Sitting at your office trying to work, there is a “ding”. The phone lights up and displays a text message. Moments later an email pops up on the corner of your computer. “Urgent” it says and despite being in the middle of something, you find yourself pulled from a concentrated state.
In today’s modern world distractions abound, which is one reason why the best nootropics for focus are some of the most popular smart drugs on the market. While we vilify opiates and “party drugs”, over 11% of children aged 4 – 17 are taking amphetamine-based drugs for ADHD.
Our obsession with greater focus and concentration is even more apparent when we consider tea and coffee are some of the most consumed beverages in the world (even above alcoholic beverages).
By better understanding how we increase concentration, we will explore some of the traditional lifestyle changes and the best nootropics for focus that can help you to develop into a better employee, business owner, and person… without the burnout.
Focus Nootropics: What Makes Us Focus?
As an important disclaimer, what helps one person to focus or concentrate on their work is very different than what might help someone else. Each of us has a unique neurochemistry, which makes it challenging to recommend a single product as the best nootropic for focus.
Even though it does change from person to person, generally speaking there are two chemicals that influence our ability to concentrate the most:
Both of these brain chemicals are potent on their own, but in combination with one another they are powerful. Of course, by adding a high quantity of these chemicals there are also side effects and downsides that we will explain later (in addition to overcoming those effects).
For someone who might be deficient in a brain chemical like acetylcholine, a cholinergic nootropic might be best for improving focus and concentration. In one 2013 study in the journal called CNS & Neurological Disorder Drug Targets, scientists showed that CDP choline did not impact dopamine levels in the brain, but still increased focus and concentration.
Therefore, it’s not always dopamine and adrenaline, but most of the time those are the culprits.
How Can We Focus Without Nootropics?
Nootropics are not only popular, but also an effective way of increasing focus and concentration. Take a pill, get a result.
The problem is, this isn’t always the lowest hanging fruit. When we are trying to increase our focus and concentration, sometimes we have environmental and lifestyle changes that we can make in order to get started.
Distractions in our environment are some of the most challenging problems that we face. No matter how many nootropics we take, how focused are you going to be in the midst of constant distraction from other people and technology?
Here are some of the things we recommend you consider before jumping into the nootropic world:
- How often are you distracted by other people whether it be roommates, office workers, or other relationships?
- How often does social media distract you from work that needs to be done?
- How often does busy work (emails) keep you preoccupied from doing important stuff?
According to Cal Newport’s book Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World the author uses research from UC Irvine to show that it takes and average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after an interruption.
If we are constantly being interrupted by all of the things mentioned above, it’s as if we never have the opportunity to truly be focused. Correcting environment is the lowest hanging fruit. Work from home when you can, keep phones on airplane mode, and resist the urge to Tweet!
Besides changing your environment, there are lifestyle factors that we must consider in order to get the most focus and concentration. Most of these are foundational elements that everyone should have before moving towards nootropics.
Sleep – no matter how many nootropics for focus that you take, it will not overcome the need for sleep. The short-term repercussions of lacking sleep are well-documented; some studies suggest sleep deprivation is on par with being drunk from alcohol. Check out our guide to getting a great night sleep if you need help sleeping good.
Diet – without a good diet, there is no way to have heightened focus. The brain chemicals we need for concentration come from our food. Without good raw materials, we aren’t doing ourselves any favors. Check out our post on the best diets for cognition.
There are other lifestyle changes that you can make (such as cold therapy, which influences adrenaline levels), but place your attention on diet and sleep as the foremost priorities.
Best Nootropics for Focus: An Unusual List
Lists of the best nootropics for focus are a dime a dozen these days. Everyone seems to be getting interested in nootropics and smart drugs, but most of these lists (like any information on the internet) are poorly thought through.
Our list will have a few of the usual suspects, but we want to push the boundaries of what you’re used to. As you will see, it’s all backed up by references and caveats.
Caffeine + L-Theanine
This is your basic combination, but a potent one. Research clearly indicates these two go well together and it is some of the most robust scientific inquiry of all nootropic combinations. This is a great place to start as a beginner because it is an option of low hanging fruit. We have a caffeine and L-theanine combo here.
Even though some people claim modafinil is a wonder drug without influencing dopamine levels (like Adderall might), that simply isn’t true. Although modafinil is different from many standard stimulants, it does influence dopamine and is one of the most powerful drugs for influencing focus and concentration. A good reference for buying modafinil is here.
Otherwise known as NALT, this derivative of the amino acid L-Tyrosine (which works well too) is excellent for improving the raw materials that our brain needs to develop dopamine. As a precursor for dopamine, it can help us to improve focus and concentration in as close to a natural way as possible especially when our diet is lacking.
Most people believe that the racetam family of drugs is solely a memory enhancing group, but this isn’t true. Phenylpiracetam has been around for decades and modern scientific evidence shows how influential it is on the dopamine system. That means greater focus, greater concentration, and all from this so-called “memory drug”. We do stock this nootropic here.
Rarely found on lists of the best nootropics for focus, hordenine HCL is an alkaloid that inhibits the reuptake of adrenaline. This means for people who need help with focus because of their adrenaline system, hordenine HCL can be a useful alternative to the standard dopamine dumps from stimulants. Despite those benefits, this is not a substance to be trifled with as it can be highly stimulatory. We recommend reading more about the safety here.
Similar to the phenylpiracetam, this form of choline is often considered a memory enhancer, but there is more than meets the eye. Alpha GPC specifically influences dopamine levels in the brain and has a stimulatory effect. In fact, one study showed a 14% increased power output in physical exercise using alpha GPC. You can get it here.
There is a lot less scientific evidence about the distinction between noopept taken orally (in a pill) versus in a sublingual solution (under the tongue). However, the anecdotal evidence is pretty clear that noopept sublingual solution is highly effective. According to the Redditor who posted that thread, 10 mg of sublingual was more effective than 40 mg in pill form. You can pick it up here.
Considered an adaptogen useful for improving stress, rhodiola is a powerful focus enhancer for some people as well. This is especially true of people who consume coffee regularly and want to cycle off using other substances (more on that below). Pick up rhodiola here.
Best Nootropics for Focus: Our #1 Tip
Before wrapping up this monster list of the best nootropics for focus, we want to provide a single important word of caution that will help to solve many of your concentration woes.
Cycle the focus nootropics regularly.
Cycling nootropics allows you to avoid the tolerance effects that come from taking anything daily. It also allows you to avoid the adrenal fatigue and negative side effects from being over-stimulated all the time.
We recommend taking a product like caffeine and l-theanine on one day, phenylpiracetam the next, and maybe rhodiola rosea + noopept sublingual on day 3. Cycle back through all of those and finish off with some rest days for replenishing your mind.
With a routine like that and the surprising nootropics we recommended for focus, you should have a great routine and even better work.