The Need for Speed

People like to go fast. We like fast cars and fast lanes. We want to “Earn money fast!” and “Lose weight fast!” It’s why we blow our paychecks on the latest phones and the hottest laptops. As every third grader in a playground footrace will tell you, it’s fun to be the fastest.

That’s why we’re never surprised when Brain Gauge users seem most interested in their Speed metric. When we test college students, the football players always want to record their scores so they can report them to pro scouts. We’ve even held office competitions to see which of us has the fastest reaction time. So far, the results have been inconclusive (there’s been speculation about hacked Brain Gauges), but we do know one thing: some of us handle our Friday-afternoon beers better than others.

But if you’re not interested in bragging to your coworkers at happy hour, or sacking an NFL quarterback, or being picked first at the recess kickball game, why should you care about your Speed score? After all, most of us aren’t too concerned about sending an email 0.001 seconds faster. However, your Speed score tells us a lot more than just how fast you can a click a mouse. In fact, Speed, along with its associated metrics, Focus and Fatigue, can reveal critical details about your brain’s essential structures and functions.

When your finger senses a stimulus - such as during a Brain Gauge reaction time test - the nerves in your hand send a signal up your spinal column and into your brain. To process this signal and send a response (“click the Brain Gauge button”), your brain recruits neurons from its frontal lobe, an area just behind the forehead.

The frontal lobe is primarily responsible for high-order motor functions, the kind of thinking you use to play a game of chess or navigate a busy intersection. This area also handles emotional responses to stressful situations; when it’s impaired, people often find themselves lashing out or tearing up at the slightest offense.

In the event of a traumatic brain injury or other cognitive impairment, the frontal lobe can be temporarily damaged. Some neurological conditions can even leave the region permanently underdeveloped. In each of these cases, Speed, Focus, and Fatigue scores all tend to suffer. The neurons in the frontal lobe's impaired pathways simply aren’t able to conduct signals in the most efficient way. Sometimes, these effects even can arise from seemingly insubstantial events - drinking a recommended dose of cough syrup has been shown to diminish Speed scores significantly in healthy subjects.

Fortunately, we’ve identified a few reliable ways to bring your brain up to top speed and keep you sharp and alert.

First: drink a cup of coffee. The caffeine in coffee has been shown to increase frontal lobe activity and improve Speed and Fatigue scores. Just make sure to cut back in the afternoon if you're having trouble sleeping at night (keep reading to find out why).

Next: practice. There’s a reason why Usain Bolt has one of the fastest reaction times in the world, and it’s not just genetics or McNuggets. He works at it. You can actually improve your Speed score by testing regularly and putting forth a consistently strong effort.

And finally, to the resounding “I told you so” of mothers everywhere: get a good nights sleep. After 6 or fewer hours of rest the night before, healthy subjects show up to 70% slower reaction times than when they are well rested.

So turn off your phone (after you've finished this article, of course) make sure your room is cool and dark, and doze your way to better brain health.

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