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Rewire your brain; BBC presenter Tim Samuels tells how concentrating fully on the telly boosted his moods and focus in the mornings.

"Mornings have broken me. Mornings are hell. A low-energy, lowmood fug. Where getting out of bed is the sort of expedition needing a couple of Sherpas (as long as they promise not to talk to me).

Ever since school I've been a night person, so it's not surprising I used to work at Newsnight rather than Breakfast News.

Talking to my father, we could name generations of men in our family who were late risers.

Indeed, people are genetically disposed to being a lark or an owl. Adrian Williams, professor of sleep medicine at King's College, London, and the London Sleep Centre, says us owls aren't lazy, we just have "a change in the Period Three gene called a polymorphism. Some people are short, some people are tall. Some rise late, others early".

But from what I've found while researching my BBC podcast All Hail Kale, blaming genes is wrong.

We don't have to be resigned to our genetic fates because "that's just the way I am". The latest thinking suggests we can rewire our brains to change the type of person we are.

That I might one day be able to rise early, or even not get some of the illnesses that run in the family, comes down to two breakthroughs.

Firstly, around epigenetics - which essentially says genes can be ignored. "Genes are just like a light bulb," says alternative medicine guru Dr Deepak Chopra. "They can be switched on, switched off."

So just because you have the genetic trait for a condition doesn't mean you're fated to get it. Only 5% of our genes come with mutations which can't be prevented ( for now), according to Dr Chopra.

Secondly, our brains are not as fixed as we once thought - and are in fact much more mouldable and plastic-like. We can rewire our brains for new ways of thinking.

Which is how I found myself sat watching a David Attenborough show while wearing a cap with 19 electrodes monitoring my brain activity. London clinic Brainworks scanned areas of my brain and found splodges of orange and red which all showed far too much going on.

Perhaps I was bad in the mornings because my brain was over-active during the night?

The plan was to return my brain to a "better state", to "show the brain where non-stressed is", says James Roy from Brainworks.

The training was simple. I had to sit and watch a TV show on a laptop and somehow - through the power of my thought - stop the picture fading out. If I lost concentration the picture would fade away.

The brain would be rewarded with the TV show when operating in a well-functioning state.

Technically you're a human hanging to a colony. need to that happy Essentially I was laying new track for thoughts to travel on - rather than going around in the existing circles. And it worked. After spending an hour each day for 20 days trying to keep David Attenborough on screen, the orange and red islands have all but gone. I've been rewired.

Mornings aren't quite as tortuous as before. Nurture has beaten nature.

You can do this rewiring yourself by changing the way you think, and how you live causes rewiring. The right thoughts and actions break old cycles and lay down new circuits. I interviewed Gabe Deem, whose porn addiction was so bad that at 23 he "could no longer get an erection with a real partner". To kick his habit, Gabe delved into what was going on in his head.

"I found the neuroscience of how porn can impact the arousal circuit in the brain," he said. He then rewired that circuit by staying off the internet, exercising, reading books, spending time with his girlfriend.

To really get the most out of your brain you also have to keep your belly happy. The gut is home to what's now called your "second brain" - the microbiome - 100 trillion microorganisms that are crucial to our immune systems, digestion, moods and more. And these bacteria have their own genes!

"When we're conceived, we acquire 25 thousand genes," says Dr Chopra, "but when you're born you acquire another two million extra genes which are not human, they're bacterial. They come in your food, who you come into contact with and so on. Technically, you're a few human genes hanging on to a bacterial colony."

To keep that colony happy means eating gut-friendly foods, exercising, getting your hands muddy (or on a dog), and lowering stress. Because all roads lead back to the brain.

Tim's podcast All Hail Kale is on BBC Sounds

DO YOUR OWN REWIRING

Break the bad circuits When watching TV, leave your phone on the other side of, or outside, the room. By checking your phone for no reason you're just creating a low attention span. Just as the brain can be rewired for positive reasons, our bad habits can also become baked in.

Feed your brain Break up routine and stimulate your neurons with new things. Walk different routes, go to places you've never been before and try to learn something like a language or a musical instrument.

Feed your gut The direct link between the gut and mind means you want to keep those bacteria as friendly as possible. So eat as many types of veg, fruits, nuts/seeds as possible - diversity is key. Plus lots of fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi pickles, kombucha tea and natural yoghurt. Avoid processed food, emulsifiers and artificial sweeteners.

Technically you're a few human genes hanging on to a bacterial colony. We need to keep that colony happy

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 29, 2019
Words:946
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