Improving Children’s Brain Function

According to the Mental Health Foundation, mental health problems which include depression, anxiety and conduct disorder, affect about 1 in 10 children and young people. Interestingly, the NHS states that there has been an increase in childhood obesity from around 1% to 10% in the last 30 years. This month I discuss if the two are linked…

We all know it can be difficult to pay attention in a learning environment and there is no greater challenge than trying to get our children to listen and learn in the class room. There are some truly amazing organisations out there that help children with learning and attention issues, but there are also some basic common factors which appear to be overlooked.

Sleep

Children aged between 3 and 12 years old need between 9 and 12 hours good quality sleep every night according to the Alaska Sleep Clinic. Screen time one hour prior to going to bed disrupts natural sleep patterns as the brain still believes it is day time due to the eye movement produced looking at a screen. So if children are watching television, using a tablet or on a mobile phone before bed they will take longer to get into a good quality sleep pattern and therefore be less cognitively efficient during the following day.

Time

Breakfast time can always be a potential minefield but how much of this is due solely to the children? If you know your child is slow in the morning, waking them up earlier is a less stressful way to make sure you get out of the door on time. Rushing around increases stress levels so your child starts their day in a state where short term memory is affected, concentration can decrease and anxiety can increase.

Nutrients

Author Ann Wigmore once said “The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison”. Skipping breakfast can lead to hyperactivity, bad mood and further concentration issues. Most cereals (particularly those aimed at children) contain high amounts of sugar and the likes of toast with chocolate spread, jam or honey can also have similar effects on the brain. Those effects being that it quickly increases brain chemicals to make you feel good but this does not last and therefore a crash can happen while at school leaving the child feeling low in energy, motivation and enthusiasm. The sugar can also give you lots of energy which can transpose into potential hyperactivity.

Giving your children foods containing more protein and healthy fats (such as eggs, cold meats, fruit and cheese) are much better options or carbohydrates which release slower into the body such as oats. These prevent crashes in energy and improve brain chemistry allowing your children to concentrate better in class. There is also lots of research to show that children who eat more protein and healthy fats throughout the day have less body fat, perform better academically and athletically and show less signs of anxiety or depression.

The same information is true for adults as well as children, so what is the take home message? Eat slower, eat better quality food and get to sleep earlier!