As most of us will have discovered by now, the human body is a marvel. Many of the things it can do seem like magic compared to other life-forms on Earth, and even if extraordinary abilities do exist in nature, they’re often developed as specialized responses to their immediate environments and not as a part of an all-purpose package ready to take on any challenge the environment throws at it.
Despite all of its marvels, however, our bodies are limited in many other ways, one of them being, say, the inability to fly. While we sure can’t do anything to fix that, there are many other ways to hack the body into doing things you never thought it could do, mostly by exploiting the various loopholes in the complexity of the brain. And we’re not talking about pseudoscience or old wives’ tales, either; all of these hacks are backed by science.
Many people are of the opinion that sleeping is awesome, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Sleep absolutely is awesome, especially after a long day, as it helps the body rest and recharge for repeating the exact same routine the next day. Though if you really think about it, it’s largely a waste of time, as the actual part of the sleep cycle in which the body really gets things done is REM sleep. The rest of the sleep duration might as well be eliminated altogether so that the time it takes up could be put to better use, if only we knew how.
As it turns out, we do, and all we need to do to pull it off is to phase out our sleepy time over multiple periods throughout the day. Known as the Uberman sleep schedule, it consists of six equidistant naps of about 20 minutes each in intervals of four hours. While it may sound ridiculous and tiring—which it is in the beginning—once you train your body to it for a long enough period of time, it will learn how to directly jump into REM sleep for all of those naps. Sure, it will take a bit of learning, but if you can manage it, you may be able to free up all of the rest of your usual sleep time to do whatever you want. It can even end up increasing your overall productivity, as some studies have found.
Not everyone loves music as much as that metalhead cousin of yours, though we can all agree that plugging in our earphones and listening to our favorite song can be immensely therapeutic at times. Music is one of the few universally appreciated art forms, as every culture has its distinct musical traditions, even if not everyone is into films or books. Not only that, but music has been proven to have some tangible physical benefits on the body as well.
As a study found, listening to your favorite music can alleviate pain before, during, and after surgery. And we’re not talking about its feel-good factor; the scientists found that listening to music of your own choosing makes the brain release chemicals and hormones that strengthen the immune system, and you may even need fewer painkillers than usual if you’re plugged in throughout your surgery. It should be music chosen by you, though, as it didn’t work as well when the surgeons chose their patients’ playlist for them.
No matter how old we get, many of us are as scared of injections as we were the first time we visited the doctor. Getting those shots can be daunting, as even if they don’t hurt as much as we think they will, the psychological effect of a needle piercing the skin is immense. Fortunately, there’s a quick and effective way to reduce the pain: Simply cough.
As found by many studies conducted on the subject, coughing right when you’re getting a shot increases blood pressure, which, in turn, helps reduce pain perception and therefore makes it hurt less. Any sort of distraction is helpful in reducing the pain of a shot. Coughing works more reliably than, say, turning and looking away from the injection, though, possibly because it acts as a distractor in and of itself in addition to raising blood pressure.
The human immune system is one of the most complex aspects of the body, as you’ll know if you’ve ever had to fight off a serious disease. It’s also one of the reasons we’ve been able to wade through everything that history has thrown at us. (Remember the Black Death?) Despite new, unknown diseases showing up every now and then, the immune system continues to evolve and strengthen itself instead of giving up.
The most mind-blowing part? You don’t even need to get infected by something to trigger it. Our immune system responds if we simply look at photographs of a particular disease. A study by a researcher at the University of British Columbia found that merely showing people photographs of sneezing and other indicators of disease causes the white blood cells to release interleukin-6, a protein they secrete in response to infections. White cells in the patients’ blood even reacted more strongly when introduced to pathogens.
The purpose of the eyebrow—aside from the cosmetic value, as they look amazing—isn’t quite understood, which isn’t the case for other parts of the face. While some people may argue that eyebrows help in social situations by giving us a wider set of expressions with which to convey our emotions, it’s also arguable that you don’t actually need eyebrows to do that.
As science has found out, though, the eyebrows could be much more than cosmetic. In a study conducted at University of Maryland, researchers found that raising your eyebrows actually helps to boost your creativity, as it widens your visual perception and helps you think of more solutions to a given problem than you’d be able to otherwise. Conversely, narrowing them down has the opposite effect on creativity. So the next time you have to work on a project that requires you to be creative, do it with your eyebrows as high as possible, no matter how stupid it looks.
Apart from a handful of people whose motivations we will never understand, no one likes pain. It’s our body’s way of telling us that something has gone terribly wrong, something which, if not immediately addressed, may get even worse. From infections to bruises to headaches, pain is a necessary compromise for leading a balanced, healthy life, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel.
If you want to strengthen your memory and want to remember things for longer periods of time, though, you may want to look into inducing some pain on your own, despite the unpleasantness. In a study conducted by researchers from the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, it was found that subjects who were shown trial pictures while they were in pain were able to remember them better, though only after a significant time had passed—one year in this case. It wasn’t just a momentary gain, either; the effects were permanent and long-lasting.
If you ever paid attention in middle school, you’ll know that the human eye is an incredibly complex and marvelous organ. The eyes of few other animals possess a range of abilities as diverse and versatile as the human eye, from the sheer range of the colors it can see to its advanced depth perception.
There is, however, another badass thing the eye can do most of us aren’t aware of—being able to see in darkness. Unless it’s completely dark, the human eye’s ability to use even the scarcest source of light to spot things in a dark room is surprisingly good, though it takes quite a bit of time to adjust to the darkness. If you don’t have an hour to do whatever you went into the darkness to do, there’s a hack you can use to trigger the mechanism: Just wear an eye patch for about 25 minutes and then move it to the other eye whenever you’re going into a dark area.
This was also the reason pirates wore eye patches, rather than as a bizarre fashion statement. If you think that’s just a fake cool fact someone told you to show off at a party, it’s not; it was tested and confirmed by Mythbusters.
Dreams are the brain’s way of letting out all of its pent-up creativity when we sleep, or something else entirely, as we really don’t know enough about it to say for sure. Regardless, we’ve all dreamed, and many of us might have stopped at some point and thought, “What if I could control this?” Lucid dreaming is when people are aware they are dreaming; many people in this state are able to control the dream to an extent, though very few can actually do so at will.
If you know what you’re doing, though, it’s totally possible to train yourself to lucid dream whenever you want. Many studies have been conducted on the best ways to do it, which includes consistently checking your surroundings to know if they’re real or dreams throughout your waking hours. Do it enough times, and you’ll remember to do it while you’re dreaming, immediately switching to lucid dreaming as soon as you realize it’s a dream. You could also set an alarm for about five or six hours after you go to sleep, stay awake for a while when it goes off, and then go back to sleep. That triggers the REM phase of sleep, and you’re much more likely to lucid dream in that state.
As we mentioned above, the human eye is extremely complex and consists of a lot of intricate parts you may never pay much attention to. One of them is the pupil, the small black circle in the center of the iris. The pupil shrinks and expands in response to the amount and type of light entering the eye, but it’s largely an involuntary mechanism that we have no control over, even though it would be pretty cool to be able to do it at will, as our pupils influence a lot of our social interactions (like being asked, “Are you tripping?”).
That was until researchers at the University of Oslo conducted an experiment and found out that it’s totally possible to control the size of your pupils; all you need to do is think about the amount of light going into your eye. The subjects were first exposed to varying amounts of light, and the size of their pupils was noted. They shrank and expanded, as you’d expect them to. Then, they were asked to imagine the sources of light they were shown earlier. To the researchers’ surprise, the pupils reacted in the same way as earlier, suggesting that the neural responses that control the pupils work in the same way for imaginary as well as real visual cues.
Apart from the rare few people who don’t have it, almost everyone is born with the gag reflex, even though its intensity may vary from person to person. It’s the body’s way of making sure that we don’t choke on our food, as well as making sure that we smoothly move from a liquid to a solid diet when we are infants. Of course, it can also be quite irritating, especially for those who’ve gagged while having food and, yes, those performing oral sex on a partner. Thankfully, science has found a way to switch it off, or at least make it less intense.
In a study published in the Journal of the American Dental Association (the gag reflex regularly stymies dental procedures), researchers found that putting pressure on the palm significantly decreases the intensity of the gag reflex and may even switch it completely off for some people. All you need to do is put your thumb inside your fist and press as hard as you can.
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