Makram Leaf via Dr. Caroline Leaf – For many people, brain maps can be quite alien and strange. What are they telling us? What do they mean? Do all these shapes and colors and symbols mean there is something terribly wrong with me? It certainly doesn’t help when you read sensationalist headlines like “This is your brain on drugs!” or “This is what happens to your brain when you are stressed!”, which only serve to make us more nervous about what is happening between our ears. In this week’s blog and podcast, I speak with UCLA-trained neuroscientist, top performance coach and founder of The Peak Brain Institute Dr. Andrew Hill about what brain scans an tell us about our brain, the role they play in neurofeedback therapy, how neurofeedback and brain scans can boost our performance and help treat depression, anxiety, addiction and PTSD, the myth of the normal brain, how to biohack sleep, and so much more!
As humans, we tend to exhibit similar behaviors within a bell curve or range. When the core functions of the brain get out of this range, it can cause all sorts of mental and physical health issues. Brain maps like QEEGs (which is what Andrew uses at his institute and what I used in my most recent clinical trials) allow us to compare a set of brain waves to a referenced database. These images show the ways your brain is different; they are not a diagnostic tool, but a way of exploring your mind and generating ideas about what may be going on in your life and what to change.
It is important to remember that there is no such thing as a normal brain. We are all different, so when we look at a brain map we should not wonder why we are not closer to the average. People are generally similar within a bell curve; brain maps are yard sticks, not value labels. It is not about trying to map you onto a “normal” brain; at the end of the day, only you are your own true comparison, which is why seeing how your brain maps change over time is far more important that comparing your brain to someone else’s.
At The Peak Brain Institute, Andrew teaches people how to read their unique brain maps and make changes in their lives. He gives them agency and perspective and shows them how to use the information because only the person who is suffering truly knows what they need to do to change. Andrew is passionate about empowering people to take back control of their lives, and believes that the locus of control should always be internal.
One of the main ways the Peak Brain Institute helps teach people how to change their brains and behavior is through something called neurofeedback therapy. As Andrew points out, neurofeedback is a process in which simple auditory and visual feedback guide your brain gradually to make more or less of specific brainwave frequency bands, and/or to enhance connectivity between two regions of the brain. These frequencies and connectivity guide much of our mental behavior—as we adjust them, we adjust the corresponding behaviors.
Neurofeedback is based on receiving positive input when you want the brain to do more of something by measuring what is going on in your head. With this encouraging reinforcement, the brain starts to lean into the change. You don’t notice this change as much at first, but over time you will feel better and better. This is like an iterative training session or workout for the brain—you tune into the process to get more positive effects and reduce any negative side-effects. This kind of training can help with our performance and creativity by boosting alpha and theta energy in the brain. It can also help with PTSD, anxiety and depression.
In addition, neurofeedback can help with common issues like sleep deprivation and unhealthy eating habits. As Andrew points out, if we want to be healthier, we should always start with the routine things. The best place to start biohacking your body and increasing your performance and health is with the things you do every day, like sleeping, eating and exercising.
When it comes to sleep, the fear of not sleeping often creates a larger issue over time than the sleep loss itself, and can become a major issue in people’s lives, as I discussed in a recent blogand podcast. Trying get more deep sleep can really make a difference in your life. You can start doing this by:
- Fasting before bed. Don’t eat for at least 3-4 hours before bed, so that there is no insulin in the bloodstream, which will suppress the growth hormones that are released during sleep (this is especially true for women).
- Maintaining your schedule. It is important to try to get up around the same time 7 days a week—crazy schedules can throw our sleeping patterns off for weeks.
- Exercising before you eat. Fasted workouts can really help improve sleeping patterns and overall health.
- Tracking your sleeping habits. Use devices like the Oura Ring to monitor how much deep sleep you get.