In work and school, it’s important to improve mental alertness for better focus and greater productivity. Read on to learn some useful ways you can keep your focus and attention up.
Quick tips to improve focus and mental alertness
Stay away from distractions
To deal with concentration problems, identify distractions. These could range from underlying conditions such as sleep disorders or effects of certain medications and external factors like social media (19).
Practising mindfulness, paying attention to the present and cognitive training via games and exercises, are all activities that help develop a stronger span of attention (19).
Exercise is also essential in boosting your ability to be alert and to concentrate. Exercise boosts mood and reduces stress (19). The Department of Health recommends getting 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate physical activity in a week. This may include taking a brisk walk or going for a swim. You may also try for 1.25 to 2.5 hours of more intense physical activity, such as joining a team sport, going jogging, or cycling (21).
Get regular sleep
Losing sleep may mean a loss of focus and clarity (22). To get rid of this "brain fog," try getting a better quality of sleep. This includes aiming for seven to eight hours of sleep a night and practicing good sleep hygiene. Sleep hygiene means setting a routine of when you sleep and when you wake up, to help the body relax (22).
A well-balanced diet can keep us more alert, as well as improve concentration and attention (23). Try including complex carbohydrates such as brown rice and starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes into your diet. Lean proteins from chicken and meat, as well as fatty acids from meat, eggs, fish, and nuts, are also brain-healthy foods (²⁴).
Vitamins to improve mental alertness
In the event that you aren’t able to get all your mental alertness-boosting nutrients from your diet, consider taking supplements. Here are a few that can support mental alertness:
Ashwagandha, a traditional Indian herb, is used to improve cognitive health. It promotes the body's adaptation to stress by imitating gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), an inhibitory transmitter that promotes nerve growth. Its extractis shown to enhances support memory and recall (1).
A study done on rats showed that supplementation with magnesium maintains support brain function, specifically learning and cognitive function. It suggested that greater amounts of magnesium in the brain also improved learning and memory. Magnesium supports nervous system function by ensuring proper nerve transmission and preventing over-excitation, an event that could lead to cell death(2).
B vitamin complex supports brain function and the synthesis of neurotransmitters. It maintains brain function in a number of ways. Thiamin (B1), for instance, regulates the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (5), which is associated with memory and concentration (4). A deficiency of B vitamins is also linked to neurological symptoms such as cognitive decline, among others (5).
Vitamin B12 supports brain function, which is further suggested by the positive association between B12 supplementation and cognitive performance in adults (20). This vitamin also helps improve mental alertness.
Vitamin C supports brain function as proposed by a study done on adults between 20 to 39 years old, in which supplementation with the vitamin was positively linked to attention levels. Participants showed greater work motivation, focus, and better performance in tasks that require concentration (14).
Calcium supports nerve conduction via sophisticated calcium pathways through which neurons send signals (7). It is involved in long-term mental processes, like memory, aside from regulating neurotransmitter generation (6).
Iron is key supplying oxygen to major organs including the brain. Abnormalities in iron levels in the brain have been observed in many neurodegenerative diseases (10).
*Iron should only be taken if prescribed by your doctor.
A study showed that consumption of astaxanthin markedly and positively affected the memory of adults who were experiencing memory deterioration (11). Astaxanthin can support general health and wellbeing.
Acetyl l-carnitine (ALC) maintains brain health by protecting nerve cells from damage and allowing nervous tissue growth. It aids in the synthesis of neurotransmitters as its acyl component can be used in the production of acetylcholine, which as earlier mentioned, was linked with memory and concentration (12). Another study suggested that treatment with ALC improved deficits in cognition (13).
Meanwhile, intake of zinc is one of the ways you can improve mental alertness as zinc reduce free radicals formed in the body and supports general health and wellbeing. It is found in large amounts in the hippocampus (8) (section of the brain dealing with learning and memory (9). Congenital defects of the nervous system have been observed to be linked to zinc deficiency during pregnancy and lactation. Children with inadequate levels of zinc have also been seen to have lowered learning ability, apathy, and lethargy (8).
Fish oil supports brain function as suggested by a study that showed that intake of this supplement improved blood flow to the brain during mental activity, particularly in adults aged 18 to 35 (15). It maintains general mental wellbeing, as a source cited studies suggesting fatty acids from fish oil as well as veg omega (the vegetarian and vegan option for omega-3) contributed to mental wellness (16).
To improve mental alertness, ginkgo brahmi is another useful supplement. Sustained administration of ginkgo brahmi boosted selective attention and mental processes like long-term memory (17). It improves brain function by activating pathways in the brain that help with memory and learning ability. It has been used in traditional medicine to help with poor cognitive ability and lack of focus (18).
Find out more about other supplements that can support brain health:
*Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional. Vitamin and/or mineral supplements should not replace a balanced diet.
- Singh, N., Balla, M., de Jager, P., & Gilca M. "An Overview on Ashwagandha: A Rasayana (Rejuvenator) of Ayurveda." National Center for Biotechnology Information. Published 3 Jul 2011 on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3252722/. Accessed on 11 Sept 2021.
- Slutsky, I, et. al. “Enhancement of learning and memory by elevating brain magnesium.” Neuron. Published Jan 2010 on https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2009.12.026. Accessed 7 Jan 2022.
- Kirkland, AE, Sarlo, GL, & Holton, KF. “The Role of Magnesium in Neurological Disorders.” Nutrients. Published 6 Jun 2018 on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6024559/#B5-nutrients-10-00730. Accessed 7 Jan 2022.
- “Food, Mood, and Neurotransmitters.” Red Rocks Community College. Published on https://www.rrcc.edu/sites/default/files/learning-skills-step5FoodMoodAndNeurotransmitters.pdf. Accessed 7 Jan 2022.
- Kennedy, DO. “B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy - A Review.” Nutrients. Published Feb 2016 on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4772032/. Accessed 7 Jan 2022.
- Gareri, P, Mattace, R, Nava, F, & De Sarro, G. “Role of calcium in brain aging.” General Pharmacology. Published Dec 1995 on https://doi.org/10.1016/0306-3623(95)00043-7. Accessed 7 Jan 2022.
- Brini, M, Cali, T, Ottolini, D, & Carafoli, E. “Neuronal calcium signaling: function and dysfunction.” Cell and Molecular Life Sciences. Published Aug 2014 on https://doi.org/10.1007/s00018-013-1550-7. Accessed 7 Jan 2022.
- Pfeiffer, CC & Braverman, ER. “Zinc, the brain and behavior.” Biological Psychiatry. Published Apr 1982 on https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7082716/. Accessed 7 Jan 2022.
- Anand, KS & Dhikav, V. “Hippocampus in health and disease: An overview.” Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology. Published 2012 on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3548359/. Accessed 7 Jan 2022.
- Piñero, DJ & Connor, JR. “Iron in the Brain: An Important Contributor in Normal and Diseased States.” The Neuroscientist. Published 1 Dec 2000 on https://doi.org/10.1177%2F107385840000600607. Accessed 7 Jan 2022.
- Sekikawa, T, Kizawa, Y, Li, Y, & Takara T. “Cognitive function improvement with astaxanthin and tocotrienol intake: a randomized, double-blind, place-controlled study.” Journal of Clinical Biochemistry and Nutrition. Published Nov 2020 on https://doi.org/10.3164/jcbn.19-116. Accessed 8 Jan 2022.
- Traina, G. “The neurobiology of acetyl-L-carnitine.” Frontiers in Bioscience (Landmark Edition). Published Jun 2016 on https://doi.org/10.2741/4459. Accessed 7 Jan 2022.
- Malaguarnera, M, et. al. “Acetyl-L-carnitine improves cognitive functions in severe hepatic encephalopathy: a randomized and controlled clinical trial.” Metabolic Brain Disease. Published Dec 2011 on https://doi.org/10.1007/s11011-011-9260-z. Accessed 8 Jan 2022.
- Sim, M, et. al. “Vitamin C supplementation promotes mental vitality in healthy young adults: results from a cross-sectional analysis and a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial.” European Journal of Nutrition. Published 2021 on https://doi.org/10.1007/s00394-021-02656-3. Accessed 8 Jan 2022.
- “Boosting mental performance with fish oil?” ScienceDaily. Published 21 Oct 2011 on www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/10/111021074640.htm. Accessed 8 Jan 2022.
- Lange, K. “Omega-3 fatty acids and mental health.” Global Health Journal. Published 19 Mar 2020 on https://doi.org/10.1016/j.glohj.2020.01.004. Accessed 8 Jan 2022.
- Kaschel, R. “Ginkgo biloba: specificity of neuropsychological improvement - a selective review in search of differential effects.” Human Psychopharmacology. Published Jul 2009 on https://doi.org/10.1002/hup.1037. Accessed 8 Jan 2022.
- Srivastava, A, et. al. “Bacopa monnieri.” New Look to Phytomedicine: Advancements in Herbal Products as Novel Drug Leads. Published 2019 on https://doi.org/10.1016/C2017-0-01165-5. Accessed 8 Jan 2022.
- “Tips to improve concentration.” Harvard Health Publishing. Published 1 Oct 2020 on https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/tips-to-improve-concentration. Accessed 8 Jan 2022.
- Horvat, P, et. al. “Serum folate, vitamin B-12 and cognitive function in middle and older age: The HAPPIEE study.” Experimental Gerontology. Published Apr 2016 on https://doi.org/10.1016/j.exger.2016.01.011. Accessed 8 Jan 2022.
- Better Health Channel. “Exercise and mental health”. Better Health Channel. Published December 2021 on https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/exercise-and-mental-health. Accessed 19 Jan 2022.
- Harvard Health Publishing. "Sharpen thinking skills with a better night's sleep." Harvard Medical School. Published March 2014 on https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/sharpen-thinking-skills-with-a-better-nights-sleep. Accessed 19 Jan 2022.
- Sutter Health. "Eating Well for Mental Health". Sutter Health. Published n.d. on https://www.sutterhealth.org/health/nutrition/eating-well-for-mental-health. Accessed 19 Jan 2022.
- https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/Meat-and-poultry. Sep 2017