Sugar can kickstart your cognitive process


Look at the worst case scenario in flying or at your job. A multi sector or a long haul flight is not uncommon. A long day at work is not uncommon now a days. A sugary drink or carbohydrate in any form can help kick start your cognitive function. The carb intake promotes production of a chemical called Dopamine which can help you prevent a cognitive lockout during approach or take a quick decision.


Fatigue is defined as a physiological state of reduced mental or physical performance capability resulting from sleep loss or extended wakefulness, circadian phase, or workload (mental and/or physical activity) that can impair a crew member’s alertness and ability to safely operate an aircraft or perform safety-related duties.

On second thoughts

“We are of course capable of making deliberate, logical choices as well. We can stop and reason ourselves out of the irrational attraction caused by decoys. But what determines how we will handle a particular choice in life? How do we know what part of our cognitive repertoire will be in play today?”Excerpt From: Wray Herbert. “On Second Thought.” iBooks.

If the brain truly is like a hybrid engine, E. J. Masicampo and Roy Baumeister reasoned, then why not look at the fuel system? All of that cognitive crunching doesn’t come cheap, and effortful deliberation is especially greedy for energy. This is not just a metaphor: they wanted to see if the brain’s supply of fuel—blood glucose—might determine whether we make logical choices or irrational ones.

The experiment

The experiment started by having all the subjects do an exercise meant to deplete their power—both their willpower and the glucose that fuels self-control and decision making.

The purpose here was to mentally exhaust the volunteers, much as doing wind sprints would deplete their muscles and lungs. Once the researchers had all the volunteers in this depleted condition, they reenergized some of them with sugar. They actually had all of the subjects drink some lemonade, but only some were getting real sugar; the others were drinking lemonade artificially sweetened with Splenda. The idea was that the Splenda drinkers would remain cognitively drained while the sugar drinkers would be restored to normal intellectual functioning.

Finally, the psychologists confronted the subjects with a classic decoy choice task. In theory, the depleted subjects should at this point have been mentally “weaker” and therefore less capable of making effortful, deliberate decisions. And that is precisely what they found. The subjects who were running on empty were much more likely to make a poor judgment. Those who had recently been reenergized didn’t waste any time or energy and didn’t allow it to sway them from taking a good decision.

mindFly analysis

For his Ph.D. research, Bryant Jongkees studied the relationship between dopamine and the ease with which people carry out what are termed cognitive tasks. In his experiments, the study participants were better at their tasks if the level of dopamine in their brains was artificially increased.

Sugar alone does not activate the cognitive function but it affects the production of Dopamine. Even the though of sugar which can be in form, juice, carbohydrates, plain sugar kick starts the production of Dopamine which improves the cognitive function.

Image result for dopamine cognitive
Optimum Dopamine level

When the body is tired there is a natural urge to binge on sugars. It could be a bar of your favourite chocolate or a fruit. The effect is the same. Therefore it would be worth having a fruit or any other form of carbohydrate before you reach the state of being tired at the end of a multi sector/long haul flight. This just might save a cognitive lock and prevent an unstable approach or help you take a quick decision.

About Capt. Amit Singh

I think therefore I am Airlines Operations and Safety balance expert. A former head of operations/training and safety of successful LCC's in India. An experienced member of the startup teams of these airlines has hands-on experience in establishing airlines systems and processes.

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