Home _ Miscellaneous Tools and Topics How The Brain Works And Why Fatigue Stimulates Creative Thinking

How The Brain Works And Why Fatigue Stimulates Creative Thinking


While this is not a traditional ‘ed tech' topic, regular readers know that I like to consider the understanding how our brain learns and works to be a branch on the tree of education technology. The musician and songwriter in me also found the latter concept in this piece to be interesting and to make a lot of sense, which added to my decision to share this piece from Justin Osborne. – KW 

The brain has often been touted as the most complex thing in the universe. Some have even wondered if it is more complex than the universe itself. To be sure, some of that has to do with the fact that we use the brain to understand the brain. This self-reference certainly doesn’t help in the quest to fully unravel the mysteries of this amazing organ.

Tim Dexter of Edu Birdie likes to think of it this way: if the brain were simple enough for us to fully understand, then we would actually be so stupid that we wouldn’t be able to understand it! It’s a bit of a quandary, and it certainly seems to present a tremendous challenge in our endless quest to understand the workings of those masses of pinkish grey flesh that live inside our heads.

One particularly interesting area of study is that which looks at how the brain works. We often think the brain works one way or should work one way, only to later find out that we were completely off. Here are some interesting facts about the brain that are bound to blow your mind (Not literally, of course)!

It’s Impossible for the Brain to Multitask

Many people like to brag about how well they can multitask. In fact, in the modern age of the internet where we are constantly being bombarded by information and have a lot of things to do but seemingly very little time, it is often encouraged to be able to multitask.

We like to think of multitasking as the ability to do two or more things at the same time. Strictly speaking, that is impossible for our brains. What we’re actually doing when we think we’re multitasking is something called “context switching” we’re going back and forth between two or more tasks, giving a little exclusive time to each on its own. However, we’re certainly not carrying these tasks out at the same time.

That said, multitasking, or context switching as it is more accurately referred to, is not healthy for your brain at all. The research shows that you are 50% more prone to errors when you do context switching, and you also take longer to do the things than if you had done them each individually.

The reason why context switching isn’t such a good idea is that it puts too heavy a demand on the resources of the brain. Moreover, these resources have to be split among multiple tasks. Your attention is finite. Therefore, when you multitask, you have to split it between tasks. That means each task gets less attention than it deserves and your performance on all of the tasks you are carrying off is worse off.

Whenever we use our brains to do a single thing, we are putting our prefrontal cortex to work. This part of the brain focuses on the goal of our task; what we intend to achieve. It then communicates to the rest of your brain so it can coordinate with your body to achieve the goal you have in mind.

When you try to carry out a second task, your brain has to split up along the middle so that the left and right halves each handle a different task. That means each task receives less than the resources it needs to complete the task. Your brain will feel overloaded. If you go and add a third task, then your performance will dive for the depths.

Fatigue Makes Your Brain more Creative

Your body clock has a lot more influence on your ability to perform different types of work than you may think, and it’s not even in the way that you think.

If, for example, you’re a morning person, then you’ll want to do your most analytical and demanding work in the morning. The brain is best for problem solving and decision making when it is at its peak. If you’re a night owl, then the best time to do these things is at night.

Where it gets interesting is when you want to do more creative work. You might think that such work should be done when you are fresh, but that isn’t how it works, apparently. Instead, you should do your most creative work when your brain is a little sluggish, such as when you’re tired or sleepy.

When your brain is tired, it doesn’t do its filtering job as well as it should, and so it can’t focus on a single thought, idea, or task very well. It also doesn’t remember the links between concepts and ideas as well as it should. This is actually a good thing because creative work requires that you release your inhibitions and just go with the flow. A tired brain is the least inhibitive of them all.


The brain is a marvelous work of both art and engineering, and we certainly won’t cease to learn new things from it every day. Ultimately, gaining a better understanding of how it works allows us to better tackle our daily activities in the most efficient way possible.




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