Since at least the late 80's, overtraining syndrome has been extensively studied and discussed in the field of sport medicine. It is know considered as an established entity, yet its pathophysiology remains unclear according to many authors (see for example the following review).

Overtraining syndrome essentially consists in a decrease in mood and physical performance occurring when an athlete fails to cope with high training load, despite adequate rest. In this type of situations, athlete's performance may even decrease, compared with their pre-overtraining level. Decrease in the training load is central in the management of the syndrome.

What strikes me is how this description could also apply to the form of cognitive exhaustion that many students experience during their curriculum. Anyone who has engaged in demanding studies has already felt exhausted, cognitively impaired and depressed during the most difficult times of the year, despite taking enough rest. This could suggest that there exists a form of "cognitive overtraining syndrome", but I cannot find any material dealing with the subject.

Has "cognitive overtraining syndrome" ever been identified as such? If so, how extensively has it been studied ?
Many thanks in advance.

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    $\begingroup$ Not sure how worthwhile the analogy you mention is (that is, whether it's worth more than just being an analogy), but it seems you'd be talking about something like "burnout". $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    May 28 '21 at 18:55
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ How can you identify something that you can't point to existing? And I'm not sure I'd agree with your assessment of burnout. Maybe in some cases it requires psychiatric management, just like physical overwork sometimes requires surgery. Most often it requires a vacation and a reduction in working hours/responsibilities. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    May 28 '21 at 19:07
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    $\begingroup$ From IsHak, W., Nikravesh, R., Lederer, S., Perry, R., Ogunyemi, D., & Bernstein, C. (2013). Burnout in medical students: a systematic review. The clinical teacher, 10(4), 242-245.: "reported prevalence ranging between 45 and 71 percent" among medical students; they report association with psychological comorbidities like suicidal ideation and depression but don't treat it as a mood disorder itself. The MBI inventory they discuss is also familiar to me and might be the closest thing to an agreed definition. I don't see any hint that 45-71% of med students need psychiatric help to resolve. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    May 28 '21 at 21:10
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    $\begingroup$ ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5821021 also seems relevant to the question of how burnout "resolves". $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause
    May 28 '21 at 21:14
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    $\begingroup$ @BryanKrause if you could make it an answer, I would be pleased to accept it. $\endgroup$
    – user47679
    May 28 '21 at 22:24

As correctly pointed out, in my view, by @BryanKrause in the comments, while (as you have said in comments) some think that depression is behind burnout, what you are describing can be attributed to burnout.

This is covered by many questions here, such as:

and it was covered in Skeptics.SE although under the term mental exhaustion.

You said that in sport,

Overtraining syndrome essentially consists in a decrease in mood and physical performance occurring when an athlete fails to cope with high training load, despite adequate rest.

Just as with this scenario, with your hypothesis of cognitive overtraining syndrome, you can have the level of rest initially required before, but continually overburdening yourself at the same rate will lead you to need more rest as the stress levels build up.

You can take heavy cognitive stress or physical stress for a certain period of time, but the effects are accumulative. After a period of time (which is different from person to person), you will need longer to recuperate before embarking on such an arduous task again.

Prevention/Remedy for Burnout

Abedini, et al. (2018) as also pointed out by @BryanKrause covers this.

Also, as I pointed out in my answer to Is it possible to over burden yourself?,

This can be a huge subject, but to narrow it down in a nutshell, as burnout is caused by chronic stress [stress over an extended period of time], the only way to prevent it or remedy it is to do whatever relieves stress for you and incorporate it into your day, every day. Burning the candle at both ends along with the midnight oil every day is going to lead to burnout.


Abedini, N. C., Stack, S. W., Goodman, J. L., & Steinberg, K. P. (2018). "It's Not Just Time Off": A Framework for Understanding Factors Promoting Recovery From Burnout Among Internal Medicine Residents. Journal of graduate medical education, 10(1), 26–32. https://doi.org/10.4300/JGME-D-17-00440.1 or https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5821021/


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