Taking Good Care of Your Prefrontal Cortex
Updated: Jan 12
The prefrontal cortex is the part of our brain that makes executive functions like exerting willpower, making rational choices and controlling impulses. Unfortunately, this is also the part of the brain that experiences the most damage from addiction. This part of the brain is not fully developed until the age of twenty-five. The median age for beginning dependent use of drugs and alcohol for people in America is now hovering between 12 to 14 years old. This is staggering information on many different levels. Pertaining to the prefrontal cortex, it means most people with addiction problems began using on average, ten years before their decision, impulse control and executive functioning part of the brain has developed.
This is a major reason why recovery rates are so low and people have such a hard time getting sober. The part of the brain that people need to rely on to make healthy and less impulsive decisions is damaged. Combine this with someone who is experiencing tremendous emotional distress and you have a recipe for disaster; if not properly addressed.
There is hope for people in early recovery. This part of the brain can strengthen and become healthy and reliable. Over the course of sobriety, repeated good choices and behaviors can strengthen the neural pathways and develop a healthy executive functioning part of the brain, but this takes time. Some of us don’t have time, and are at risk, so there must be things we can do right now to help speed up the process and begin healing.
Over the next few days I will be writing about a few ways that we can improve our executive functioning. This applies to everyone, whether you are depressed, in recovery, or just coasting along.
Here’s the first step you can take. Make sure you are getting enough sleep. The brain requires on average, a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of sleep per night. It needs a couple of deep sleep and REM sleep cycles to be refreshed in the morning. Without this, we are more likely to be easily distracted, make poor judgments, feel more blue, and become more impulsive. Getting a good nights sleep places us in a position to be sharp and focused the next day. This should be a priority for all of us.
For people in early recovery, this is a great way to help your brain have the time it needs to repair and allow for you to give yourself a great advantage for your next day of recovery. For people with depression, the same principle apply. Depression is full of distorted and irrational thinking. So by allowing your brain to be rested, you are helping yourself with thinking more clearly. If you are serious about healing, take care of your brain and get quality sleep every night.
Action: Make sleep and rest a priority in your day to day living. Follow a schedule that allows you to do this.