Yes, learning is a neurological process; however there are a great many factors that contribute toward assimilating information effectively. The four we’ll be focusing on today include Food, Sleep, Movement and Meditation. And yes there are number of other factors in play, (gut dysbiosis, ophthalmologic (eye) issues are more common than you would think), that can inhibit the progression you would like to see.
No I’m not asking you to contemplate strict feeding regimes and diets such as Keto, 16:8 Fasting, Elimination protocols etc, although it must be said that these particular strategies definitely do have their place in the overall scheme of things. Instead stick to whole foods, eliminate anything that comes in a can and don’t feed your child anything with words on the label that closely resemble Ancient Greek, i.e. Microcrystalline Cellulose. With that said we do find that at the very least removing dairy and gluten from your child’s diet can have a number of very positive effects. Much of this will be covered in future articles but for the time being focus on whole foods that are nutritionally dense. If you’re still not quite sure where to start, we suggest picking up a copy of Robb Wolf’s ‘Wired to Eat.” It provides an awesome template from which you can start and fine tune your child’s nutrition.
Sleep is oftentimes the forgotten part of this puzzle. It’s in many respects also the most important aspect to consider after nutrition. In an adult, lack of sleep can cause an increase in the hormone Cortisol, a rise in systemic inflammation, Insulin insensitivity, lowered immunity and host of other issues. Now imagine that concoction of symptoms in a growing body, aka your child! It’s a recipe for disaster. It’s unfortunately not just a case of making sure your little one is in bed by 7 pm either, in our modern world we are all bombarded by excessive neuro-stimulation far too late into the day. All of this ‘stimulation,’ stops our brains from entering into a state where it can naturally fall asleep. To combat this we highly suggest that you start practicing decent sleep hygiene with your child. Put your child’s phone onto airplane mode before going to bed for instance, (or better still remove it completely) you can also replace your loved one’s bright light, light bulbs with a ‘warmer’ variety, less light means less cortisol after all. Once you’ve nailed the above you can slowly widen the gap between when you last expose your child to *insert name of electronic device here* for the evening and actual bed time, (electronics provide a huge amount of sleep alternating light). Turning off everything bar the bed side light 10 to 15 minutes before lights out is a good place to start at, you can increase this number by 5 minutes a week until you hit the 1 hour mark.
The ‘eat-less exercise/ move-more’ mantra is beaten into us on a daily basis and whilst what is often advertised is a little extreme, (you really don’t need to do a full Iron Man to remain healthy) the end message is still the same. Exercise. This is particularly important for children struggling with attention deficits (ADD and ADHD). See when you put your body through self-induced atypical stress (exercise), your brain starts to produce more neurotransmitters, specifically Dopamine and Norepinephrine, both of which are necessary for the regulation of the brain’s attention system. Furthermore, the Norepinephrine that is accumulated helps to improve the tone of the Locus Coeruleus which is located in the brain stem, also known as the Pons. This improved ‘tone’ will allow for a greater sense of calm as well as a more dominant Parasympathetic nervous system state.
Translation – Exercise may help your child to feel more mellow and content. They’ll be less likely to lash out and their ability to concentrate will improve.
The final piece in the puzzle is Meditation and while it may sound all, ‘whoo whoo,’ just on hold one second so we can run through the science with you.
Using modern technology like Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, (fMRI) scans, Neurologists and Neuroscientists have been able to develop a thorough understanding of what’s really happening in our heads when we meditate.
Frontal lobe: This is the most recently developed part of the human brain and is effectively where you live, (conscious awareness). It is also responsible for reasoning, planning, emotion, creativity etc. During meditation the Frontal Cortex, part of the Frontal Lobe, tends to go offline.
Parietal lobe: This part of the brain processes sensory information about the surrounding world, orienting you in time and space. During meditation, activity in the parietal lobe slows down.
Thalamus: A lot of research suggests that the Thalamus benefits most from meditation as it’s the part of the brain responsible for controlling your senses and sensory data. Meditation effectively allows your Thalamus to defragment, very much like a computer.
Reticular Formation: As the brain’s watchman, the Reticular Formation is a set of interconnected Nuclei found within the brainstem. It plays an important role in helping the Thalamus and Cerebral Cortex determine which sensory information moves into conscious planes of attention. Meditation helps slow down the associated Beta wave activity which is connected to an overactive Reticular Formation.
You starting to see a pattern yet? Meditation allows the brain to ‘slow down and defragment.’ When this happens the mind is in a far more pliable state and open to learning, more than that it is also in a position where it is able to process new information and commit it to memory.
There are a lot of Meditative Protocols around. We suggest you start with a basic four count box breathing approach. To do this find a comfortable, quiet spot to sit with your child. Set a timer for five and a half minutes. Close your eyes and ask that your child mimic your breathing patterns. Exhale completely and count to four, (mentally). During your second four second count inhale, hold for a further four seconds then exhale, again on a four second count. Repeat this sequence of inhaling and exhaling for the full five minutes. Once the timer goes off, open your eyes and take a few moments to centre yourself. Grab a glass of water for both you and your child and discuss how it has made you feel. Often a number of emotions will come out at this point, if you feel it prudent diarise your child’s feelings for future reference.
That’s a Wrap
What we are trying to accomplish with these ‘Life Style interventions,’ is complete bodily homeostasis, as such it’s not an overnight fix. We suggest giving the above intermediations a good six weeks of practice before considering alternative such as Ritalin, (more on that in the next article), and other supplementation.
This is not, nor is it meant to be portrayed as, medical advice. Before altering any aspect of your health we suggest consulting a licenced medical practitioner.