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September 12, 2016
By Susan Callahan, Contributing Columnist

If you are having trouble concentrating, join the club. Issues with
mental focus and concentration can affect you temporarily and slightly,
in which case count yourself lucky. Or they can be so severe and
long-lasting that they amount to a disability. In fact the
Centers of
Disease Control conducted a survey of disabilities in the US by state and
discovered that about 20% of us have either a physical or cognitive
disability. Cognitive disabilities include being unable to concentrate.

If one out of every 5 of us has a disability, and a fair number of these
include being unable to concentrate, then what can we do to improve
our ability to concentrate?

The short answer is, it depends on the cause. Car accidents and other
injuries can cause permanent impairments in your ability to concentrate.

But other causes can be helped. For example, sleep deprivation is a
major cause of impaired ability to concentrate as well as drug addiction
and depression.

What are the leading causes of impaired concentration? We have
collected the list of these causes and their suggested remedies:

Exercise to Improve Your Ability to Concentrate Longer

Exercising moderately 5 days a week helps to sharpen your brain,
according to a 2013 study published by Harvard University's Mens
Health Watch.

Exercising at  rate that raises your heart rate ( 220 minus your age) 5
days a week releases a chemical called Brain-Derived Neurotropic
Factor (BDNF). This special chemical can only be produced by your
brain, you can;t get it in a pill or in foods.  BDNF helps your memory
circuits to work better.

So, pick up that old basketball and shoot some hoops, or dust off that
old football for a touch-tag game. But whatever your sports
preference, you have to get moving. By the way, 5 days a week is the
minimum amount of days you'll need to exercise to see any benefit to
your brain.

Just Thinking About Interacting with Women Can Slow Your Ability to

We're all familiar with the old trope about a man who sees a woman
and ...zing, zap, powee...there goes his head. He loses his train of
thought, he starts to fumble. Okay, that's the fairy tale, right? Well,
maybe not. At least, there is more truth to the phenomenon than you
might think.

Scientists from Radboud University Nijmegen  in the Netherlands
conducted an experiment in 2009 that showed that men experience
"cognitive impairment" even if they simply think that they will be
observed by an attractive woman. To measure cognitive ability, the men
were given a test called the "Stroop test". In this test, you are shown a
word such as "blue" which is written in a different color ink, say, green
ink. You are then asked to say the color that the word is written in.
Because our brains see the word "blue" at the same time as we see the
color "green", the test sets up a conflict which your brain must
untangle. As you get tired, you perform worse. Things quickjly get

Men who were given the Stroop test were told that they would be
observed by a man or a women. The men who were told they would be
observed by a woman performed much worse. Mind you, these men
never actually saw a woman. They were only told her name.

In real life, you can hardly afford to construct your work life in a way
so that you avoid all contact with attractive women, right? Nor would
you want to. You would miss out on opportunities to share the views of
people who challenge you and your work , as well as the quality of
your life, might suffer as a result.

What you can do to try to counter this woman-observer effect is to
make yourself aware of it. Though studies have not quantified how
much self-talk helps to counteract this effect, studies of self-talk in
other areas of cognitive challenge give us reason to believe it may be
helpful here too.

The key, scientists believe is that men who are crippled by the thought
of interacting with women are trying to impress them. They imagine,
often without knowing it, that the women who are observing them are
potential sexual partners.  You might try to insulate yourself against
this effect by convincing yourself that the woman you are about to
meet, be observed by, or judged by, is excluded as a sexual partner.
The reason she is excluded in your imagination is up to you.

Check Your Prejudices If You're Having Trouble Concentrating

Prejudice, it turns out, makes it harder for us to concentrate. Or, to use
another way of saying it, being racist makes us stupider.  

A 2007 study by psychologists Jennifer Richeson of Northwestern
University and J. Nicole Shelton of Princeton University, discovered that
white (Caucasian) students with strong racial prejudices performed
worse on tests after interacting with African American students.

The fix here is not simple but it is worth a try. If you are aware that
you hold racial prejudices, simply broadening your exposure to people
of different races helps to decrease these generalist views.

Get More Sleep to Concentrate Better

One of the most common reasons for poor concentration is poor quality
sleep. The problem is that most of us have lost the ability to recognize
when we in fact are sleep-deprived for one simple reason -- we are
almost always sleep-deprived.

Every national study of sleep patterns and sleep quality has found that
we Americans suffer from lack of sleep. Between 50 and 70 million
Americans are not just sleep-deprived, we have an actual sleep pr
wakefulness disorder, according to a
survey from the Centers for
Disease Control.

In 2009, a large scale survey of 74,571 people in 12 state was
performed by the CDC and the National Center on Sleep Disorders
Research. That survey found  that 35.3% of us get less than reported 7
hours of sleep per night. Moreover, 48.0% of us snore (presumably
severely enough to affect sleep quality of ourselves or our partners).
Perhaps most disturbing, 37.9% of us unintentionally falling asleep
during the day at least once during any given month.  Almost
5%(4.7%) of us nod out while driving.

Getting enough sleep --at least 8 hours -- on a regular basis will
improve your ability to concentrate.  Sleep deprivation "degrades" your
cognitive ability and task performance, a 2010 study from Washington
State University in Spokane found.


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Getting less than 7 hours sleep a night
ruins your concentration.