The Negative Effects of Electronics

Making Your Child’s Bedroom a “Screen-Free” Zone

53411926_thumbnailWhile past studies have linked televisions in children’s rooms to a reduction in sleep, until recently few studies examined how kids’ sleeping patterns are impacted by smaller electronics such as smart phones and tablets.

Studies on the impact of small electronics and quality of sleep are emerging now, and the findings are not good.

In fact, in one recent study, researchers found that children who slept near small screens—including those on phones and other portable electronics—reported about 21 minutes less sleep than peers who slept in electronic-free bedrooms. The kids who slept near electronics also reported feeling more sleep deprived.

Why are televisions and other electronics having such a negative impact on sleep? There are a number of possible reasons, including bright lights, sounds and alerts.

Twenty one minutes less sleep per night might not seem like a big deal, but reduced or interrupted sleep is linked to all sorts of unsavory things including obesity and poor school performance.

Bottom line, experts are suggesting keeping children less than two years old away from electronic screens altogether, and creating “screen-free zones” for older children. And one of those zones, clearly, should be the bedroom.

Talk is Cheep

A Study of Bird Communication Yields New Insights Into How the Brain Processes Sound

iStock_000019872102_LargeWe’ve known for a long time that humans are capable of assigning meaning to sounds based on context. In other words, we often figure out the meaning of a sound (take “bear” and “bare,” for example) based on where the sound falls in a string of other sounds.

It’s a fabulous skill that requires rather sophisticated cognitive abilities. And now researchers have discovered that humans are not alone in this ability. In fact, the ability to interpret sounds based on context has been observed in swamp sparrows, a grey-breasted bird found in North American wetlands.

Researchers discovered that the swamp sparrows’ “vocabulary” is made up of subsets of roughly ten different notes. What’s fascinating, however, is that the birds appear to assign different meaning to the same note depending on where it falls in a snippet of song. Researchers know this because the exact same note elicited fierce territorial behavior when heard in one location in a string of notes, and no response at all when heard in another part of the “sentence.”

What does this mean for humans? The discovery may help researchers better understand the building blocks of language in humans. In the meantime, it provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of avian communication. Turns out our feathered friends may have more to say than we thought.

Use the Holidays to Develop a Critical Part of Your Child’s Brain

iStock_000017348857_LargeThe holidays provide a great opportunity for developing an important part of your child’s brain. And, no, we’re not talking about filling winter break with hours of extra homework. Between family gatherings, meals, shopping, gift wrapping, scheduling, and everything else, the last thing you want to do is carve aside time for extra math or reading—and the good news is that you don’t have to! In fact, the hustle and bustle of the holidays is the very thing you can use to help develop the frontal lobe of your child’s brain.

The frontal lobe is the part of the brain that thinks, plans, makes decisions, controls emotions, pays attention and gets things done. And the more opportunity your child has to exercise that area of the brain, the stronger and more efficient those skills become. You can give your child these kinds of opportunities by involving him or her in tasks like planning meals, creating and following a gift-giving budget, prioritizing holiday tasks, following a recipe, writing the family holiday newsletter, or planning a dinner party.

Holidays offer another brain benefit, and it has to do with all the socializing that often takes place.
Studies show that social interaction improves brain functioning, so encourage your child to put down that smartphone and interact with family friends and relatives during gatherings. What might help? Prepare your child with interesting questions he can ask an eccentric aunt, or give her a list of little known facts and tell her to discover which fact goes with which relative.

So the next time things get crazy and you’ve got a million things to do, delegate some of the fun to your kids. You will be developing their frontal lobes and possibly giving them stronger social skills, as well. At the very least, you’ll benefit from the extra helping hands.

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Is Your Healthy Food Everything it’s Cracked Up to Be?

Fill Your Stomach AND Your Brain!

HiResAll natural. Organic. Cage free. Range free. You’ve read the food labels, shelled out a little extra cash for the promise of healthier options, and savored the flavor of your favorite organics. But wait. If the truth were known about wholesome-labeled foods—the 100% real, 100% pure truth—you might find yourself lowering your fork. Or at least rethinking your grocery list.

There’s good news and bad news about today’s food choices. The bad news is that labels can be misleading. In fact, a growing number of nutritionists, natural food experts, and food industry insiders are blowing the whistle on some foods you’ve been led to believe are good for you and your brain. Buyers, beware when it comes to these popular foods with commonly mislabeled ingredients and processes:

Seafood and salmon. “Wild caught” and “ocean fresh” may only be partially true. Some dietary reports disclose that salmon often spend half their lives in a hatchery before they become wild stock. This is bad news because farm-raised fish contain more cancer-causing chemicals. In addition, a 2013 seafood study revealed that in the United States, 87 percent of red snapper is not red snapper and 59 percent of tuna is not tuna. Does this mean you should go fishless forever? Not necessarily. You can’t catch every deception, but do your best to be as informed as you can. Read labels. Ask restaurants and food retailers if the fish they selling is farmed, and if it’s the type of fish you think you’re buying, or a cheaper substitute.

Olive oil. Italian olive oil is often mixed with seed oils like canola, so read labels if you want to steer clear of hybrids. (Tip: Pay attention to where the oil originated. California is a more trusted source for pure olive oil).

Honey. Forget the plastic bears. Typical store honey is processed with high heat and thinned with corn syrup. Buy only unpasteurized, raw honey.

Raw almonds. Domestically grown almonds are often treated and stripped of nutrients and still labeled “raw.” Look for organic-labeled nuts, particularly imports from Spain.

Milk. Some milk producers add artificial sweeteners including aspartame, so read the label to see what you’re really buying.

Oreo cookies. What’s in that creamy filling? If you think it is real cream, think again. The the middle of an Oreo is actually made with vegetable oils and soy. We’re just sayin’.

Okay, fine, we admit it. Oreos aren’t exactly a brain-healthy food. And yet, in the grand scheme of things, it could be argued (if only with tongue in cheek) that vegetable oil and soy aren’t as bad for you as some of the chemicals and processes we’ve just identified in “healthier” options.  And in our support of Oreos, we’d like to add that cookie-dunking is still pretty much the happiest method of transporting calcium-rich, aspartame-free milk from your glass to your mouth. (See? We promised there would be good news!)

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Go Ahead. Sleep on it.

The Benefits of Taking Naps

iStock_000013131759_LargeWhat do Albert Einstein, Lady Gaga and George W. Bush have in common? Nope, not their fashion sense. The answer is …their naps. Each of these famous people is known for famously protecting their daytime dozing. Dozens of other napping notables join their ranks. Lyndon Johnson conducted presidential meetings while resting in his bed. Bill Clinton once nodded off during a Mets baseball and a memorial service for Martin Luther King Jr.

Why do we love our naps? Well, one reason is rooted in our biology. Many people’s inner clock slows between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., also known as the “postprandial dip.” Many cultures actually honor this natural energy lull with the allowable afternoon siesta, when shops close and people doze.

Sometimes people catnap because they don’t sleep enough at night. Not all of us can be like Martha Stewart who typically sleeps just four hours a day. For many of us, too-few-hours of nighttime shuteye virtually guarantees that we’ll take (or at least wish we could take) a catnap later in the day.

Body clocks and sleep deprivation aren’t the only reasons for taking a nap. Apple, Google and several other Fortune 500 businesses actually allow their staff to sleep on the job, taking naps to reboot their brains and bodies. They believe they reap the benefits in employees’ increased productivity as well as overall morale boost.

The benefits of sleep are myriad, proving that the old saying “You snooze, you lose” couldn’t be farther from the truth. At least not according to scientists and researchers who say naps are good for you in these and other ways:

  • Improved thinking and problem solving
  • Sharpened focus and alertness
  • Increased memory
  • Steadied emotional resiliency
  • Cleansed brain toxins
  • Reduced risk for heart disease
  • Lowered obesity and improved weight loss

In fact, researchers at U.C. Berkley found that an hour nap significantly increases memory and learning ability. In another study at the University of Colorado—Boulder, kids who didn’t nap proved more cranky and anxious. There’s even proven research on the ideal length for naps and what happens if you nap for too long.

Getting a good night’s rest on a regular basis is the best plan. But whether or not you get a full night’s sleep, a 10-15 minute rest during the day can leave you feeling recharged. So find a restful place to snooze and turn down the lights. Pull out the fuzzy socks, the lavender eye mask and the ocean soundtrack and nod off.

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Relax and Live a Little

One Smart Octogenarian on Slowing Down, Savoring Life (and De-Stressing Your Brain in the Process)

DeCooler than your average granmands. Deadlines. Delays. Some days the stress of life makes our mental cogs spin so wildly, it can feel like our brains are overheating! In the rapid pace of everyday living, accumulated stress can compromise brain health, but what can we do about it?

Perhaps the advice of 85-year-old Nadine Stair offers some direction. In her poem “If I Had to Live Life Over Again,” the sage Kentuckian penned: “I’d dare to make more mistakes next time. I’d relax. I’d limber up. I’d be sillier than I’ve been this trip. . . . I would eat more ice cream and less beans.”

So how can we apply Nadine’s slow-down-and-savor-life perspective to our lives? Here are some suggestions:

Stop being such a perfectionist. A sure-fire path to burnout is to place expectations of perfection on ourselves and others. When we believe that mistakes or failures are to be avoided at any cost, we can end up at either tragic end of the spectrum: accomplishing a lot while creating massive amounts of stress for ourselves (and the people we love), or so paralyzed by fear of failure that we never really do anything with our lives.

Relax. Limber up. Relaxing and limbering up can happen in almost any area of your life—your body, your thoughts, even your schedule! Many of us are addicted to our daily list of activities and errands. Why not start the day by postponing or eliminating a couple of non-essential to-dos on your agenda? Give yourself room to stretch and move a little. In fact, don’t be afraid to create quiet moments in your day to simply relax and let your mind wander. Unplug from your phone, computer, TV, etc. Develop the habit of letting yourself enjoy spells of doing nothing throughout your day.

Savor the good stuff. Silliness. Laughter. Family. A good book. Make your own list of things that make you smile, then make sure you incorporate these things into your everyday life. It’s tempting to live each day worrying about the past or the future. Learn to focus on the here and now and the unrepeatable moments with your children, family and friends.

As your stress level begins to subside a little, know that you’re doing your brain a favor. And while you’re at it, scoop yourself a heaping bowl of Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey. Calcium is good for the brain, you know.


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Should You Make a Big Decision on a Warm or Cold Day?

How Temperature Affects Decision-Making Skills

cold dayDid you know that temperature affects complex decision making?

Say you’re vacationing in Texas in the dead of summer and you run to the store to buy something you need. There are two choices: one is a more familiar option and the other is unfamiliar and a little more complicated. Studies say you’re more likely to buy the familiar product on that particular day than you would in the dead of winter. This is because on a hot day you may not have the cognitive resources to make a more complex decision.

The thought that temperature can influence decision-making skills may seem far-fetched, but it’s backed up by science. Our brains, like any other organ, need energy to function, and that energy comes in the form of glucose. We not only need glucose to walk, talk, breathe, and perform daily activities, we even need it to perform mental functions, such as practicing self-control, making decisions, suppressing emotional responses, and solving problems. Yet, glucose is a limited resource. On hot days, our bodies use a lot of glucose simply maintaining our internal temperatures, and that means less glucose for mental processes like evaluating new information to make a decision. When temperatures are higher, studies show that we also give up more easily, make more mistakes, and even avoid complex decisions in the first place.

If you live in a warm climate, don’t worry! These results do not mean that you consistently make poorer decisions than people who live in cooler parts of the world. Humans are adaptive and are able to acclimate over time, performing just as well in various temperatures. If you’re visiting someplace new, however, with temperatures different from what you’re used to experiencing, your decisions may be impacted. You may not be able to control the temperature in your new environment, but you can be aware of how the change can affect your decisions throughout the day.

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Scary Snacks for Autumn Fun

Check out these brainy, gooey, and creepy recipes!

Brain Cupcakes

Since we like to talk about the brain, think about the brain, study the brain, and improve the brain, we thought Halloween was the perfect time to MAKE some brains. Take some traditional treats and turn them into a creepy, delicious dish everyone will love. And don’t worry, you don’t need to be a zombie to enjoy these brains.

Want to make some scary appetizers for a Halloween party? Try these recipes:

Avocado Salsa Brain Dip
Creamy Chicken Brain Dip
Skeleton and Brain Dip
Shrimp Cocktail Dip
Watermelon Brain


Check out these brainy treats that will satisfy the sweet tooth:

Brain Cake Balls
Brain Blood Clot Cupcakes
Monster Brain Cupcakes
Wormy Jello Brain
Zombie Truffles
Skull Truffles

And, finally, here are some drinks that both kids and adults will love:

Witches’ Brew
Black Halloween Punch
Green Grog

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Can Attention be Trained? Seniors (and Babies) Prove It Can

Baby girl playing outdoorsWhen TV newscaster Diane Sawyer was asked the secret of her success, she said, “I think the one lesson I’ve learned is there is no substitute for paying attention.”

If you struggle with ADHD, however, that’s a lot easier said than done.

About 6 million children and teens have been diagnosed with ADHD, with an estimated four percent of U.S. adults struggling with the disorder as well.

The good news is that support and education help. Plus, there are things you can do. In fact, if you’re looking for something you can do to help yourself or a child who struggles, two studies on attention are worth, well, paying attention to.

Both studies indicate that attention can be trained. In other words, attention can be improved through exercises for the brain.

The first study, conducted by Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, used fMRI technology to measure senior adults’ ability to filter out distractions. The question on the table was this: Could 8 hours of brain exercises improve senior adults’ ability to focus in the midst of distractions?

The eight hours of brain exercises included one-on-one mental workouts and group brain exercise programs.

“We used to think that with age, brain cells shriveled up, died, and that was that,” explains Paul Laurienti, lead scientist on the study. “Now we know that even an older brain can grow new, stronger connections.” Laurienti and his team discovered that the brain exercises did, indeed, improve participants’ ability to focus.

And on the opposite end of the spectrum, another study came to the same conclusion—that attention can be trained—this time through research done with 11-month old infants. After training, the babies were able to focus attention for longer periods of time, and also ignore distractions better.

Even more significantly, the trained babies also focused better in a real-world-setting, when they were playing with toys.

Sam Wass of the University of London’s Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, highlighted the relationship between attention and success when he said, “The connection is an intuitively obvious one: the better a child is at concentrating…the better that child is going to learn.”

How much can brain exercises impact brain performance and attention? LearningRx, a company that specializes in brain training, says that ADHD is the most common diagnosis with which people come to them for help. They team students with one-on-one with personal trainers for mental exercises that strengthen three kinds of attention. Improvements are measured scientifically by independent pre- and post-training testing, and they are often dramatic.

If you struggle with attention—or you love someone who is struggling—don’t give up. Learn about ADHD. Research your options. Get help. Life really can be easier and simpler.

October is ADHD Awareness Month, and Diane Sawyer was right. In the grand scheme of life, there really isn’t any substitute for paying attention.


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The Key To Success

Which Will Make Your Child More Successful in School—Smarts or Grit? Even Better, Here’s How Your Child Can Develop Both.

TEDResearch shows that kids with lots of grit (and less mental ability) are more successful than kids with lots of mental ability (but less grit). In this video, researcher and psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth extols the virtues of grit, saying that “grittier” kids—those who try harder and don’t give up over the long haul—do better in school. For that matter, “grittier” adults do better in their jobs and goals, too. In fact, when it comes to success, Dr. Duckworth says “grit” is a better indicator of future success than IQ.

So how do we build grit in kids and adults? Dr. Duckworth says the best idea she’s heard so far is something called “growth mindset.” She quotes Stanford University’s Dr. Carol Dweck who says that  “growth mindset” is the belief that the ability to learn is not fixed, that it can change with effort. According to Dr. Dweck, when kids read and learn about the brain and how it changes and grows in response to challenge, they’re more likely to persevere when they fail.

LearningRx one-on-one brain training is one way to build both mental ability and grit. While the mental exercises strengthen the brain skills that determine mental ability (including IQ), the student/trainer relationship develops the kind of “growth mindset” described by Dr. Dweck.

Tanya Mitchell, Vice President of Research & Development at LearningRx, explains: “Our trainers work hard to expand the way our students see themselves, their brains, their potential. We help them understand that by challenging and growing their brains they can expand and change their futures. Even more importantly, we help them live that process, walking them through the experiences of trying hard, not giving up, using setbacks as stepping stones to success, and then seeing real life changes and benefits as a result of all their determination.”

Some parents say the “can do” mindset their kids take away from brain training is one of the unexpected benefits. Here’s what one mom, Donna, had to say about the differences she saw in her 9-year-old son: “Tristan enjoyed his trainer as much as the program itself. He learned things from her—perseverance, believing in yourself—that exceeded the program fundamentals.”

Another mother, Tracy, says that her 11-year-old daughter, Mattison, came away from LearningRx with a more positive attitude that is empowering her to approach difficult tasks saying “I can do it” instead of “I can’t.”

Amy, mother of Michael, 15, says her son welcomes challenges now: “Working one-on-one with his trainer, Michael developed a skill set to make school less frustrating. His attitude turned more positive, he welcomed challenges at school where before he found it easy to give up and hide. He is a much happier and confident child. Michael now has the ability to identify pitfalls, adjust and improve. We feel he can now achieve anything he desires!”

LearningRx brain training also improves the way the brain processes incoming information in school and life. After brain training, improvements in cognitive skills—including memory, processing speed, auditory processing, and logic & reasoning—can be scientifically measured and are often dramatic. In fact, a study of 6000 LearningRx clients showed an average increase of 15 points in IQ after completing the program.

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