Lorn Healthy Options weekly health tip – May 19

Cameron Johnson, exercise professional, Healthy Options.

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Could our children sleep themselves smarter?

We are at a time when many teenagers are spending long nights in front of their books or PC trying to cram in all the information they require to make the grade in various subjects.

But these late nights coupled with early school starts could be having a profound impact not only on their sleep duration but also their functions of learning and memory.

Research shows that we not only need sleep after learning in order to hit the save button in our brain but also beforehand so the brain becomes like a dry sponge ready to be submerged into a bucket of liquid information.

Ours brain retains recently learned and observed information in an area known as the hippocampus which is a bit like a modern memory stick. However to transfer these files to a more long-term memory vault we require a good nights sleep of some 7-8 hours with quality deep sleep brainwaves.

What we now know is that a poor nights sleep for our children will impair their ability to both learn and memorise information. In essence the memory vault will be closed and no amount of staring at a book or PC screen will make any difference.

Ever heard them say ‘It’s just not going in?’ Worse still, if they decide to pull the dreaded all nighter near exam time their ability to learn will be reduced by up to 40 per cent. This could be the difference between acing an exam or failing badly.

Unfortunately our modern society doesn’t really make things easier for our scholars and students. Teenagers are natural night owls and so are predisposed to stay up later at night and wake later the following morning. Our society punishes them with early school start times which is a bit like pulling a grizzly bear out of hibernation every morning. Some parents may well identify with this.

We then ask them to cram all their exams into a short period of intense assessment encouraging sleep deprivation and the associated learning problems.

Our government is not going to change the start time of the school day or exam schedule any time soon so what can our youngsters do in order to get a good nights sleep and aid their learning potential?

Teenagers tend to deprive themselves of sleep during the week and then try to ‘catch up’ during weekends. Unfortunately we can’t catch up on lost sleep. Once its gone its gone.

Regularity is the key to a good duration and quality of sleep and sticking to the same routine throughout the week is probably the best sleep aid of all. Those natural night owls can reset their body clocks a little easier by getting access to light earlier in the morning.

Keeping the bedroom cool is another great strategy as a drop in core temperature is one of the main drivers in sending us off to the land of nod. It’s always easier to sleep in a room that is slightly too cold than too hot.

Cut back or cut out the caffeine – and that includes many energy drinks which teenagers may use to keep themselves awake at night or to sharpen their focus in the morning.

And finally turn off the screens a bit earlier. That light coming off them tricks your brain into thinking its daytime and it won’t shut down as expected. It is possible to catch up on social media over breakfast and not during the early hours. You’ll feel much more awake, concentration will be enhanced and you may just remember that essay plan you created last night.

On behalf of Healthy Options can I wish all our local children and young adults (and more mature ones) the very best of luck as exam time approaches.

Cameron Johnson, exercise professional, Healthy Options.