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A Conversation: Nutrition and Sleep

In the school setting, nutrition and lifestyle are a very important part of students’ learning. Many unexpected factors affect how your body and mind function throughout the day and there are certain tricks to maximize your productivity with the proper sleep and eating schedule.

Breakfast is known as the most important meal of the day. After sleeping all night your body needs to restore its energy. Epidemiology Ph.D. Mark Periera states that his research studies have shown that people who eat breakfast every day have a 35 to 50% lower risk of obesity and diabetes than people who do not consistently eat breakfast. The brain needs glucose to function optimally and breakfast provides that with a steady level of glucose.

While you sleep your body is working to repair and restore itself. Synapses in the brain are recovering and strengthening after being activated by learning and toxins are removed. There are four stages of sleep in a normal sleep cycle.

In the first stage of sleep, your body is between consciousness and sleep, your heart rate slows, your muscles relax and your brain waves slow down. In stage two the only thing that changes is your brain starts having short bursts of electrical activity. Stage three is “deep sleep” where your heart rate is the lowest and breathing is the slowest. The final stage of the sleep cycle is rapid eye movement or REM sleep. Most dreams occur in REM sleep along with memory consolidation, so it is a very important stage for learning and retaining.

Memory consolidation is the transformation of a volatile memory into a more concrete, long-term one. Slow-wave sleep following REM sleep right after learning something can lead to better memory consolidation of procedural memories. In the graph above the slow-wave sleep is considered N2 and N3(when brain wave frequency is at its lowest). Procedural memories are of tasks that incorporate both mental and motor skills, things like playing an instrument or riding a bike. These tasks are easy to do with little thinking because they have been consolidated.

These graphs show two sample groups who were tasked with learning to move their fingers in a specific sequence. The group represented by blue performed the sequence twelve times before sleeping and then performed it three times after waking up. The group represented by red learned the sequence in the morning and performed it three times in the afternoon. There is an obvious increase in accuracy in the group that slept after learning the sequence.

It might take a while to make these habits stick but they are sure to improve your quality of life if you give them a try.


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