Back to school solutions for attention, mood, sleep, and stress
It’s rare to find adults or kids who don’t enjoy summer. For many, summertime means nicer weather, more time outside, family or personal vacations, and longer daylight hours to fit in food, friends, and festivities. Time outside the office or classroom helps restore balance and perspectives on life, as long as you don’t run yourself too ragged doing extra-curricular activities and other fun things.
For parents of children with attention issues or anxiety, the summer can be either a challenge or a relief. For some, it becomes a challenge as there is more time directly spent parenting, and issues that were only noticeable in the afterschool hours, now can face a parent from dawn to dusk. For others, the opposite is true – without homework to be completed and routine evaluations from teachers and a full day to play outside burning off energy, kid’s issues seem to disappear. More often than not, we all get back to dealing with our problems when summertime holidays are done and we need a more directed focus and energy to get through the work and school week, so it is worthwhile to consider some supplements that may be supportive.
As the kids prepare to return to school, now is also the time to arm yourself (and them!) with resources to improve mood, attention, stress response, and sleep quality.
GABA, attention, mood, and sleep
The neurotransmitters most broadly discussed in relation to mood are serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. However, the balance of other neurotransmitters known as glutamate and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) also plays an important role. Glutamate is the main excitatory neurotransmitter, while GABA is the main inhibitory (or calming) neurotransmitter in brain. GABA also helps to reduce the response to fear or anxiety-provoking stimuli. Lower GABA concentrations have been associated with poor sleep quality and have been demonstrated in individuals with major depressive disorder as well as those having higher anxiety.,, Many sedatives work by binding or stimulating GABA receptors. In individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), significantly lower GABA levels have been observed in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region of the brain associated with decision-making, emotion, and impulse control. Additionally, measures of impulsivity were shown to be negatively related to GABA levels, that is, individuals with the lower GABA levels were more impulsive. Glutamate, on the other hand, has been shown to be twice as high in children with ADHD, tipping the balance to that of an excitatory state.
Lower GABA concentrations have been associated with poor sleep quality and have been demonstrated in individuals with major depressive disorder as well as those having higher anxiety.
Supplemental administration of GABA, which is also an amino acid, has been shown to induce relaxation accompanied by reduced levels of anxiety. An increase in alpha brain wave patterns with GABA supplementation also was seen. The alpha rhythm of brain wave patterns predominantly occur during wakeful relaxation with eyes closed, and alpha waves are present during activities such as meditation. GABA administration also has been shown to support alpha wave activity when individuals are stressed by mental tasks.
Green tea – more than just antioxidants!
L-theanine, an amino acid found at high levels in green tea, also has been observed to promote relaxation and reduction of stress, possibly by increasing alpha-wave activity as well as by blocking the activation of excitatory glutamate receptors in the brain., Although it is not a neurotransmitter, it has been shown to impact neurotransmitter balance, significantly increasing serotonin, dopamine and GABA levels in the brain., Supplementation of L-theanine has been shown to increase expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) protein, a protein that plays a role in neural plasticity and neurogenesis, both of which are crucial for learning new things and forming memories.
Clinically, supplementation with L-theanine has been shown to have a relaxing effect, reducing anxiety as well as heart rate and blood pressure in acute stressful events and during mentally challenging tasks.
Clinically, supplementation with L-theanine has been shown to have a relaxing effect, reducing anxiety as well as heart rate and blood pressure in acute stressful events and during mentally challenging tasks.,, L-theanine has been shown to reduce subjective experience of stress and salivary α-amylase activity, a marker of sympathetic nervous system activity and the “fight or flight” response, during academic challenges. In children with ADHD, L-theanine has also been shown to improve aspects of sleep quality, and has been studied and found safe to be used for this purpose at doses of 200 mg twice daily.  L-theanine continues to be studied for the impacts it may have on learning and memory, attention, mood, and even other mental health conditions such as schizophrenia.
Collectively, these natural supplements, which support normal physiology and neurotransmitter balance, have evidence that suggests they may promote a balanced stress response and be supportive for mood, attention, cognition, and even healthy sleep.
Click here to see References
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