Tag Archives: focus

Three meditation apps I like

I have tried three different meditation apps and found all of them have very good points. The first app I tried was called Headspace. It is well organized, habit-forming, and I like Andy Puddicombe’s voice (he’s the founder of Headspace and does all the guided meditations). He also did a TED talk which I suspect increased his visibility and gave his app a big boost. The only complaint I have about headspace is that it is very expensive. It costs $13 per month (though they have discounts for longer-term subscriptions). Their lifetime membership cost is $400. For me, it was worth it for one year to learn the skill, but not worth it for multiple years.

Brain.FM is a browser/mobile app that plays binaural beats while you work so that you can focus better. Binaural beats are an odd perceptual phenomenon. If you play two sounds that have almost the same frequency, the interference between the two waveforms makes what is called a beat frequency (beat frequency youtube demo). Here’s the weird thing: if you play one tone into your left ear, and a second tone into your right ear, you perceive the beat frequencies despite the waves not physically interfering with each other. Our brain reconstructs the beat frequency from the difference between the two tones. Supposedly, if that beat frequency matches certain brainwave frequencies, it can induce certain moods and mental states.

I don’t know if that is going to work for everyone. There seems to be some evidence that binaural beats do affect brain waves. It does seem to help me: there are different binaural beats for sleep, focus, and meditation. All of them seem to perform as advertised for me. The brain.FM app also has several guided meditations that I find useful. I got the lifetime subscription to brain.FM with a discount code; that offer seems to have expired, but there do seem to be other discounts available from time to time.

The third app I tried for meditation is Calm.com. The app can act as a background noise generator. It can make the sound of splashing water or wind through the trees (and several other pleasant sounds). I liked those when I was working in a shared office and needed some background noise to help me tune out distractions. They now offer several guided meditations and “sleep stories.” I’m excited to try sleep stories. I guess it’s like a meditative bedtime story to help you go to sleep. I usually don’t fall asleep well if I can hear talking or music. Still, I have found that a relaxation exercise before bed does help me sleep.

Bonus: I have also tried the insight timer which has a simple timer with chimes at regular intervals. It also has community-uploaded guided meditations. A few of those are good but most of them have a lot of ambient music that I don’t like very much (think sitars, zithers and didgeridoos).




nootropics, smart drugs, supplements and natural focus for medical students

It seems that medical students are using nootropics, or smart drugs (AKA brain enhancers, energy enhancers, focus, liquid nap, etc.). These things are supplements, prescription medications, and non-prescription gray-market pharmaceuticals which some literature suggests may make a person more able to perform academically. They make you “smarter,” but probably only some of them and probably only a little, and probably not really “smarter,” but rather more focused or attentive. And, of course, they all are supposed to be a lot better than good, old fashioned, cheap caffeine.

Some of the more common ones I’ve heard about are Adderall and Ritalin, both of which are (technically speaking) stimulants. I’ve heard anecdotes from people who have stayed up all night studying on amphetamines (highly illegal and not in the least recommended). The newer designer drugs like Provigil are becoming popular as well.

They all work a little differently. The stimulants tend to produce symptoms like OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). In fact, even pseudoephedrine (Sudafed, cold medicine) can cause OCD-like impulses as a side effect. Psuedoephedrine is related to ephedrine, which can be harvested from the Ephedra plant which is now illegal as a dietary supplement (because it’s basically speed). Don’t be fooled, “natural” speed will cause as many problems as synthetic speed. I suspect that all those kids who can’t pay attention in class could be better served than inducing a low-level OCD compusion for studying, but that’s neither here nor there.

Provigil is a more targeted stimulant that shuts down the sleep/tiredness centers of the brain. No jitters, no OCD, and no urge to sleep at all. If you need to stay up, this is probably safer than high doses of caffeine. Why do you need a prescription? Eh, who knows, probably because doctors like to charge you a couple hundred for the privilege. Oh, and the pills cost about a buck a pop.

If you need to bone up on a subject quickly, you may be able to get your physician to prescribe any of the above (even speed, interestingly, though no reputable doctor would give that out as study aids). I’ve never acquired any of the above, but if I wanted Provigil I would complain of persistent tiredness that was interfering with my daily life and mention that I read about Provigil in Reader’s Digest.

OK, what about “natural” alternatives? Well, there are lots. I take cod liver oil since I don’t eat much fish and the omega fatty acids are supposedly good for me and (who knows) it might help my brain. It comes in totally benign little liqui-caps and it’s cheap. There are lots of others. They probably don’t work better than a placebo. But then, a placebo might be exactly what you need! So give them a try. Choline, Ginko, Dimethylaminoethanol (also known as DMAE) are all sold in health food stores and might be just the placebo you’re looking for.

There are also a bunch of unregulated compounds that the FDA has not forbidden or approved (as far as I know). They can be imported from outside the U.S. if you want to risk being the person that the government decides to make an example of. Adafinil Adrafinil is one that can be acquired that way, as well as Piracetam. Honestly, I would recommend against going that route, but hey, if you want to try unregulated pharmaceuticals from France, google up a batch and let me know how it goes!

In the next few hours if you got here looking for something right now, caffeine is probably the best bet. There are cheap pills and even caffinated mints available at your local pharmacy over the counter if you just can’t stand coffee.