of a legend

    It was great to go to Elstree Studios – where so much great TV has been filmed over many decades – and see Romesh work. His ability to maintain the energy and quick thinking required to make this kind of studio show work was truly marvellous to behold. His guests Rob Beckett and Fay Ripley were brilliant to work with, each contributing some excellent spontaneous insights that kept the dialogue free-flowing and relevant to a TV audience of many hundreds of thousands of people.

    Rob Beckett, Fay Ripley, Jack Lewis

    We covered a huge amount of science over the course of my 6 min segment including: a crash course in neuroplasticity, the insight that many people almost certainly use their phones regularly, intensively and long term enough to expect their brains to change accordingly, the psychological evidence that intensive smartphone use is affecting our attention, memory and appetite for immediate gratification and the high likelihood that people who are forever looking down at their phones instead of at the faces of their conversation partners will be missing out on the valuable social information that comes from fleeting micro-expressions, eye movements and body language.

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  • Three Brain Hacks

    Earlier this month I gave a talk in an achingly cool studio space in Wapping; a short distance east along the Thames from Tower Bridge. This future-proofing healthcare event seemed to be a great success and I even got meet a hero of mine. I’m happy to report that not only is Henry Marsh a well-regarded neurosurgeon and fantastic author (whose book Do No Harm I reviewed here back in 2015), but he is also a brilliant speaker!

    My brief was to open the event with a quick overview of what the brain is, how its building blocks are arranged to accomplish all the marvelous things our brains can do and then offer a handful of tips and tricks that everyone can use to get their brains firing on all cylinders. When I give these talks there is always hard science behind whatever I share with the audience. It occurred to me that flashing up the relevant references on screen is probably not sufficient if people wanted to go back to the original science papers at a later date. In this month’s blog I thought I’d provide a few links to research articles summarising some of the research that motivates me to recommend three brain hacks to help people keep their grey and white matter in tip-top condition.

    SLEEP

    Many people consider it a nuisance to spend 1/3 of life unconscious. In our increasingly busy lives, spare time tends to get squeezed mercilessly and the time we spend sound asleep in bed usually suffers as a result. This is a travesty because it is when we are asleep that the brain does all its running repairs and maintenance work. It is when temporary memories reverberating around the brains neural highways are re-visited, the superfluous ones deleted and more important ones consolidated into long term memory by the laying down of proteins. According to a brilliant study published in the journal Science the metabolic waste materials that build up in the brain over the course of the day are also removed at a much faster rate when we are asleep compared to when we are awake.

    If these metabolic waste materials are allowed to accumulate in brain tissue it can have a negative impact on brain function and can potentially build up to levels that are neurotoxic, hence prolonged sleep deprivation being deadly for all animals. So a huge part of the reason it’s vitally important that we all try to get at least 7 and ideally 8 hours of sleep each night is to give the brain an opportunity to banish as much of these potentially toxic materials from the brain as possible. While the 2013 study was in mice, a paper published this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science also demonstrated that sleep deprivation has a similar impact on the clearance of toxic substances from the human brain too.

    I’ll not go into further detail here as next month’s blog will be a review of Matt Walker’s book Why We Sleep, but I’ll conclude with one more sleep-related tip. It is perfectly normal to feel drowsy in the mid-afternoon. Acting on the urge to have a 15-20 min nap is not just restorative, enabling you to continue your daily activities with greater efficiency but, perhaps even more importantly, it also vastly improves memory retention and creative problem solving. Personally, I take a nap most days. In fact, I’m feeling the urge right now, so I’ll complete this blog once I’ve taken 40 winks (1 nap-wink = 30s ;-)…

    … that’s better! (I genuinely did). Not only do I practice what I preach but I regularly urge businesses to encourage their staff to take an afternoon nap every single time I speak at a business conference. On many levels it is flagrant false economy to allow the myth  that napping is tantamount to laziness to be perpetuated. It simply couldn’t be further from the truth.

    HYDRATION

    Every single morning we wake up dehydrated. That’s because we have to keep breathing 24/7 to stay alive. This is the only way we can keep our oxygen levels topped up (to maximise the release of energy from glucose to keep our vital biological processes ticking over) and to eliminate the carbon dioxide that is a key waste material of this process, which would otherwise increase the acidity of the blood with potentially catastrophic consequences. To keep these gases moving in and out of the bloodstream, the inner surface of the lungs must be kept moist, which means that every time you exhale you are blowing away a little bit of water vapour.

    Assuming we stay asleep for 7-8 hours, we will always wake up a little bit dehydrated, which knocks all sorts of biological mechanisms out of kilter. From the brain’s perspective the most important impact of this dehydration is that it has a negative impact on neural transmission – the capacity for each of your 86 billion neurons to efficiently send electrical messages along their wire-like axons and thereby influence other brain cells. People usually wake up a little bit grumpy because the first thing to go awry when people are dehydrated is mood. The cognitive impairment associated with dehydration also explains why you’re likely to find yourself prone to getting mixed up in the process of executing straightforward tasks. Accidentally putting coffee in the saucepan with the porridge instead of the cafetiere where it belongs is a personal favourite, as is the struggle to find everything needed for the day ahead in the daily rush to get out the door on time.

    Do yourself a favour: make drinking a glass of water (laying in wait on your bedside table) the first thing you do after switching off the alarm to help you minimise the amount of time you spend lacking a sense of humour and unable to perform the simplest of tasks effectively each morning due to a dehydrated brain. Having started the day well, monitor your mood and when you feel irritable, before you try and blame others for being so annoying, think to yourself – when was the last time I drank water? (NB not coffee, fizzy drinks or juice, but just plain, old-fashioned, H2O).

    COFFEE

    There is pretty good evidence to suggest that people who drink a moderate amount of coffee each day have a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and also (in men at least) Parkinson’s disease. We still don’t know what exactly it is about the magic bean that confers these neuroprotective effects – the most popular hypothesis is that the benefits arise as a result of all the antioxidants contained in the coffee bean helping to soak up all the free radicals that would otherwise interfere with our DNA.

    Despite these benefits, there are drawbacks to a voracious appetite for coffee. One broadly overlooked peril of the coffee habit is that caffeine has a very long half-life. It takes 6 whole hours to reduce the concentration of caffeine in the bloodstream by half (NB this takes much longer if you’re pregnant or on the contraceptive pill, but less time if you’re a smoker). This means that if you have the equivalent of 4 cups of coffee’s worth of caffeine in your bloodstream at midday, then it will take until 6pm before this has been reduced to 2 cups-worth and 6 hours after that – at midnight – this will finally have been halved again: down to 1 cup of coffee’s-worth of caffeine. Clearly anyone who is in the habit of drinking coffee throughout the afternoon is going to have so much stimulant swimming around their system come night time that it will inevitably interfere with their sleep. We’ve already covered the reason’s why this is bad news for brain health.

    The upshot is this: to avail yourself of the neuroprotective benefits of coffee, without suffering negative impacts on sleep in terms of onset, duration and/or quality, then get all your coffee drinking out of the way in the morning and if you absolutely must take caffeine onboard in the afternoon, then at the very least try to switch to green tea instead (15% of the caffeine in a cup of coffee). The next time a waiter or waitress offers you an after-dinner coffee, feel free to inform them that they are effectively tempting all their customers to play roulette with the health of their brain.

    NEXT UP

    I’m giving another talk at the end of this month – at 1pm on Sat 28th April – at the Leeds International Festival on the topic of how technology impacts our brains. If this is of interest, then tickets are available here – it’s free!

    In addition to these monthly brain blogs, I regularly tweet about brain-related research that hits the lay press (@drjacklewis), I do a fortnightly podcast about the more unusual scientific breakthroughs (Geek Chic’s Weird Science) and in July 2018 my new book Science of Sin will hit the shelves in the UK (11th Sept in the USA).

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  • Geek Chic live at the Soho Theatre

    The fortnightly podcast I’ve been doing for the past three years, which explores the most bizarre, thought-provoking and unusual recent findings from the world of science, along with my delicious co-host Lliana Bird, went live over the course of summer 2017.

    We recorded Geek Chic’s Weird Science in front of live audiences at the Cheltenham Science Festival in June and in July at both Latitude Festival and WOMAD. These all seemed to go down so well (we had a 50 person long queue to get into the WOMAD Physics Pavillion!) that we decided to keep up the momentum with live events in and around London over the next few months. At the end of October this all kicked off with the Science of Vampires.

    So, on Monday 23rd Oct at 7:30pm we finally made our West End debut! We recorded a Halloween Vampire Special at the Soho Theatre with special guests – mortician Carla Valentine and “The Prof Of Goth” Professor Nick Groom. Towards the end of the show we even had a real-life vampire up on stage causing havoc. Vlad the Impaler – aka Noel Fielding – was a particular treat. It’s worth listening to just for the verbal jousting between vampire himself and our lovely mortician!

    In this 60 minute special (which you can listen to by clicking here) we explored where the idea of vampires came from, discussed why vampires trigger the fear circuitry of the brain so perfectly and considered some of the real-life medical conditions that might have been mistaken for vampires.

    We debated why vampires were able to penetrate so deeply into the heart of popular culture AND we’ll find out if fresh blood really can help to keep us young and virile?

    In addition to these monthly blogs, I regularly post brain news on my twitter account (@drjacklewis), do a fortnightly science podcast (Geek Chic’s Weird Science) and present a TV series called Secrets of the Brain on Insight TV (Sky channel 564).

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  • Geek Chic Live at Latitude 2017

    The podcast that I co-host with Radio X’s Lliana Bird – Geek Chic’s Weird Science – is still going strong after nearly three years. Gobsmackingly, we are currently at number 2 in the iTunes science podcast charts behind none other than the mighty RadioLab. Last month we recorded a live podcast at the Cheltenham Science Festival with Goldsmith University’s Caspar Addyman and Greg Foot of Blue Peter fame. This month we borrowed Robin Ince and Helen Keen from the Infinite Monkey Cage for our live event at the 2017 Latitude Festival’s Wellcome Trust Arena. You can watch it below or, if you prefer, you can download it as a podcast (or better still, do us a favour and subscribe!) from iTunes, Acast, Libsyn, Podbay and various other podcast providers. To keep up to date on all the weird science news to hit the press each week, why not follow us on twitter too (@GCweirdscience). Enjoy…

     

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