Feeding the brain is something we are all encouraged to do; from keeping it active with puzzles and conundrums, to making sure we eat and drink all the things that are good for it. But it seems there are times when we let our brains down… and this is through not drinking enough water. Water is the simplest of things, and yet it has the biggest of impacts. The brain is mostly composed of water; it needs a constant and steady supply of water on which to draw, but in many students, this is lacking. Regardless of what level of education you are at or how long you have been ‘out of the classroom’, current and returning learners need to know one thing: water boosts the brain’s capacity to function. Hydration boosts learning – it has been proven time and time again through a number of scientific studies. We are all guilty… to a certain degree! We can all recognise that mid-afternoon slump - the graveyard lesson immediately following lunch or break where students, full with food, are distracted, sleepy and lacking in concentration and focus. But surely, this should be the other way round? Full of food and with hydration levels replenished, we should all be raring to go and keen to learn, shouldn’t we…? Why is this not the case? Why, in actual fact, can this lethargy strike at any time of day and why do some students seem to slump at different times to others? The answer in one part can be found in hydration levels. We all have friends who say ‘I hate the taste of water, I don’t drink it’, and we may wonder how on earth they actually survive. It would seem that the answer is not very well… Studies have shown that hydrated brains do so many more things and do them much better than brains which are not properly hydrated. This includes:
- Clarity of thinking and focus is much better when the brain is hydrated and with a ready supply of water to replace and maintain hydration levels
- Short memory recall is vastly improved when the brain and body are hydrated; this is thought to relate to mineral levels being in balance
- People’s moods and emotions naturally fluctuate but these fluctuations seem to become magnified when the body and brain are on the verge of becoming dehydrated; drinking plenty of water also maintains the balance of hormones within the body
- We sleep better, and this impacts on how our brain can function the next day; brain fatigue is common in many students
The biggest and heaviest organ in the body, the brain remains an enigma; science has not yet managed to uncover all of its secrets and our understanding of the brain and how it functions is at best sketchy.
The brain matter is grey – hence the phrase, grey matter – and is pudding-like in texture. It is composed of billions of brain cells, called neurons, the exact number of which has never been properly determined. Neurons are the drivers of thinking, learning and feeling and they determine our emotional states, but in order to function properly they need the right balance of fats, protein, carbohydrates, micro-nutrients (vitamins and minerals) and WATER.
Think of an individual neuron as an outstretched hand, with fingers splayed. The fingers – dendrites – receive a constant stream of information from other neurons. These messages travel through the dendrites into the arm – known as the axon – and this process occurs over and over again, millions and millions of times between all the billions of neurons in your brain.
Your brain is living, dynamic and responsive; when dendrites become old and worn, they are shaved away, replaced by new, dynamic and efficient ones.
But this brilliant hive of activity cannot maintain this high level of activity without its complex food and all-important hydration. This alone should be enough to persuade you to drink not only more water, but to constantly maintain your hydration levels.
So any fluid will do…?
Water has everything your body and brain needs to function in tip-top condition. Sweetened fruit juices, tea and coffee, along with other drinks made from water contain extra ingredients that we do not actually need. Caffeine is a short-term stimulant that can provide a boost, but can then lead to falls in hydration levels.
Studies have shown that sweetened juices can also dehydrate the system and so the indisputable answer lies in drinking pure water. Clean, filtered water is even better with the impurities removed as the body is free to take from the water exactly what it needs without having to filter out unnecessary impurities and toxins.
Water is simply perfect for the brain. Drink plenty and experience the boost to your learning!