As summer wistfully but ideally more climatically comfortably winds down, the school season looms. This prospect spans the youngest of preschoolers to life long learners. To all learners, and that includes just about everyone, two components in one’s life stand to optimize learning: Brain function and sleep quality.

Optimizing brain health and function is multifaceted.

Neuronal and cellular integrity:

Nootropics: Cognitive enhancing substances or any substance that can benefit cognitive performance i.e., recall, reaction time, abstract functions such as deduction, pattern recognition and all of such functions that encourage academic performance factors and at the very least comprehension.

These would include such time-tested herbs like bacopa, an ancient Ayurvedic herb that has historically been found to aid brain function info; students and seniors. The mushroom lion’s mane has gained popularity whose compounds appear to enhance cognition, as its legendary reputation suggests. One explicitly nootropic formula is Gaia’s Nootropic Focus containing Ginkgo Biloba, saffron, spearmint and lemon balm.

Some supplements such as Herb Pharm’s Captain Concentrate, as well as Nordic Naturals Omega Focus Junior are especially useful for addressing youngsters on the ADHD spectrum:

Captain Concentrate contains Lemon Balm - for calm focus, Bacopa - to strengthen nerve function, passionflower to ease agitation, oat seed for nerve strength and possible cerebrospinal benefits, dandelion for oxygen transport, and lavender for gentle calming. For learners 6 years and up there is Omega Focus Junior which has EPA and. DHA, great for brain and eye health (Pregnant Moms frequently take these to support embryonic nervous system development), DMAE “supports choline synthesis - and focus and attention” and phosphatidylserine, an advanced supporter of neurotransmitters especially acetylcholine - the memory neurochemical.

For higher learning students of any age Bluebonnet Brain Power contains Bacopa, lion’s mane mushroom, Phosphatidylserine and wild blueberry and Organic India’s Memory with Bacopa and gotu kola.

Circulation: The blood supply to the brain supplies nutrients, oxygen and the brain's energy source - glucose or glycogen.

Ginkgo biloba is generally for ages 14 and up, especially older folks with impaired circulation and is a blood thinner which can be useful in avoiding dangerous clots. Care should be taken to not take with other prescription blood thinners or high aspirin doses.

Gotu Kola is another Ayurvedic herb that has been used to improve recall and address varicose veins. It is often consumed by elephants, perhaps contributing to the phenomenon of an “elephant’s memory”.

Pycnogenol supports capillary and vascular integrity and therefore the micro circulation within the brain.

Blueberries contain antioxidants and bioflavonoids that support cellular repair and integrity.

Acetyl l-Carnitine straddles the circulation and nootropic categories by improving fat utilization in the brain thereby protecting the lipid envelopes in certain nerve cells, as well as phosphatides [distribution] which constitute much of the brain’s composition especially its’ covering.

A good B-compels can restore energy and fight mental fatigue caused by the cognitive demands of learning and mental work.

Neuro chemistry: Environmental factors such as pollution, metals in dentistry and injections, and many commercial products and medicines containing synthetic colorings that use toxic metal compounds, not to mention pesticides and fertilizers that are potential neural and hormonal disruptors, can compromise or harm the health and functioning of brain and related cells.

Sleep quality: Recent studies have increasingly revealed the positive benefit of more or optimal levels of sleep which decreases slightly with age and the negative impact of poor quantity and quality of sleep, especially in developmental years: ie 0-20.

Insomnia can negatively impact the bodies and nervous system’s recovery process during sleep which cleans and rests certain brain tissues. Such disruption can also impact deep and/or REM sleep which processes conscious problem solving and other beneficial learning challenges.

Neuro chemistry: Melatonin, can be deficient especially due to “new” storage and learning mediums that are digital and whose screens and electronics produce blue light and possibly electromagnetic smog that can disrupt the body’s natural melatonin production. When sleep difficulties arise, it can be useful to try out melatonin, especially if those difficulties have become chronic. Melatonin supplements are available in low (.5 mg) to higher doses (10 mg). For children caution should be taken to approach supplementation in the lowest possible doses at first. Melatonin is rarely recommended for children under 4. Even adults should take a graduated approach to supplementation with a range of potencies for adults usually beginning at 1 mg to 2.5 to 3 to 5 to finally 10 mg. A safer approach is to start with natural substances that promote melatonin production such as tart cherry juice in warm A2 milk with its native tryptophan content. Tryptophan is the amino acid in turkey that induces that post-thanksgiving dinner “coma”. Tryptophan can be taken as a supplement if food sources are not doing the job. The body can convert tryptophan into melatonin as well as serotonin (define). Safer still are using herbal preparations and/or homeopathic primarily remedies made from herbs. Typically, these formulas contain nervine and sedative botanicals like passionflower, chamomile (avoid for ragweed allergies), valerian, skullcap, ashwagandha, and for deeper issues kava kava, and California poppy seed. Formulas like Herb Pharm’s Fast Asleep drops, or for over 18er’s to adults, Gaia’s variety of Sleep formulas. Homeopathics like coffea cruda, mag phos, are safe and effective for children and adults.

Cortisol: Fluctuating cortisol levels which should decrease at night and rise near awakening are Insidious because a trauma or excessive stress (subjective as that may be) can disturb the adrenals (cortisol regulation) and that, of course, impacts the nervous system or vice versa. Consequently, this can upset the restorative function of sleep or rest.

Holy basil calms the nervous system and is an adaptogen or stress fighting traditional Ayurvedic herb used to stabilize cortisol.

Phosphatidylcholine, while as previously mentioned can be used by the body as a precursor to acetylcholine, the memory neuro-transmitter, it has also been found to benefit the body’s cortisol regulation and, as found initially in athletes, moderate excess of inappropriate cortisol production that can produce fat instead of muscle tissue, but in learners can distort sleep cycles. Lecithin containing foods such as eggs, soy products and certain fish can supply phosphatidylcholine or choline. A more deliberate effect can be achieved with supplements, especially when learning difficulties are persistent. Although originally derived from soy, phosphatidylcholine or its more concentrated version phosphatidyl serine can be derived from sunflower lecithin for those who have soy sensitivities or want to avoid soy’s estrogenic properties especially for young boys.

Comfort: Magnesium: all varieties of magnesium have (often soothing) benefits to nerve and muscle tissue and help conduct impulses between neurons, but there are some that may offer more cognitive benefits such as Magnesium threonate and ATA (magnesium acetyl Taurinate). These are stronger, more therapeutic kinds. However, children and pre-teens should supplement with a general form of magnesium such as Garden of Life Magnesium gummies with probiotics (which also help the gut synthesize neurochemicals) or Sun Warrior liquid magnesium being more suited to their developing nervous systems. High quality magnesium supplements along with lemon balm can be a very sustainable strategy for dealing with test anxiety or jitters.