By Dr. Terry McAdams, Director of Learning Technology, Branksome Hall Asia
Due to lockdowns and the increase of online learning, health and wellness has become a priority, yet it is often neglected. Staying indoors, a lack of fresh air, staring at screens, and sitting for long periods with poor posture is detrimental to one's physical and mental health. While schools should include activities for wellness as part of the online learning program, in many cases is not the case. I am sure that most parents are aware that their children need adequate sleep, should exercise daily, and will benefit from meditation but this article reviews the evidence.
How do you know if your child is getting enough sleep? This is a challenge because anxiety and stress can negatively affect sleep. However, there are a number of things that you can do. The UK NHS suggests that you should keep to a regular sleep schedule so make sure your child goes to bed at the same time each night. Turn off and remove your child’s electronic devices 90 minutes before their bedtime. The blue light emitted from screens negatively affects the production of melatonin and increases the production of cortisol (Walker, 2017). These two hormones balance your circadian rhythm. Your child should be getting at least 8 hours of sleep each night. In fact, the sleep foundation recommends that children (6 - 13 years) should get 9 to 11 hours of sleep and young adults (14 - 17 years) should get between 8 and 10 hours.
If your child doesn’t get enough sleep, it reduces their cognitive function and memory (Fried, 2017) because during sleep the brain sorts and organizes the information learned in the day (Doyle & Zakrajsek, 2018). Moreover, sleep shrinks brain cells, which allows toxins to be removed from the brain (Krueger, Frank, Wisor, & Roy, 2016). A review of the literature on sleep and memory shows that adequate sleep improves recall by between 20 and 40%.
How important is exercise? The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that children aged 5–17 years should accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate-to vigorous-intensity physical activity daily. In fact, they state that more than this amount provides additional health benefits.
Exercise not only improves health, it also improves brain function. Numerous studies have reported that habitual exercise is associated with improved academic performance, cognitive function, and brain activity in adolescents (Herting, & Chu, 2017). However, one recent study has shown that the timing of the exercise may also be important. Sng, Frith, & Loprinzi (2018) reported that engaging in a 15-minute bout of moderate intensity walking before a learning task was effective in influencing long-term episodic memory. Thus, it is recommended that students take breaks between lessons and spend 10-15 minutes of moderate exercise. It doesn’t matter whether this is a walk in the garden, yoga, or dancing to music, exercise will help improve long-term brain development.
I would encourage you to meditate with your child. There are plenty of guided meditations on youTube so find one that suits you and your child. Research over the past two decades supports the claim that mindfulness meditation has benefits for physical and mental health, and cognitive performance (Tang, Hölzel, & Posner, 2015).
The additional fatigue of sitting in live steaming lessons has been well documented. The lack of social cues, like body language and facial cues, requires an increase in concentration, and students are reporting increased learning fatigue. Now is the time for parents to ban online gaming, restrict social media access, and ensure their children sleep, exercise, and meditate. The evidence suggests that these measures will help alleviate the anxiety and stress of online learning in lockdown.