Looking to Start the School Year on the Right Foot? Get More Sleep!

 By Ryan Meldrum

There is a palpable buzz at the beginning of every school year. There are new classes, new teachers and new friends to be mande. The start of a new school year – not unlike New Year’s Eve – is often accompanied by an optimistic outlook to do better, be better and accomplish more.

As you think about the strategies you might use to achieve these goals, it’s worth considering the merits of getting enough shut-eye.

The old adage of the importance of getting eight hours of sleep at night exists for a reason. Sleep plays a crucial role in washing away the waste that gets built up between our brain cells as a result of all the thinking we do every day.

Sleep helps us transform our short-term memories into long-term ones. Getting a good night’s sleep also makes you more alert, attentive and able to concentrate. Do you see a theme emerging? If you think about the things needed to do well in school, many of them align with the things that a good night’s sleep helps to promote.

But it’s not just in the classroom where sleep will benefit you. Many student-athletes are looking for ways to find that extra edge to outperform their competitors. Why consider more sleep? It aids in muscle recovery, increases reactions times and ensures your immune system is humming on all cylinders. Again, these are things essential to being able to perform at one’s peak abilities.

Don’t take my word for it. Professional athletes like LeBron James, Rafael Nadal, Serena Williams and Cristiano Ronaldo all consider sleep to be a critical part of their regimen for success.

Then there’s the growing body of evidence suggesting that a lack of sleep can increase symptoms of depression, anxiety and irritability. There is also evidence that a lack of sleep decreases self-control. Given the known links between lack of self-control, poor health and problematic behavior, it might come as no surprise that young adults who consistently sleep less than eight hours at night are more likely to be overweight, to engage in risk-taking behaviour (such as texting and driving), to use drugs and to engage in violence.

So, what can you do in order to get more restful, high quality sleep at night and boost your chances of starting the new school year on the right foot?

Stop drinking caffeinated beverages after 3 p.m. Caffeine is a stimulant. It makes it harder for you to fall asleep when you want. While this might seem obvious, what is less widely known is that it takes several hours for caffeine to be fully metabolised by the body. Pulling an all-nighter studying for exams by slamming back energy drinks? You would be better served going to bed at 9 p.m. without any caffeine in your system and waking up at 5 a.m. well-rested and ready to do more studying. Better yet, don’t wait until the night before the exam to start studying

Stop using electronics an hour before going to sleep. If you aren’t familiar with blue light, it’s a wavelength of light that is emitted by TVs, phones, computers and tablets. It suppresses melatonin, which helps our brains to shut down and fall asleep. Of course, if you can’t let go of your phone before bed, you can purchase blue-light blocking glasses on the cheap, and many TVs, computers and phones have settings that can reduce blue light emission (e.g., the “night” mode on smart phone apps like Twitter).

Avoid alcohol. For older students, who think getting a good buzz from alcohol may help you fall sleep more quickly, you should know that the quality of that sleep will not do much with regard to helping you earn better grades. This is because alcohol reduces rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, which helps your brain retain what you have learned during the day.

Explore Further:

To explore pharmaceutical-free options for the promotion of better sleep please see here

For ways to help optimise your learning and academic performance see here 

To explore our complete range of medication-free options to support health, wellbeing and peak performance, then the best starting point is our home page, here

About The Author and Source material:

Ryan Meldrum is associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at the Florida International University. He researches the links between sleep and outcomes ranging from self-control, obesity, substance use, drunk driving and suicidal tendencies. The material for this article was provided to us by the press office of the Florida International University (FIU) on August 26, 2019.  It is reproduced here with permission. The article has undegone minor editiorial amendments to account for British English spelling and our primarily European readership. To visit FIU, see here

Alternative Treatment for Anxiety Proves Effective for the Most Difficult Cases


By Ayleen Barbel Fattal

Helping children diagnosed with anxiety hone their attention shows promising results for recovery, according to a new study by researchers at the Florida International University Center for Children and Families.

The new study used computer-based attention training as treatment for children and adolescents who failed to respond to in-person cognitive behaviour therapy, which is the most common and evidence-based psychosocial treatment for anxiety. Helping these children improve their ability to focus and shift their attention led to reductions in anxiety, according to the findings. After four weeks of the alternative treatment, 50 percent of study participants no longer met the criteria for an anxiety diagnosis.

The study is the first to provide an effective alternative treatment option for the 30 to 50 percent of children who do not respond to cognitive behaviour therapy.

“There is critical need to have other treatment options available for this population given that anxiety is associated with significant distress and impairment in functioning,” said lead author and Department of Psychology Chairman Jeremy W. Pettit.

The 64 participants ages 7 to 16 were selected after evaluations determined each still met criteria for an anxiety diagnosis after completing 12 to 14 sessions of cognitive behavior therapy. The researchers point out it is important to monitor progress and implement additional treatment quickly if a child is not responding to cognitive behaviour therapy.

Participants received one of two forms of computer-based attention training. The first, attention bias modification treatment, trained attention toward neutral stimuli and away from threatening stimuli. The second, attention control training, trained attention to neutral and threatening stimuli equally. Both forms of attention training led to comparable reductions in anxiety.

“Attention training is a promising supplemental treatment for children who do not respond to cognitive behaviour therapy,” Pettit said. “We need to conduct additional research to more clearly understand how attention training produces anxiety-reduction effects, but the results of this study give us a very promising start.”

The study was funded by the US National Institute of Mental Health and was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Exploring Medication-Free Treatment Options

There are also a number of proven, non-medical options to help manage the symptoms of panic attacks and the stress and anxiety disorders that can underlie them.

These include computer-based relaxation, mindfulness and  meditation training programmes – which are particularly helpful for those who find it difficult to achieve a sense of calm under their own steam. In addtion, there are more advanced “future forward” stress-management tools, such as audio-visual entrainment (AVE) and cranio-electrostimulation (CES), which are easy to use and have proven effect in managing the symptoms of stress and anxiety disorders. It’s also important to remember the simply interventions, like massage and ensuring better sleep can be off great help in managing stress levels and so reduce the liklihood of experiencing a panic attack.

Readers who wish to explore relaxation and stress-management options further will find them in the dedicated area on our main website, here

About the authors and source material:

This material for this post was provided to us by the press office of the Florida International University on 6th May, 2019 and is reproduced here with all copyright permissions. The author is Ayleen Barbel Fattal, who is science writer at the university’s press office. Visit the Florida International University here

Rethinking how we see anorexia

Teenagers with anorexia nervosa, the most serious of all eating disorders, don’t have to be ‘skinny’ – it’s possible to be diagnosed at any weight

By Melissa Whitelaw, University of Melbourne

Rake thin, visible ribs, emaciated bodies. The stereotypical ‘look’ of people with anorexia nervosa is well known.

But our research at the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne and the University of Melbourne has found that anorexia is actually possible at any weight.

Anorexia’s many guises

We worked with 171 adolescents over a period of nine years between 2005 and 2013, who were hospitalised for the first time with a restrictive eating disorder. Our results are published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

We found around a third had ‘atypical anorexia nervosa’, where they met all the diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa apart from being severely underweight. Over the study period, there was a five-fold increase in hospital admissions for this condition.

These patients still experienced the same life threatening complications usually associated with anorexia, including a low pulse rate, low systolic blood pressure and low phosphate levels.

But they didn’t present with the highly visible, severe emaciation that has long been considered the core diagnostic criterion for anorexia nervosa.

We also found the total and recent weight loss were stronger predictors than weight itself for a number of clinical complications, with the strongest predictor overall total weight loss. A striking finding was that no outcome was independently associated with low admission weight.

In other words, it seems anorexia’s symptoms are associated with weight loss, not necessarily emaciation.

We need to rethink how we conceive restrictive eating disorders; in actual fact, they can emerge at any weight, and adolescents who have lost large amounts of weight should be assessed for a possible eating disorder – no matter their size.

None of the adolescents participating in our study were being monitored by a health professional, despite being advised to lose weight in some cases.

Balancing healthy eating messages

Adolescents who receive positive reinforcement about their weight loss can end up on increasingly restrictive diets.

With overweight and obesity a major health issue in Australia, we have seen a proliferation of information about its prevalence and complications throughout society.

Appropriately, healthy eating and lifestyle programs are taught in schools. But elsewhere, adolescents are inundated with messages about dieting, often with inappropriate recommendations for quick fixes promising fast weight loss, advice on how to change body shape and images of ‘beautiful’ thin bodies.

And while adopting a healthier approach or dieting for weight loss can be done in a way that is healthy and safe, for some adolescents it can trigger eating disorder cognitions and lead to them adopting increasingly restrictive diets.

For some, this can become a vicious cycle as they receive positive reinforcement about their weight loss from friends and family. For those with previously higher weights, positive affirmations for their weight loss are common and, in some cases, they are even encouraged to continue losing weight.

We don’t yet know why some adolescents are susceptible to this while others are not, but it isn’t surprising this is the most common age for eating disorders to develop – they are the third most common adolescent chronic illness after obesity and asthma.

Adolescence is a highly dynamic period of development as we acquire the physical, cognitive and emotional characteristics of adults. By the end of adolescence, we are sexually and reproductively developed, our bodies are grown and our brains have matured.

Although adolescence is generally considered a time of robust physical health, it is often the age when mental health disorders emerge. Psychiatric illness is considered common at this age, with 50 per cent of adult mental disorders reported to have started by the age of 14 years.

Body image concerns are also common, as is a heightened susceptibility to dieting. And for some, this can become dangerous.

It’s important to be conscious of how food is discussed around adolescents; stigmatising discussions that relate food to body weight can encourage them to adopt restrictive diets.

It’s much more effective to offer positive healthy eating advice, like eating more fruit and vegetables.

A new way of diagnosing anorexia

In the future, weight loss in higher weight adolescents, even those who have been assessed as overweight or obese, should be closely monitored by health professionals so that if an eating disorder emerges, it can be picked up early.

This should include a review of the patient’s weight loss strategies to ensure they are sustainable and safe, as well as an assessment of their cardiovascular health.

And we need to rethink the diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa, the most serious of all eating disorders.

Our findings suggest that weight loss, as well as weight, should be included in future revisions of the diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa.

It’s not just about being underweight.

Explore Further:

To explore our range of medication-free options to support health, wellbeing and peak performance in study, work and sport, then please visit our home page,  here

About The Author and Source material:

This material for this article was provided by the University of Melbourne press office, and is reproduced here under CCL copyright provisions. The article also featured on 2nd December, 2018 in Pursuit, which is the university’s online magazine.  The original article, which includes active links to all references, may be found here

Melissa Whitelaw’, who is the author of this piece is a PhD candidate at thr University of Melbourne. Her supervisors are Professor Susan Sawyer who leads the Population Health research group at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and is Chair of Adolescent Health at the University of Melbourne and Director of the Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Adolescent Health; Associate Professor Katherine Lee, Senior Biostatistician at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute; and Dr Heather Gilbertson, Manager, Nutrition and Food Services at the Royal Children’s Hospital.