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November 7, 2017 > Transforming studentÕs study habits

Transforming studentÕs study habits

Submitted By Kimberly Hawkins

With so much going on in the world, not to mention the digital distraction of Twitter and Instagram, it may be hard for students heading back into the classroom to focus.

Neuroscientist and Cal State East Bay Assistant Professor Pradeep Ramanathan doesnÕt just teach his students about the brain. He teaches them about how to use their brains to learn more effectively.

ÒIt may seem like a simple question to ask, ÔWhat part of the brain is involved with learning?ÕÓ Ramanathan says. ÒBut the reality is that complex functions such as learning are not localized to individual areas, so itÕs pretty much the entire brain. The brain as a whole is a vast network of more than a hundred billion neurons, and likely over a hundred trillion synapses. It is the single most powerful computing device [in the world.]Ó

And that means proper care of the brain is critical for attention and memoryÑtwo areas Ramanathan says are very important for student learning performance.

Want to know how you can use your brainÕs natural functions and some research-driven techniques to improve your chances? Read on. But first, there are a few obvious health habits that Ramanathan says create the foundation for learningÑand if youÕve heard them before, you can probably thank your mother and father for always knowing best.

¥ Avoid all-nighters. Ramanathan says a lot of studentsÑmany because they have to work full time while earning their degreesÑare chronically sleep deprived. It turns out, not only will you struggle to concentrate the next day, but also you probably wonÕt retain as much of what it was you were trying to learn.

ÒMany students are overextended so they withdraw from their sleep budget [to study], and that has consequences to learningÑone being that your attention is lacking, but another is that sleep is critical for consolidating our memories, so [losing sleep] is a double whammy,Ó Ramanathan explains. ÒWhat a person studies in the few hours before sleep is especially well consolidated by sleep. So, if a student studies for several hours in the evening, and then gets a good nightÕs sleep, they will consolidate all of that learning very well. But, if they just keep studying until late and end up sleep deprived, all of that extra time spent studying is pretty much going down the tubes.Ó

¥ Skip the junk food. What you eat and drink has direct consequences (good and bad) on your ability to learn. Caffeine can be helpful not only because it allows an otherwise foggy student to focus, but also, Ramanathan says, because research shows it appears to improve long-term memory. So feel free to enjoy a cup of joe, but donÕt drink it at night to stay awake and stay away from sugary coffee beveragesÑthe caffeine jolt isnÕt worth the cost of consuming lots of sugar and the inevitable crash that follows. One recent study explored long-term impacts of the Western diet on human cognition and the brain, and showed that while sugar in the form of glucose is fuel for the brain, excessive consumption of sugar (especially high fructose corn syrup) can lead to brain insulin resistance and impaired learning, memory and other cognitive functions.

Students who drink alcohol may also suffer a loss of brain cells and experience adverse effects to their memoryÑboth in the short term (donÕt party before a big test) and later in life. Even mild social drinking impairs memory and learning performance.

¥ Get a move on. In addition to food, Ramanathan says those who exercise more often have better cognitive skills. And that doesnÕt necessarily mean running on a treadmill every day. According to a study done at the University of British Columbia, walking 30 to 60 minutes a day beyond what youÕd normally do on campus improves brain function and can increase alertness in the classroom and help retain information.

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