Melbourne’s recent heatwave has challenged my ability to focus this week which got me thinking about the correlation between hot weather and attention span. The warm summer months can be testing for everyone, especially school aged children, who’s brains are programmed to work best in 22 degree c temperatures (72 degrees F). Studies have shown that when temperatures rise even just slightly higher than these ideals, our brains find it harder to focus, our productivity goes down significantly and we are more likely to make mistakes. This may show itself in kids appearing to daydream more, feeling lethargic or finding it harder to pay attention and focus.
1. Keep hydrated!
Dehydration effects sodium and electrolyte levels in the body, these changes in turn can affect our memory and attention span. As well as focusing on drinks, think about increasing the amount of high water content fruits and vegetables in your child’s diet. Examples of these are cucumbers and watermelon which contain 96% water. Make hydration fun by freezing drinks the night before so that they are cool and a treat to eat! Kids should be drinking plenty of water and fluids on a hot day, a half a cup every 15-20 minutes is good goal to aim for!
2. Oral stimulation
Using movement with the mouth is known to improve attention, focus and concentration. Chewing has been linked to activating the reticular formation, which is responsible for regulating the sleep-wake cycle, alertness and attention. This is why many people chew or suck the end of pens and pencils while concentrating. Chewing on crunchy foods like carrot/celery sticks or ice blocks is a good way to improve alertness. Chewing gum is another low calorie option for adults and teenage kids. Drinking through a straw or sucking a pop-up bottle will also help to improve levels of alertness and will be more effective than drinking from a cup.
3. Have regular breaks
Take frequent breaks from studying, giving the brain time to rest and then re-focus and get back to the task at hand. Provide ice packs or wet towels to place over the forehead, face and body to help cool down. If taking a break outdoors, protect skin with sunblock and reapply often. Also, make sure that hydration levels are maintained, insisting they replenish their bodies with plenty of water or fluid every 15-30 minutes.
4. Keep Cool
Studies have shown that children’s academic performance declines in higher temperatures, where their bodies are working to cool down to avoid heat exhaustion, consuming energy that could be used for learning. If there is no air-conditioning, open windows to let in a breeze (if there is no breeze, do the opposite and close windows and blinds). Maintain body temperature by tying up hair, adapting clothing to let in a breeze, rolling up their sleeves or taking off a layer, where possible. It is worth finding out from your child’s school what allowances are made to the uniform code in the hot weather. Dress children in light-coloured cotton clothing that is loose fitting.
5. Hayfever and Allergies :
Weather is a common allergy trigger with air pollution at its worst on hot summer days. Those sensitive to pollen will find their symptoms ramp up over Summer. You may find your child complaining of itchy and watery eyes, scratchy or sore throat, nasal congestion or sneezing. If your child suffers from hay fever, their productivity can be hugely impacted in hot weather. Use medication as directed by your GP to help alleviate symptoms.
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