As the school year is starting so do the routines and stresses that come along with early waking, after school sports and the return of dreaded homework (and more housework for the parents too). After a long summer of relaxation we could use an extra boost to get ours brains back into gear. The good news is that there are a number of dietary and simple nutrients options that can help with optimizing your focus, memory and stress reliance. Try these suggestions for yourself and with your kids to start the school year on the right foot.
Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep a night: When the stress and homework ramps up the first thing to go is sleep. We stay up late to cram for tests or to finish that assignment. Do yourself a favor this year and don’t sacrifice good quality sleep. Studies show that a lack of sleep impairs your memory and focus so that late night study session might actually not be as helpful as you hoped. During sleep the brain is extremely active in processing and storing memories. Good sleep can also help you handle more stress and recover from a tough day. (See: Get Your Sleep Habits Back on Track!)
Avoid all refined sugars and carbs (bread, pasta, sweets): It’s temping to grab a bagel or muffin as a quick meal but that type of food isn’t fueling your brain optimally. The brain requires good fats (think coconut oil, wild fish, avocado, nuts and seeds) and complex carbs as fuel. Refined sugars give you quick energy but put extra stress on you brain as it battles blood sugar spikes. The brain loves consistent fuel throughout the day and not little spikes that repeated hits sugars give. If you still have a sweet craving try colourful berries (such as grapes, blueberries and strawberries) since that have potent antioxidant compounds that are brain protective.
Cut the artificial colours and flavours: We have all heard that aspartame and artificial colours are bad for you but they are still found in many food products. We might think how could such a small amount be harmful and if it’s really that bad health authorizes would have taken it off the market. Don’t fool yourself, these chemicals even in tiny amounts, can have a harmful effect on your brain cells. You might now feel it right away but for many people they cause poor focus, foggy thinking and even headaches and we haven’t made connection since they are hidden in so many foods we eat daily. Naturopathic doctors commonly see this connection in their practice, especially in children with ADHD.
Green tea and Theanine: Have you every wondered by coffee gives you such a jolt of energy while tea doesn’t despite both containing caffeine? The answer is that tea contains a relaxing amino acid called L-theanine that calms the brain and promotes focused brain waves. Research shows L-theanine helps to support alpha-wave brain activity, which is associated with the relaxed and peaceful alertness that is experienced during meditation. This happens without feeling drowsy or tired. I also like that theanine has been studied in children with ADHD, helping them with sleep quality so we know its safe in children as well as adults. Drink green tea regularly and use a L-theanine supplement if are feeling anxious, want to promote better sleep or to help maintain focus during schoolwork.
Bacopa for the Brain: We have all heard of gingko and DHA for brain function but I wanted to highlight a herb you may not have heard about before. Bacopa monniera (also known as water hyssop) is a traditional Ayurvedic plant that has been used for centuries to support the function of the brain. It has powerful protective effects on the brain and nervous system and has been found in clinical studies to boost mental function. In clinical trials, Bacopa boosted cognitive function in both children and adults. It was found to help with memory and other mental functions, visual processing, anxiety, social adjustments and mental fatigue. Since Bacopa has been shown to be safe in children it’s the ideal herb to try to support brain function when going back to school!
Always consult your healthcare provider to makes sure a supplement is safe to you and there are no interactions with your medications.
What are your tips for adjusting to the new school year? Leave a comment below to share your words of wisdom!
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Kongkeaw et al. Meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials on cognitive effects of Bacopa monnieri extract. J Ethnopharmacol. 2014;151(1):528-35. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2013.11.008. Epub 2013 Nov 16.