Sleep, Nutrition, Activity and the "e's"

September, 2017

Here's a collection of articles on recent research on the benefits of enough sleep, enough physical activity, and proper nutrition for kids with “e’s" (exceptional for their strengths/talents as well as for the learning challenges):

Sleep and Learning

Just How Much Sleep Do Children and Adults Need?


For many families, getting back into the routines of the school year means battling over when children get to sleep and when they wake up.  According to researchers, these are high-stakes battles. Sleep plays an important role in the ability to learn and to form memories. Aside from leaving our children tired, lack of sleep can make learning more challenging, especially, according to the website, for children who have learning or attention issues. The difficulties arise in these areas:

  • Planning and organization
  • Mood and behavior
  • Focus and attention
  • Memory.

For more information, see the infographic and pointers to additional articles at  

ADHD? Sleep Disorder? Both? Research Findings

As the number of children in the U.S. diagnosed with ADHD continues to grow, some researchers wonder if the diagnosis is accurate. Could it be that these children just aren’t getting enough sleep? According to an article in Medical News Today   (, research findings “suggest that there may be a stronger link between ADHD and sleep problems than hitherto believed, and that the two may not be completely separate issues after all.”

The types of sleep issues seen in people diagnosed with ADHD include sleep apnea and disturbed sleep patterns. Up to now, these issues have been considered as being separate from ADHD, but Sandra Kooij, a professor and psychiatrist specializing in ADHD from  the Netherlands, questions that thinking. She believes that the two may be “fundamentally interconnected.” According to Professor Kooij, “If you review the evidence, it looks more and more like ADHD and sleeplessness are two sides of the same physiological and mental coin.”
As part of her research, Kooji has found that a disturbed sleep pattern appears in the majority of people diagnosed with ADHD. To learn more about this research, see “ADHD and sleeplessness: A critical link?” at

Better Sleep for Children with ADHD

In two articles at, writer and pediatric neuropsychologist Laura Tagliareni offers parents suggestions first for determining if a child’s lack of focus and impulsive behaviors are due to a sleep disorder or ADHD, and then for helping a child with ADHD get a good night’s sleep. Find these articles:

Physical Activity and Learning

Despite the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement in 2013 calling for increases in recess time, school districts continue to cut back more and more to make room for academic subjects. The reasons behind the AAP policy statement were the benefits that increased playtime bring in these areas: cognitive, emotional, physical, and social well-being.

In addressing this issue in a Washington Post article, “The U.S. Recess Predicament,” writer Ariana Eunjung Cha stated:

Some researchers are blaming the lack of time for physical activity as the cause of the rise in diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in boys. They argue that if children had more time to run around, they would be able to concentrate better in class.

She went on to compare average recess time in the U.S. with that of some other countries:

United States

27 minutes a day


75 minutes a day


10- to 15-minute break each hour plus a longer recess period

As an article from the website Parenting Science states, “when adults create environments that prevent kids from being active, we aren’t only undermining their health. We’re also making it harder for kids to succeed in school.”

To read each of these articles, see:

For additional information on the connection between learning and physical activity, see the following:

To see what schools can do to encourage students to be more active, see this article: “10 After School Activities for Students with Learning Difficulties,”

ADHD and Exercise

An article from the Child Mind Institute discusses a study prompted by a teacher’s observation that periods of in-school exercise seemed to really help her ADHD students. Researcher Dr. Betsy Hoza, a professor of psychology, decided to find out why. She conducted a study that yielded promising results. It showed that regular physical activity decreased the severity of ADHD symptoms and improved cognitive functioning in children.

For students from kindergarten through second grade, as little as a half hour a day of moderate to vigorous exercise had a positive, measurable impact on their focus and mood. The results were similar for both students with the impulsive/hyperactive-type of ADHD and those with the inattentive type.

To find out what these findings mean for parents and kids with ADHD, read the article “ADHD and Exercise” at

To find out why exercise can have this effect on children with ADHD, check out this article from ADDtitude magazine: “Exercise and the ADHD Brain: The Neuroscience of Movement,”  

Nutrition and the “e’s

The Food-Brain Connection

In recent years there’s been a merging of two disciplines that have long been seen as having little in common: nutrition and psychiatry. Today we have nutritional psychiatrists working with patients to treat and prevent mental health disorders. An article on the WebMD website titled “Can What You Eat Affect Your Mental Health?” includes this statement from psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, M.D., an assistant clinical professor at Columbia University:

Traditionally, we haven’t been trained to ask about food and nutrition, but diet is potentially the most powerful intervention we have. By helping people shape their diets, we can improve their mental health and decrease their risk of psychiatric disorders.

Cited in the article are these statistics:

  • Each year, nearly one in four Americans have some type of mental illness.
  • According to the CDC, depression will rank as the second leading cause of disability, after heart disease, by 2020.
  • Half of all long-term mental disorders start by age 14.
  • Childhood mental illness affects more than 17 million kids in the U.S.

To find out more about nutritional psychiatry and the effect of good nutrition on brain health, read the article at this shortened url: Also see these articles:

ASD and Nutrition

Is there a therapeutic diet for autism spectrum disorders? Some people believe there is, a diet free from both gluten and casein. Both are proteins. Gluten is found in three types of grain: wheat, rye and barley. Casein is found in milk. According to an article on the Kids Eat Right website, “Proponents of the diet believe people with autism have a ‘leaky gut,’ or intestine, which allows parts of gluten and casein to seep into the bloodstream and affect the brain and central nervous system. The belief is that this may lead to autism or magnify its symptoms.” The article goes on to say that “To date, controlled scientific studies have not proven this to be true. However, some people report relief in symptoms after following a GFCF diet.” An abstract of a review study provides these additional details:

  • The studies in which parents reported improvements did not show any lasting improvements based on objective measures or teacher reports.
  • One study showed short-term improvements, lasting 12 months but not 24 months.
  • The trials basically did not yield enough evidence to draw any conclusions about the benefits of eliminating these proteins from children’s diets.
  • After the diet, no changes occurred in the children’s behavior or in their gastrointestinal symptoms when they resumed eating foods containing gluten or casein.

Find these articles:

ADHD and Diet — Separating Fact from Myth

Putting these two words together — ADHD and diet — inevitably leads to controversy. There have been many claims made and many claims disputed about the role that diet plays in controlling or reversing attention deficit. An article on the website offers an evidence-based look at “what we do and don’t know about ADHD and diet.” Find “ADHD and Diet: What You Need to Know” at

Another helpful article, comes from ADDitude magazine. Its focus is more on the ways in which healthy eating can benefit everyone and also have an impact on ADHD symptoms. According to the authors, “Adults and parents of children with ADHD are finding that, while whole foods may not be a cure-all, diet changes can make a big difference for some patients. Nutrition and ADHD go hand-in-hand.” Find the article, “Change Your Diet, Find Your Focus,” at

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