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Cracking the Back-to-School Code

By: Bulletproof Staff

Back-to-school season usually means trying to prepare your kids for school by buying them stuff. But if you really want to prime your offspring for a year of growth and discovery, try biohacking with them.

These simple tips can help you hack your child’s sleep, focus, diet, stress, and more.

1. Sleep – Establish a bedtime routine

Kids have been sleeping less and less over the last 100 years [1]. Early start times, too much homework and the stress of packed schedules can all affect sleep. Don’t let them, because sleep is one of the most powerful ways to improve your kid’s life. Your kids are happier, their brains function better, and they have lower cortisol when they sleep well. [2] Sleep is especially important for teenagers. They’re growing like crazy; they’ve got to rest.

Simple sleep hacks:

  • Create consistency – Studies show that children with non-regular bedtimes had more behavioral problems than children who had a stable bedtime routine. [3] Given the importance of sleep, establish a specific bedtime and begin enforcing it about a week before school starts. The National Sleep Foundation can recommend how much sleep your child needs based on age.  
  • Limit electronic devices before bedtime – Blue and white light from electronic devices suppress melatonin, a hormone that helps you fall asleep. [4] Have your kids power down at least an hour before bed, including TV. You can also install an app called f.lux on computers for free and set phones and tablets to night mode, which filters out the melatonin-suppressing blue light.
  • Black out your kid’s room and remove electronics – Install blackout curtains in every bedroom and remove electronics that emit any light. Just the illumination from a cell phone can wake you up. [5] Keeping electronics out of the bedroom also stops your kids from sneaking onto the computer or playing games after you tuck them in.
  • Supplements – Chamomile is a mild sedative that’s gentle enough for kids. Brew your child a mug of chamomile tea an hour before he/she goes to bed. Lavender is another great bedtime herb because its aroma has sedative effects. [6] Try using lavender soap or lotion at bedtime. And if herbs aren’t strong enough, melatonin will most likely put your child right out. According to the Boston Pediatric Hospital, it’s “probably safe” for anyone 3 and older. Start with a very low dose (2-3 mg). Melatonin supplementation isn’t recommended long-term for kids or adults!

2. Brain food

Diet is probably the most important hack on this list. Kids’ brains function better with good fuel [7]. Try these kid-friendly Bulletproof Diet tips from the archives.

Eating your broccoli is great, but won’t make much of a difference in energy and cognitive function while there’s sugar in the mix.

Sugar is straight kryptonite for kids (and adults, for that matter). It causes a sugar high followed by a major crash. That sucks for anyone, but it’s even worse for youngsters because they don’t have the emotional control to deal with such a roller-coaster. That means crazy hyperactivity followed by lethargy, grumpiness, and tantrums. Plus, sugar messes with hormones. Not good for a growing kid, and even worse for a teenager.

The Bulletproof Roadmap works as well for children as it does for adults. Making upgraded versions of old favorites can ease the transition.

Get your children off sugar and on healthy fats, good quality protein, and plenty of veggies. It makes an astounding difference in learning and behavior, especially if your kid has trouble paying attention in school or suffers from mood swings.

3. Stress – It’s not just for grownups 

Kids feel stress as much as you do. Teens rate the emotional and physical symptoms of stress in similar proportions to adults, and almost half of the teens polled in one study said they do not believe they are doing enough to manage their stress. [8]

  • Breathe – Deep breathing increases oxygen to the brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calm. [9] Children can use deep breathing to improve concentration, help with anxiety and to relax before bed. Have your child lie on her back, close her eyes, and place her hands on her belly. Ask her to take a slow, deep breath in while you count to four (or whatever she’s comfortable with), hold the breath for two, then slowly release. Repeat for a few cycles. Follow along if you’d like. This is good for grown-ups, too.
  • HRV – Heart rate variability (HRV) training teaches your child emotional and fight-or-flight control, as well as stress management. It helps that it’s laid out like an interactive game. Have your son or daughter practice for 5 minutes a day at first, moving up to 10. Frame it as a game that will give your kid superpowers – “This teaches you to stop being scared.”
  • Learn to listen – Want to know how your child is feeling? Just ask. The goal is for your kids to express themselves, so they feel understood and validated. Ask them what they are looking forward to and what they’re anxious about. Let them know that even if they can’t name an emotion, they can describe where in their body they feel it. Your job is to stay present and mirror what you hear. For example, if they say that they are nervous about taking tests, don’t dismiss it by saying that you are sure that they will do well. Instead, validate what they said by repeating it back to them: “Sounds like you are worried about all of the tests you’ll have to take. Is that right?” Often our first instinct is to fix things when in fact it can be very empowering for your kids to feel like you’re acknowledging them. Brainstorm possible solutions only after they feel heard.

4. Got Germs?

Schools create the perfect storm for getting sick. And while kids can’t avoid germs, they might be able to avoid getting sick. If your child follows the steps above (good sleep, minimizing stress and eating well), then they are already at an advantage. Here are some other tips to battle the bugs.

  • Hydration – Keeping adequately hydrated will help your detox organs work to elimination toxins and waste materials. All of this works to keep your immune system strong. Add a few drops of chlorophyll or minerals to the water for a nutrient boost. 
  • Vitamin D and fish oil – Vitamin D is crucial to our immune system and improves the immune response. Combining the vitamin D source with high-quality omega 3 fish oil provides your child with additional immune support. [10]
  • Vitamin C – Vitamin C is a potent antioxidant that plays a protective role in the immune system. It’s a water-soluble vitamin and that means the once it’s gone, it’s gone. So it’s important to replenish! Especially during cold and flu season.
  • Elderberry – Usually cooked into a syrup or used in a tincture or tea, elderberry is an antiviral that is particularly effective when you or your little one has the flu. It can also be used proactively to keep the immune system strong and bad bugs away. Try 1-2 tsp. syrup per day with children and 1-2 tbsp. per day for adults.

5. Recess makes kids smarter

  • Playing promotes creativity, socialization, and brain cell growth. [12] Unfortunately, playtime is on the decline as P.E. and recess get cut from school schedules and children become busier with extracurricular activities. Send your kids outside to play when they get home or go out with them. Again, this is good for adults, too. Playing keeps you sharp, and most of us, young and grown, don’t do it enough.
  • Get your kid moving. An hour of exercise a day dramatically improves attention and makes your child less likely to get distracted. [13] Being in nature also boosts mood and mental performance. [14] Check out some more tips on the benefits of nature here. Sometimes the best hacks are also the most basic.
  • Kids who play in dirt develop a robust gut microbiome and a strong immune system. Encourage your kids to get dirty and avoid antibiotics and antibacterials. Turns out, antibacterial soap messes up your skin’s microbiome and might even make you sick more often. [11]

Keep in mind that children form habits by observation. What’s the best way to encourage your child to eat well, turn off electronics and plays outside? Model it for them.

We’re interested in your back to school hacks. Share your ideas and comments with other Bulletproof parents below.

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Resources:

[1] http://www.smrv-journal.com/article/S1087-0792(11)00034-7/fulltext  

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8776790

[3]http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2013/10/09/peds.2013-1906  

[4] http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side   

[5] http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/q-a-why-is-blue-light-before-bedtime-bad-for-sleep

[6] http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/herb/lavender

[7] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2805706/   

[8] https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/stress-report.pdf

[9] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16624497

[10]https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/04/130401111545.htm

[11] http://annals.org/article.aspx?articleid=717252

[12] http://www.uwsp.edu/hphd/Documents/gesell/needForPlay.pdf

[13] https://news.illinois.edu/blog/view/6367/204513

[14]http://www.natureandforesttherapy.org/uploads/8/1/4/4/8144400/nature_improves_mood_and_cognition_in_depressive_patients.pdf