The best things parents can do to support healthy sleep and brain function
It is never too early, or too late, to help your children develop brain-supportive life habits. Exercise, proper nutrition, and adequate sleep all contribute to brain development, memory circuit growth, and the replenishing of the brain proteins (neurotransmitters and endorphins) needed to maximize healthy emotions, mood, attention, memory, and thinking. The second best thing parents can do to promote brain health in children is to speak to them about healthy eating, exercise, and sleeping. The best thing parents can do is set healthy examples for children to follow.
It is not just nightly sleep that maintains healthy brains and supports learning and memory. Syn-naps, or brain breaks, are important throughout the day to keep neurons firing efficiently. Depending on your children’s ages and focus abilities, the time when they need syn-naps will vary. Syn-naps need to take place before fatigue, boredom, distraction, and inattention set in. As a general rule, to keep children alert and engaged, brain breaks should be scheduled after fifteen minutes of concentrated study for elementary school and thirty minutes for middle and high school. These syn-naps are important not only in the classroom, but also during study periods at home.
During these three to five minute breaks there does not need to be a disruption in the flow of homework or study. Physical movement during the syn-naps circulation along with the deep breathing of exercise will increase the brain levels of oxygen. Syn-naps can include stretching or moving to a different part of the room can provide a fresh outlook and bit of physical activity, such as jumping rope, dancing, or playing to prepare the brain to return to its most efficient state.
During these breaks, the newly learned material has the opportunity to go from short-term to working memory while children relax and refresh their supply of neurotransmitters (the brain’s chemical messengers). Researchers at Brown University found that 37 percent of students in kindergarten through fourth grade have sleep disturbances, and those poor sleep habits in children carry into adolescence.
Time spent talking about and developing healthy sleep habits will stay with a child and lead to healthy lifestyle and brain function. More importantly, adults can be good role models of healthy sleep to encourage effective study and work habits.