A Better Back to School Kit

Alas it's time to put away the beach chair and flip-flops and get back to class. This school year, don't just stock up on paper, pens, and notebooks, make sure to provide yourself with what you need to stay healthy and promote academic excellence. I call this a back to school kit, but I'm certain everyone can benefit from these helpful tips.

Brain Food
Choosing foods packed with nutrients that fuel the brain helps with concentration and cognition. One particular nutrient is omega-3 fatty acids found mostly in fatty fish like salmon, cod and herring. Omega-3s are a crucial part of the outer membrane of brain cells. Unfortunately, the American diet is loaded with omega- 6s mostly from processed foods and oils such as corn, safflower and cottonseed. Too much of this fat can undermine intelligence. You can also boost alertness, memory and stress resistance by eating foods that contain precursors of brain neurotransmitters. One of them is choline, the fat-like B vitamin found in eggs and lecithin. In addition, foods high in B Vitamins positively impact our mood and mental performance. Some of my favorite "brain foods" include fish, nutritional yeast, avocados, dark leafy greens, walnuts, and pumpkin seeds.

More ZZZZs Please
Resist pulling that all-nighter as sleep is important for academic performance. First, a sleep-deprived person cannot focus optimally and therefore cannot learn efficiently. Second, sleep itself has a role in the consolidation of memory, which is essential for learning new information. Studies have shown that poor sleep hygiene is associated with a lower grade- point average in both high school and college. Both quantity and quality of sleep are important. The amount of sleep you need varies from person-to- person and amongst the different age groups. Teens need 8.5-9.25 hours, school age children 10 to 11 and adults 7-9 hours. Probably the biggest problem is that adolescents need a lot of sleep but their biology is wired to "stay up late" making it difficult when school starts early. One way to tell if you are getting enough is being able to recognize some of the signs of sleep deprivation such as poor memory and concentration, increased appetite, vision problems, poor decision making, diminished motor skills, and mood swings. As a rule of thumb, maintain consistent sleep and wake times and put down all mental activity (ie homework) at least an hour before bed. If sleep is particularly problematic, it is wise to seek professional help.

Supporting your Adrenal Glands
The adrenal glands sit a top our kidneys and are responsible for producing many different hormones needed during times of stress. When your adrenal glands are taxed by excess stress, we become tired and irritable and have problems sleeping. To prevent this, you want to restrict or eliminate caffeine and alcohol consumption as they increase adrenal hormone output and interfere with normal brain chemistry and sleep cycles. Refined carbohydrates and sugars disrupt our blood sugar and have a negative effect on our adrenals as well. During particularly stressful times, we can use "adaptogens." These are herbs that exert beneficial effects on adrenal function and help to increase energy, and improve mental and physical performance. They include Chinese ginseng (Panax ginseng), Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus senticosus), licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra), ashwaghanda (Withania somnifera), and schisandra (Schisandra chinensis).

The Other Rs (Recreation and Relaxation)
Just because you have classes, term paper deadlines, and final exams, does not mean you shouldn't take the time to do the things you really enjoy and to relax. You need time for personal enjoyment so you can recharge our batteries. It has been shown that people who have leisure activities have a healthier outlook physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially as well as sense of self. Children with extra-curricular activities tend to be more interested in school and have higher grades and intellectual skills. Relaxation helps improve our capacity to think clearly, focus, and manage stress, which are all particularly useful for students. Although yoga and meditation are great forms of relaxation, they can take a lot of effort for some of us. Some simpler relaxing ways include taking a bath, sitting quietly, walking, and journaling. For best results, you should try to have a daily and consistent practice. It does not have to be long either as even 15 minutes a day can produce good benefits.