The last part of a top neurosurgeon's book reveals how you can breathe, dream and sleep

We like to think of our most advanced skills – such as our intelligence or our creativity – as things that define us; things we have accomplished personally.

Nobody says anyone has creativity & # 39; & # 39 ;; we say he or she & # 39; creative & # 39; is. But let a tumor grow between the forehead lobes of the brain, the part that is essential for any creative work, and we quickly learn that those big gifts were just on loan.

The functioning of the human brain is so complex that we are just starting to uncover some of their millions of secrets. But one thing we've discovered since I first became a brain surgeon 15 years ago is that the brain has a remarkable ability to heal itself – just like your physical body does.

Your brain can make a remarkable comeback after a devastating injury or illness, as we saw in Saturday's Daily Mail.

Nobody says that someone has creativity; we say he or she is creative. But let a tumor grow between the forehead lobes of the brain, the part that is essential for any creative work, and we quickly learn that those big gifts were just on loan

Nobody says anyone has creativity & # 39; & # 39 ;; we say he or she & # 39; creative & # 39; is. But let a tumor grow between the forehead lobes of the brain, the part that is essential for any creative work, and we quickly learn that those big gifts were just on loan

And if patients who have had brain cancer can learn another stroke or injury to walk, talk and regain their fine motor skills using techniques they practice regularly, why would anyone doubt that healthy people are not accelerating their brain power? also?

Because while most of your brain cells are formed in the womb, certain parts of your brain – especially the area that deals with memory and learning – continue to produce neurons throughout your life.

Today, in the last of our exclusive two-part series, I will look in more detail at how you can take control of your own brain health through simple exercises and science-based advice – starting with how you can learn to unlock your creativity . Think of it as a start-up camp for your brain.

Amazingly, injuring one frontal lobe – the area closely associated with creativity – can make someone function normally. We now know that this is the way in which both frontal lobes work together that demonstrably induce our highest brain function: creativity.

So where does the creative spark come from?

There is no doubt that the frontal lobes – the part of your brain that presses against your forehead – are vital. As the most advanced part of the brain, they work together to keep us organized and motivated in ways that non-human animals simply cannot.

But they cannot produce creative ideas and work alone.

Recent research shows that the entire brain needs, works and communicates in harmony, such as a symphony orchestra or a football team, to make creativity happen.

Neuroscientists discover when different parts of the brain communicate with each other by eavesdropping with the help of functional MRIs. These take 3D movies from the working brain, so we can isolate which parts are more or less active from second to second, depending on how much blood is drawn to a certain area.

This is because our brain cells use more blood when they work hard, just like your muscles do while running. Creativity, we now understand, requires countless brain cells to fire in coordination.

Many of us may assume that we simply do not have & # 39; creative types & # 39; are – but everyone has a good of creativity in ourselves, waiting to be bugged.

How much sleep do you really need?

We call it rest – but the brain never rest. Sleep is a firestorm of activity for the brain to remove, decode, and store the experiences of the day for later retrieval.

Essential for life are the countless activities that the brain undertakes while we sleep, without dying. While we sleep, the brain transforms short-term memories that are stored during the day into memories that last a lifetime.

After studying for a test, students remember more after a nap or a night's sleep than if they had stayed awake and studied a few more hours. Although some people claim that they are fine with each other, with only four hours of sleep per night, research shows that there are more health risks associated with too little sleep and too much sleep.

A 2010 analysis of 16 previous studies involving 1.3 million people found those with an average of less than six hours of sleep per night with 12 percent more likely to die before 65, compared to those who were six to eight hours per night. But the study also found sleeping more than nine hours a night at a 30 percent increased risk of early death.

Essential for life are the countless activities that the brain undertakes while we sleep, without dying

Essential for life are the countless activities that the brain undertakes while we sleep, without dying

Essential for life are the countless activities that the brain undertakes while we sleep, without dying


One of the most ridiculous ideas out there about the role of the brain in creativity is that some people are logical and analytical in nature, while others are creative.

It all started with an article in the New York Times magazine in 1973 about the Nobel Prize-winning researcher Roger W. Sperry.

& # 39; We are left-wing or top-right & # 39 ;, the article claimed before explaining that the right side of the brain is the creative or artistic side and the left brain is the logical, analytical side, and each of us tends to be one favoring side or another.

It sounded great – and quickly became something that everyone & # 39; knows & # 39 ;. But it had one problem: it was wrong, and has since been torn down by decades of research.

What is true is that parts of the left hemisphere are closely involved in spoken language and mathematical tasks such as counting or remembering your time tables. But the idea that there are people who are straightforward & # 39; be more creative and & # 39; more left & & # 39; being more logical is just not correct.

This idea was finally destroyed in 2013 by researchers from the University of Utah. They studied MRI scans of more than 1,000 people aged 7 to 29 to see if they could find any support for the theory that some people use their left brain more while others use their right brain.

They concluded that there was no evidence. In other words, math geeks and computer programmers use both sides of their brain as much as painters and poets.


When creativity comes from a series of & # 39; small fires & # 39; that burn together in different parts of your brain, then it is important that you encourage different parts of your brain to interact and make connections to tap into your inner creativity. My dual role as a brain surgeon and as a brain scientist researching treatments for brain cancer requires that I cherish creativity to make new connections in research.


The brain is not a computer; it is a living thing, much more like an overgrown garden than an orderly file cabinet. Daydreaming through your own garden of thoughts, memories and feelings is a great way to discover your inner creative self. MRI scans examined by researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology have shown that daydreamers are not only more creative but can also perform better in other intellectual tests – which shows that there is a certain substance to the popular stereotype of the brilliant but absent-minded professor.

Try this: make a mental list of the three most important things that concern you. Now try to think about everything and everything except those things. This can create a thinking space where daydreams can arise.

Is the gut your second brain?

Almost every millimeter of your body is covered with a complex system of nerves that connects with your brain – and the network of nerves and neurons in the gut has received much attention lately, with some even as & # 39; second brain & # 39 ;.

This network – the enteric nervous system (ENS) – explains how you feel butterflies in your stomach when your brain is nervous. It also carries signals of hunger and fullness to your brain, which in turn helps to regulate our appetite.

Is this network of nerves in the gut vital? Absolutely.

Is more importance attached to it than it deserves? Absolutely.

And abdominal surgery is a key to show how the role of the intestinal tract has recently been unfamiliar.

Large intestines can be surgically removed for various medical conditions (such as bowel obstruction or cancer).

And most intestines and colon can also be removed, while our bodies can continue with few consequences.

But it is remarkable that – despite decades of these operations around the world – there have been no repercussions for brain function in all of these patients.

The nervous system in our gut is important. But is it worth a & # 39; second brain & # 39; to be called? Not from what I have read and seen.


Science shows that there is a strong connection between enjoying many unstructured free play as a child and being creative as an adult.

Unstructured play – as opposed to a tight schedule of performance dates and summer courses – offers children the chance to discover, take risks and make mistakes. Creativity requires the confidence to know that mistakes happen. Fear of failure prevents too many people from daring to express themselves.

Spend at least one hour blindfolded. I know this sounds crazy, but it makes your brain strength stronger and you get more creativity. This is why.

Doing new things or taking on new challenges helps build your brain and encourages your brain to make new connections – the very things that creativity depends on.

It is an easy way to challenge yourself and experience your world in a whole new way. So do a blindfold and spend at least an hour trying to navigate your house. (Warning: avoid stairs and remove all loose objects from the floor before you start. You don't want to fall and injure yourself – don't be fooled if you try to make yourself smarter!)

Be the first to try it in the morning, carefully make your way to the bathroom, shower and dress without using your eyes. Then walk carefully to the kitchen, find the fridge and try to find the butter to spread on your toast without peeping.

You don't need a vacation for a mind-expanding experience. The idea is to encourage you to break the routine and allow yourself to fiddle around regardless of your age – and to have fun.


Neuro gym: breathe carefully

Sit still somewhere and concentrate on your breathing, taking everything else out of your head for as good as you can for ten minutes.

Breathe slowly through your nose for a count of four. Then hold your breath filled with lungs for a count of four. Breathe out slowly for a count of four. Wait a count of four. Then repeat.

It is difficult to prevent you from straying initially, although this becomes easier with practice. That's why many people go to mindfulness meditation classes or yoga classes that usually also include mindful breathing counseling.

There are also plenty of free YouTube videos & apps with guided meditation. Although the internet has no shortage of poor or inaccurate medical information on all topics, it really can't go wrong with these topics.

Learning to cope with stress is something we all benefit from. There are clear techniques that you can use – and they are based on firm science.

Mindfulness (see box) is a fundamental part of mindfulness meditation, which focuses the mind on the here and now.

But the benefits are not only spiritual or psychological – conscious breathing improves the structure, physiology and function of your brain. It is a powerful tool if you want to determine how you react to stress or a constant cycle of negative thoughts.

An important study has shown how mindful breathing can help the brain suppress and control negative emotions.

German researchers, based in Munich, trained 26 people with attention breathing for two weeks.

One group was asked to breathe carefully while showing disturbing, emotionally provocative images and the other to breathe normally. The brains of all participants were scanned using an MRI machine.

Researchers discovered that in the mindful breathing group, connections between the amygdala (the area of ​​the brain where strong emotions are processed) and the pre-frontal cortex (which is the part of the brain involved in complex planning and decision-making) were visibly enhanced , indicating that this part of the brain worked on suppressing and controlling negative emotions.

Another study, from the University of Oregon, showed that participants who had attended 11 days of training in mindfulness breathing showed increased and stronger white matter connections in the area of ​​the brain responsible for regulating the heartbeat and also closely involved in impulse control, decision processes. and even ethics.

Go somewhere else to sharpen the senses

A great way to open your eyes to your environment and wake up your brain is to get lost somewhere you have never been. Take a bus, train, taxi or ride-share to a place that you have never visited. No watching the GPS on your phone!

The beauty of & # 39; getting lost & # 39; is that it forces your brain to make itself a new mental map. That is one of the reasons why people like traveling so much: because our minds wake up in a new environment. But why go to Amsterdam when you can spend an hour in a part of your own city where you have never been?

We know our smartphones made us all stupid. We no longer have to remember someone's phone number or know the directions to a new address. It's all very useful and practical – but it robs us of the daily challenges and stimulation we need to build our neurofitness.

So give yourself the gift of being lost intentionally. It opens your eyes, stimulates your mind and forces you to build a new mental map.

Moreover, you might find a good new pub.


We all know that the food we eat has a profound effect on our physical health – but what about our brain? One specific diet, the MIND diet, is specifically designed to improve brain health; Recent research has shown that it can reduce your risk of developing dementia by around 50 percent, which is extraordinary.

The MIND diet focuses on eating lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish and healthy oils and avoiding saturated fats, sweet foods and red meat.

Researchers have found that it can dramatically reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer's disease because it has been shown that these foods reduce the risk of diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes and type 2 diabetes, which also increases the risk of dementia.

And because no medication has yet been developed to prevent dementia, there is an incentive for you to try it.

At home with my wife, Danielle, a cancer doctor and our three sons, we follow the SPIRIT diet, but not too strictly. We use the basic guidelines, but sometimes we eat steak and enjoy chocolate.

And it's not just what you eat, but if you eat, it counts.

Intermittent fasting, or significant differences between meals, is known to help lower your blood sugar, lower insulin levels, and lose weight.

But intermittent hunger is also good for the health of your brain. Even a day without eating increases the natural growth factors of your brain, which support the survival and growth of brain cells.

When your body is left without food for more than 12 hours, it starts to burn its fat reserves as an energy source instead of glucose.

From the brain's point of view, neuroscientists have discovered that this metabolic circuit can also help prevent degenerative diseases. It does this by strengthening neural pathways and improving the plasticity of the brain.

A word of warning, however. It is very fashionable to talk about many ingredients such as & # 39; brain food & # 39; but most of what you eat never reaches the brain.

This is because of the blood-brain barrier – a thick, almost impenetrable layer of specialized cells that strictly limits what can pass from your bloodstream to your brain tissue. It is excellent protection for the brain, but so efficient that even drugs that work elsewhere in the body cannot penetrate the brain.

This makes it particularly difficult to develop drugs to treat neurological problems, as I learned when working on brain cancer treatments.

What is coming over? Usually only oxygen, glucose and some fats.

Some vitamins and minerals also occur – and the SPIRIT diet is abundant in this as well as effective in dealing with diseases that cause dementia.

But almost everything your brain needs is built in-house.

So if you then about & # 39; brain food & # 39; hear, keep in mind that the brain is a very picky eater.

Adapted by Judith Keeling from LIFE LESSONS FROM A BRAIN-SURGEON. by Dr. Rahul Jandial, to be published by Penguin Life on June 27 for £ 16.99. © Dr. Rahul Jandial 2019. To order a copy for £ 13.59 (offer valid until June 22, 2019; p & p free for orders over £ 15), call 0844 571 0640.

Dr. Rahul Jandial is both a brain surgeon and a neuroscientist. He is associate professor of neurosurgery at the City of Hope Hospital in Los Angeles, where he not only performs brain operations, but also teaches medical students to perform neuroscientific and oncological examinations. He is married to a cancer doctor and has three sons.

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