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What is the Eureka effect? 

by Sonia Chartier, on 24 January 2017, Memory and concentration, Stress and sleep
eureka effect

co-written by Rick Olazabal, BSc, BN 

Eureka! A connotation often associated with a streak of genius, or when a discovery is made.

What’s the relevance of Eureka in our daily lives? Do you ever get that amazing feeling when you finally figure something out—putting two and two together?

When you finally understood calculus in high school; or when you finally realized how to do your taxes properly?…

Those small victories are your little personal Eurekas. All in all, they’re “aha!” moments, or subjective moments of epiphanies. This article will briefly explore ways to optimize your wellbeing (and brain function), so you may enjoy more of these Eureka moments!

But what is Eureka?

According to our friend, the Internet, “Eureka” is “an interjection used to celebrate a discovery or invention. It is a transliteration of an exclamation attributed to Ancient Greek mathematician and inventor Archimedes” (Scientific American). If you’re not familiar with Archimedes, I recommend checking out his Wikipedia page; this old dude was impressive.

How the brain work during this process? 

There are many theories and many studies that have looked at brain function in trying to elucidate what is happening. EEG (electroencephalogram) studies can pinpoint to areas of brain activity during specific tasks that require total cognitive engagement. They’ve also looked at areas of brain activity during sleep. However, according to these studies, it became apparent that there are many aspects that can explain the Eureka effect, but no particular area of the brain has been attributed to it; it seems that this occurs in many parts of the brain, within a given time period.

How memory is affected by this effect?

Memory is not necessarily affected by this process, but in fact, memory can contribute to this effect. In other words, when you sleep, your brain is better able to consolidate all the material you learned (or otherwise acquired) that day and turns it into memory, which you can use later o—i.e. memory recall. What happens is that as the brain does it, it does so in an organized matter, so you can recall things better; things “settle in”, if you will, and then, boom, Eureka! when you recall a memory, it makes more sense.

Can stress affect the process?

The problem with stress is that it can affect all aspects of your health. If you’re stressed out it can prevent you from sleeping. If you’re not sleeping, chances are you’re not consolidating information into memory. If you’re learning a task you may not perform it properly. During waking hours, if you’re stressed out, chances are you’re not focusing on what you need to focus on; you’re likely worried about the stressor.

This takes “brainpower” resources away from the things you need to be attentive to and they get wasted or used up on the stressors, thus limiting your ability to have an “aha!” moment. However, maybe you’re very stressed out about a relationship coming to an end, but then you realize you’re better off and that feels you with happiness…and there you have it, another Eureka moment.

What can be done to improve brain function?

The single one best thing you can do to improve brain function (cognitive, memory, etc.) is exercise! Get up and get going. It doesn’t require you to kill yourself at the gym. It just means to get you active, every day, for at least 30 minutes. You may not necessarily see weight loss, but your brain and heart will thank you in the long run!

Other ways to improve brain function is to keep it cognitively active. That is, take up word puzzles, spatial recognition games; there are tons of these activities on the Internet, and tons more apps you can download onto your phone or tablet. If you really want to try a nootropic, I recommend speaking with your physician and/or licensed naturopathic doctor before diving into an experience that, at best, may cost you lots of money with little benefit, and at worst, it can be damaging to your health.

However, with that said, the extract of Ginkgo biloba has been used for centuries as a “brain tonic” and circulatory stimulant. Another word of caution: some people have sensitivities if not allergies to Ginkgo, so again, speak with a qualified healthcare provider first. To reduce stress and improve brain function, other herbs have been shown to be effective, e.g. liquorice root (make sure to hydrate yourself and replenish your electrolytes—stay away if you have high blood pressure); eleutherococcus; withania; passion flower; astragalus and reishi all work as adaptogens, which help modulate the stress response.

Now, remember, don’t just take the easy way out; remedies aren’t magical potions nor miracle cures, so get up and get walking; socialize more; read more!

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