I often remind the students I work with that the body is a “tool” that must be kept healthy in order to do well in school. It may seem obvious that our brains are very much a part of our bodies, and a properly functioning brain relies on the rest of the body being well; but it’s easy to lose sight of this. I know life can get busy and you might not be able to think about your health constantly, but there are a few simple things you can do for your body to increase brain power. If nothing else, focus on these essential behaviors:
Remember to Breathe
Yes, you have to do it to survive, so this seems like a given. But during periods of stress, breathing patterns change. Have you noticed when you’re stressed or nervous that your heart races and breathing gets shallower? This stems from the body’s “fight or flight” reaction that gives it more oxygen to either run away or fight in a life-threatening situation. While school can be stressful, it certainly isn’t life threatening. Your body doesn’t differentiate stress triggers, though, so you react similarly to school work as you would to encountering a hungry bear. It also turns out that shallow breathing can worsen feelings of stress and anxiety. What’s even worse about all this for you as a student? Chronic or severe stress reduces the rate at which learning is converted into long-term memory.
Tip: Take breathing breaks! It’s as simple as reminding yourself to sit back and take a few slow, deep breaths. Exercise — especially yoga — and meditation are also excellent ways to practice breathing and keep your stress under control.
Get Adequate Sleep
Rapid Eye Movement (REM) is a stage of sleep that happens 4 to 5 times during an 8-hour sleep period. If you only sleep a few hours a night, your accumulation of REM will not be enough because the first REM period of the night only lasts about 10 minutes. The longer you sleep, the longer the REM periods become. REM sleep plays a major role in facilitating memory storage, retention, organization and reorganization. Without the power of REM sleep, we would be lost mentally.
Tip: Do whatever it takes to ensure a good night’s rest — it’s THAT important! Plan ahead to determine what time you need to go to bed to get enough sleep. If you’re affected by noise, consider using ear plugs or a white noise machine.
Just like any other machine, your body needs the right kind of fuel to keep it going. Eating proper nutrients and staying hydrated will increase brain power when you need it most. Eating sugar, carbohydrates and a lot of fat can cause you to crash quickly and be sluggish. If you want sustained mental and physical energy, be sure to eat whole grains, lean protein, and at least 5 to 7 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
Also remember that water is essential for bodily function. It helps you maintain body temperature, metabolize body fat, lubricate and cushion organs, transport nutrients, and flush toxins from your body. Everyone should drink at least 64 ounces a day, and if you exercise or are overweight, even more.
Tip: Don’t skip meals. It is better for your brain if you eat several small meals throughout the day rather than one or two big ones.
In order to increase brain power and stay at your peak academic performance, you have to focus on taking care of yourself physically. What are some other simple ways you can do this? Tell us your ideas in the comments below.