With the start of the new school year, it’s important to establish new habits that will help make your child a successful student. On the other hand, it’s the perfect opportunity to kick some not-so-healthy habits to the curb. While many of these are friendly reminders, there are a few habits that have emerged from recent studies which have shown to have a negative effect on cognition. Some of which may be more surprising than you think.
Hydration. Drinking adequate amounts of water is key to maintaining a healthy body and brain. But you may not be aware just how much being hydrated can affect your cognition. Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology analyzed a pool of 33 participants to look at how dehydration at various levels can affect cognition. Their conclusion found that “dehydration impairs cognitive performance, particularly for tasks involving attention, executive function, and motor coordination when water deficits exceed 2% body mass loss.” Basically, if you’re going to school without drinking water and not hydrating throughout the day, you’re more likely to make mistakes. This is especially important on test taking days. While hydration is important for all people, athletes in particular need to make sure they are staying hydrated during exercise and game days.
Avoiding neckties. Yes, you read that right: avoid neckties. A recent neurological study divided a group of 30 participants into two groups, one with a necktie and one without, and all underwent an MRI. According to the results, there was a “statistically significant decrease of cerebral blood flow after tightening the necktie.” While most of our students don’t wear neckties, some do choose to wear them for presentations, interviews, and in other professional settings. So our advice to them is to keep the tie loose until you’re ready to impress.
Device Free Classrooms. Many students may decide to take notes on a laptop in class, and while that doesn’t affect comprehension of a lecture, according to Arnold L. Glass in his recent study, it can affect long-term retention of the lecture. If a teacher is lecturing on something that will be on the final exam, it may be a good idea to put pen-to-paper for note taking or homework.
Getting a good night’s sleep. It’s no surprise that getting a good night’s sleep helps avoid making mistakes during the day. Alice G. Walton points out in her article that “a study last year looked at brain cells and cognition in real time: It found that during a night of lost sleep, participants’ brain cells became slower to respond during a cognitive task, and when they did respond, their activity was sloppier than normal. And sleep loss over the long-term has been shown to affect our cognition and our ability to form memories.” We understand that students may feel the need to pull all-nighters, and they may even be unavoidable at times, but honing in on time management skills will be a student’s best way to be successful. Getting a good night’s rest each night prepares students for what’s ahead of them in the classroom the next day.
Relax and have constructive outlets for stress. Chronic stress can lead to many health problems. Walton points out that “stress has been shown to affect everything from memory formation to decision-making to hand-eye coordination to brain volume.” It’s no secret that school can cause stress, especially at the high-level. Teaching students how to manage stress while they’re young will only aid them in managing their stress when they’re adults. Walton recommends things like yoga and meditation to help combat stress. Exercising daily and spending time with friends are also great ways to reduce stress.
Make friends. While we’re on the topic of social connection, it’s important to point out that having friends is important to cognitive performance. The intellectual and emotional stimulation that social connection provides helps combat stress and aids in an individual’s cognitive retention. While it’s not clear why exactly this occurs, one can connect that just by talking to someone a person’s vocabulary, perception, and expand. This is why it’s important to surround yourself with many different individuals.
Eat Healthily. We know that this is a given. But it’s still important to point out that high intake of sugar can negatively affect cognitive retention. The “sugar coma” phenomenon is well-known for a reason. “A study earlier this year found that people who consumed either glucose or sucrose performed worse on cognitive tests than those who consumed fructose or placebo—which isn’t surprising given the known connection between sugar and Alzheimer’s disease,” according to Walton. A balanced diet is an easy way for students to perform better in the classroom.
In the end, there are more habits that can help and many more that can drag down a student’s cognition. The first step is acknowledging what needs to change and replacing those with healthy habits. While none of these are surefire ways to get an “A” on a test, each of these is a step toward having a positive 2018-2019 school year.