Brain fatigue – What is it and what can you do?

Brain fatigue is probably the least understood and most under diagnosed condition in the medical library. The most extreme examples of brain fatigue tend to occur for head injury or stroke survivors. But there are a vast range of other conditions, from addiction recovery to long-term depression that show similar symptoms.

What is it?

When the human body is tired, there are perhaps 101 ways that we could measure the tiredness. Typical results might include breathlessness, low blood sugar, hunger, dehydration; all of which can be easily measured. In this sense, brain fatigue is very different. There is no certain way to measure the fatigue. The patient may look, sound and act exhausted, but there will be no easily measurable way to verify it. Brain fatigue occurs when the thinking or cognitive process is overloaded for an extended period. So Brain fatigue is a form of “extended cognitive overload” and is often confused with depression as outwardly the symptoms appear similar. The main difference is that the fatigue condition tends to be temporary, while depression may be on-going. Head injury or stroke survivors are most disadvantaged in this regard because they often have to deploy extended cognitive resources to complete the simplest of tasks. In other words, they have to work harder to do simple things.

Early stage brain fatigue will create in the patient sensations of tiredness and frustration and sometimes, depression. It is often quite hard to tell conventional depression from brain fatigue. Push beyond this point and frustration will become anger with very poor temperamental control. If the patient still pushes against the fatigue, there would be further consequences. It is actually possible for body co-ordination to break down. Initially the patient would become clumsy, eventually coordinated movement would become nearly impossible. At this point the mood would be very poor.


Brain Fatigue -What can you do?

The simple answer is: STOP NOW before you get hurt, because you will!

The mindfulness process of meditation outlined elsewhere in this book is particularly useful for these circumstances. If you really have experienced the brain fatigue symptoms outlined here, I would thoroughly recommend that you attend a mindfulness course and understand its methodology.

You might benefit from the brain exercises listed elsewhere in this book. A combination of brain exercises linked to a conscious rest programme will go a long way to defeating or at least managing a brain fatigue condition.

It worked for me, it can work for you.

Cognitive Overload

Cognitive overload is in many ways one of the least understood of all the conditions discussed here under the Neuroplasticity headings. In one sense it is the “modern sickness” and affects many of the “ultra-connected” modern office workers. It is sometimes confused with stress by both individuals and managers

If Brain Fatigue is too much demand on mental capacity for too long

Cognitive Overload is too much demand – too many things all at once

If someone is multi-tasking – But overdoing the process and with constant interruption they are running the risk that overload will occur. All of the issues listed under Brain Fatigue may appear, but the most likely are simple errors in calculation or omission

While it is unlikely to remain in place for more than 10-20 minutes, the outcomes are actually quite similar to Brain Fatigue with similar solutions


Mindfulness – Meditation

Mindfulness is a book or a training course complete in its own right. The techniques are now being applied through various Health Services around the world. In many cases, it is offered as an alternative to drugs or on-going therapy. It has applications for stress related conditions and depression. It really works!

Mindfulness is a process by which people become aware of their mind states, particularly fatigue or anxiety and take appropriate action to remedy them. Typically, someone who understands mindfulness will take breaks and rest, doing short meditation exercises for 10 to 20 minutes during the day.

A short meditation break in some respects is much better than sleep during the day. One of the challenges of daytime sleep is that it will often ruin the night-time sleep patterns. Mindfulness is not sleeping so much as daytime rest. The key criteria for a mindfulness break are silence, no movement and no visual distractions. So it’s something that you might have to plan, or arrange to make possible.

In my experience, it works very well. I suggest you can attend a course, if you can. Alternatively, you can read the books which explain the process more completely.


In this section we will discuss the importance of rest for the brain, the key points are

1. The link between rest learning and memory

2. How to rest the brain

3. The benefits of regular breaks

4. Possible drawbacks


People often forget the brain is not a computer. The comparison I often make is with lifting weights in the gym.

Most people understand that when you lift weights in gym regularly the muscle is changed.

The muscle gets pumped up and you get stronger.

What they often miss is that it is during the recovery period after the exercise that the muscle rebuilds its strength. This happens in the 24 hour period after the exercise and in fact for some of this time the muscle is actually weaker as a consequence of the exercise not stronger.

In many respects the human brain is the same. The brain can be strained either by fatigue or overload as we discussed earlier or by the process of learning and development.

Creating you pathways and new skills can be very tiring indeed and it is very important that the brain rests after such exertion.

How to rest a Brain


Mindfulness is very much in the news at the moment and it certainly isn’t for everybody. However there is one aspect of the mindfulness philosophy which really does seem to work very well. In the case of head injury patients the particular issues they suffer with brain fatigue and cognitive overload are notoriously hard to treat. The success rate of drug intervention is under 10 per cent and CBT type therapies are little better.

But the meditation programs that sit within the mindfulness philosophy seem to work very well indeed. In fact mindfulness is offered as a management treatment program to head injury survivors in several countries throughout the world.

Why does a meditation break work?

If the issue is that the brain has been working too hard or is too overloaded, then a solution that rests and reduces the workload seems to make good sense.

The whole concept of the meditation break cuts the input to the brain and allows the system to reset itself.

To use a computer analogy if you recall the windows 95/98 operating systems – Do you remember when you ran the computer too long with too many programs open how the whole thing would simply lock up?

In the end the only solution was to switch the system off wait 10 minutes and then switch it back on. This allows the computer to reset itself and start afresh


What do we need to do?

I suppose I should make it clear I’m not a mindfulness practitioner and is it really is just the meditation part were talking about. There are many other aspects and you can attend courses and seminars if you wish to develop your knowledge in the area.

A whole point about the meditation is about giving the brain some rest. This means a no computer/TV/mobile/laptop/i-pod environment.

Ideally this should be no noise/no movement/no distractions with the eyes shut. About 15-20 minutes is best. Above all there should be no interruptions by people/music/phones ringing – ideally complete silence.

You’ll be surprised how uncomfortable people feel in this environment at first it just seems so unnatural

What are the drawbacks to this process?

The most common issue I hear is that people fall asleep (and then they complain it’s not working) It is a strange world when trying to sit quietly for 15 minutes automatically knocks someone out for 4 hours – it suggests to me they don’t need fewer breaks but rather more.


The challenge of course is that if you really do sleep for an hour or more during the day there is a very good chance this will then disturb your night-time sleep patterns, thus making you more tired the following day. There is a definite knack to this – to be able to take a break for 10 to 15 minutes without becoming completely comatose.

My experience is that it is very valuable and worth persevering with.  It definitely does allow the brain to reset itself and the thinking processes to commence working properly again 



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