HOW do you keep your brain alert and fit in this age of endless stream of digital distractions?

By the time you reach your mid-20s and 30s, according to scientific studies, the neural networks that govern cognitive control have been well-honed, set. Years of both informal and formal learning and experiences have conditioned your brain to discriminate between important information, and distractions. Theoretically, your capacity for focus, and concentration should be at its best.

But your daily life experiences and encounters will inevitably throw barriers in your mind path. To stay at the top of your brain's development and functioning, it's important to recognize and address the physical and emotional factors that interfere with your mental focus and concentration.

Take note that your brain is a flesh-and-blood organ. From aging to diseases, what's happening in your body relates to lifestyle factors such as sleep, drugs, and alcohol use -- they play a key role in your ability to pay attention and focus. Also, the neurochemical fluctuations, what psychiatrists commonly refer to as "chemical imbalance" which for them, govern your mood, and mood swings.

Let's take a closer look at one of the things that can cause you to lose focus.

Digital distractions

It's a given in 21st century living--we live in the digital age, and there's no going back. However, the present tsunami of digital stimuli, the massive flooding of bytes and mental feeds can pose challenges to the neural networks that regulate our attention.

Take our ever-present smartphones, a gadget that we cannot do without. In many ways, smartphones actually inhibit our ability to remain focused on a task. Alerts that come from the phone itself either from your service provider or Facebook/Messenger, Viber, Twitter, Instagram and a host of other applications, are the most obvious distractions . Simply hearing the sound or feeling the vibration provides enough distraction to interfere with a task, even if you don't take time to view the message. Once you've been caught with the phone, such as answering a call, it's easy to let your attention drift to other phone-related activities, such as answering email. Other visual stimuli -- icons, bright colors, and catchy tunes heighten the attraction of these apps, enhancing their ability to draw focus away from other tasks.

"The pull" is even stronger for activities we do for pleasure, such as engaging with social media or playing a game. As Harvard medical report states, "Research has shown that social media cues, such as "likes" on one of our posts or pictures of our friends laughing, trigger a surge in dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, which may diminish the motivation to pay attention to anything else."

According to a 2018 survey by the technology company Asurion, Americans check their mobile phones an average of 80 times a day; the highest users surveyed topped 300 daily checks. I am sure that if a study be made for Pinoys, there will be much higher frequency count. Truth is, as studies point out, each time we interrupt something we were doing to check our phones, we break our concentration and have to start over.

Sleeplessness is a common blight not only among hyperactive millennials, but aging adults, and seniors as well. The widespread problem of insomnia may be traced to the distraction factor inherent in multi-media use. Some studies have shown that the exposure to blue light emitted by phone, tablet, and computer screens can produce insomnia. A 2017 study published in the journal Chronobiology International, involving young adults in their 20s, showed that blue-light exposure before bed cut down sleep time by roughly 16 minutes. Blue-light exposure also reduced the body's production of melatonin, a hormone that is connected with normal sleep cycles.

It is vital that we recognize the fact that the massive flood of distractions each day are rapidly reducing our neuroplasticity. A common manifestation of the reduction of our brain's plasticity is memory loss; the frustrating experience of trying to recall your "thought stream" when you've been distracted from something demanding your attention.

Just how can we turn our back on many of the distractions we face today? What are smart ways to coexist with our cell phones? What quick "attention-grabbers" can we use when your thoughts wander? How can we banish distractions from our minds at bedtime, and have restful sleep? How can we protect our brain from factors that can diminish its agility, avoiding "brain fog"? How can we recharge our brain's batteries?

These are questions that I am looking into, and researching in the coming weeks.