The past month has been a whirlwind of scientific activity- starting new experiments, conferences, and writing manuscripts. In my recent blogs, here and here, I discuss how I navigate the scientific twitterverse and the power music has on my mental health and acuity. Notwithstanding all of these, in this blog I want to discuss how maintaining a healthy diet helps me stay focused and calm under pressure. Please note – I am neither a dietician nor a health professional and the tips that I share are what works for ME and may not necessarily apply to you.

 When you visit any graduate student lab there is always a coffee pot brewing, and our office is no exception. But, I remember during my masters I only drank green tea and coffee was never my thing– how things have changed! Coffee culture has become an integral part of the academic machinery; I am convinced that coffee and tears of graduate students fuel the whole machine. I have found that drinking a healthy dose of coffee (about two pots a day for me) keeps me focused and I do not have any adverse side effects. Coupled with my coffee, I find snacking on raw vegetables/fruits keep my system alert and functioning optimally. Also, I find that being a vegetarian gives me more snacking options and energy than my meat-eating counterparts (well, the ones I know ).

coffee
The desk of this caffeine-dependent postgrad

In recent years, there has been a growing concern amongst academics regarding the use of brain-enhancing drugs to improve performance. Melinda Wenner Moyer (@lindy2350), a science journalist, wrote a brilliant article for Scientific American, here. In it, she focuses on the issues concerned with the use of Modafinil– a drug prescribed to people who suffer from narcolepsy/sleep apnea, but in healthy individuals, it has been shown[1] to heighten alertness and provide cognitive enhancements. Another report from the UK indicated that 1 in 5 academics have admitted to using Modafinil. However, before you start running to your pharmacy to get the drug- it is worth noting that many neuroscientists are concerned about the long-term effects of these drugs on a healthy brain. Furthermore, the ethical issues that surround the use of these medications are yet to be resolved.

To return back to topic, I am fascinated about what people use to stay awake when ‘burning the midnight oil’ so to speak. For me, it is coffee + snacks, and for my some of my colleagues it is simply taking vitamin B12 supplements and that suffices. A friend of mine can only write when they are in the library – maybe the musty smell of books is a boost? What are some of the techniques that you use to stay alert? Is there a special diet or supplements you take?

[1] Results varied across different studies

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