Whether you are preparing for an exam or dealing with the mental demands of a high-pressure career, mental alertness is a valuable resource that needs to be nurtured and maintained.

One of the most common complaints of students or people in demanding jobs is the feeling of exhaustion and poor concentration. Advanced reasoning, learning, planning, judgement, creativity and abstract thought are all dependent on the optimal functioning of the human brain.

The brain, just as any part of the body, needs nourishment, stimulation and proper rest. However, it is often the most neglected part of the body.

Thoughts on learning

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“Learning is experience and everything else is mere information” – Albert Einstein

“Learning is a distinctively categorised and long-term stored visual, auditory and kinaesthetic representation of an experience, conclusion, fact or feeling. It is the stored and saved experience that can be retrieved and acted upon when needed.” – Eric Jensen, learning specialist

“Learning is the ability to build memories. Intelligence is the ability to develop and act on these memories.” – Dr Paul E. Dennison, learning specialist
The importance of sleep

Sufficient rest and sleep is required for optimal functioning of the brain in support of memory and concentration. During times of learning, the brain has to process high volumes of information. Even during times of rest and participating in fun, recreational activities, the brain is constantly processing and storing information.

Just as any other part of the body, the brain requires sufficient rest in order to function properly. It is suggested that people between the ages of 15 and 25 should sleep at least eight to nine hours per night. However, many people between the ages of 15 and 25 spend the majority of their time studying and often find it hard to fit in eight hours of sleep every night.

It is well known that sleep deprivation, or a lack of sleep, compromises memory and concentration as it impairs the brain’s ability to store and process information. Most students know the drained and exhausted feeling after studying well into the early hours of the morning before an important test or exam.

Students studying for exams regularly suffer from the effects of sleep deprivation, which is usually caused by last-minute studying through most of the night, or pre-exam stress and anxiety resulting in insomnia, with restless tossing and turning the night before an important exam.

Symptoms of sleep deprivation include:

  • Reduced attention span

  • Reduced ability to recall memories and, more importantly, stored information

  • Reduced ability to acquire a new skill

  • Reduced creativity

  • Reduced problem-solving ability

  • Slurred speech, stuttering and mumbling

  • Reduced reaction time and subsequent clumsiness

It is believed that time studied during usual sleeping hours is time wasted, as the brain is conditioned to rest at certain times of the day, usually at night when one is sleeping. Breaking this routine and studying between 23:00 and 03:00 is therefore not the best strategy to study for an important exam.

Make sure to sleep eight to nine hours per night and try to maintain a set routine for sleeping times to ensure sufficient rest in support of mental alertness.
Preventing insomnia

  • Take a warm bath before you go to bed. This will relax you and help you to go to sleep.

  • Add two to three drops of Burgess & Finch Lavender essential oil to your bath water. Lavender has mild sedative and relaxing properties to help ensure a good night’s rest.

  • Drink a cup of Vital Chamomile tea at night. Chamomile is known for its soothing and mild sedative properties. It also helps to reduce digestive disturbances linked to stress, such as spastic colon and irritable bowel syndrome. However, avoid the intake of too much fluid late at night, to prevent you from getting up frequently during the night to go to the bathroom.

  • Take Vital Herbtime Stress and Insomnia. It is formulated with a therapeutic dose of passion flower, a herbal remedy known for its mild sedative and anxiolytic properties, which helps you to relax.

  • Exercise. A high-intensity workout of more than 45 minutes will help you to relax and sleep better as it serves as a good stress reliever and causes physical exhaustion, which promotes restful sleep.

Nutrition for the brain

Only recently have we become aware of the nutrients that are essential to feed the brain in order to support memory and concentration. We now know that foods such as eggs, oily fish, nuts and seeds provide vital nutrients that support concentration ability and learning.

The following nutrients are especially important for optimal brain function and mental alertness.

Vitamin B complex:
The B-vitamins are essential for the functioning of the nervous system. B-vitamins are found in eggs, fish and seafood, red meat, poultry, dairy products, nuts, seeds, vegetables, pulses and in wholegrain cereals such as wheat, brown rice and oats.

Coenzyme Q10:
Coenzyme Q10 is a potent antioxidant nutrient which is often recommended to prevent premature ageing. Coenzyme Q10 plays an important role in many biochemical processes in the body, including the brain.

Omega 3 fatty acids:
Omega 3 fatty acids form part of the brain cell structure. Eating foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids is therefore important as it provides the correct nutrients and building blocks for healthy brain cells. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) is the preferred omega 3 fatty acid for nourishing brain cells. DHA is found in oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, Cape salmon, yellowtail and pilchards.

Omega 3 fatty acids are especially important during pregnancy, as they are required for the development of the brain cells of the developing baby. It is said that almost 25% of a baby’s brain cells are formed before birth.

During pregnancy, the mother’s bodily stores of omega 3 fatty acids are utilised to form the nervous system of the growing and developing baby. Therefore, ingesting foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids is very important during pregnancy. During breastfeeding, mothers also need to optimise their intake of omega 3 fatty acids.

Breast milk is a valuable source of these brain-building omega 3 fatty acids, and as during pregnancy, if the mother’s diet is not supplying sufficient levels of omega 3 fatty acids, the mother’s bodily stores of omega 3 fatty acids will be mobilised to supply the baby’s requirements.

Drink enough water

Drinking enough water is very important for the learning process. Dehydration is known to interfere with concentration and memory, as water is required for a variety of biochemical processes that are involved with the learning process. Another reason why water plays such an important role in learning is that water detoxifies the body.

When you are dehydrated, toxins and biological waste products accumulate in your blood stream, which compromises various chemical processes in the body and the brain. Sufficient water is required to eliminate these toxins and waste products from the body.
Caffeine: good or bad?

Caffeine is a well-known stimulant, present in regularly consumed beverages such as coffee, black tea and various energy drinks and tonics. Caffeine is an alkaloid substance found in numerous plants and plant products, such as coffee beans, tea leaves and guarana, which has stimulating properties on mental alertness.

The use of caffeine dates back to the sixth century BC and it is currently the most popular stimulant used by fighter pilots, truck drivers, endurance athletes, students and other groups of people who want to optimise their attention span and concentration abilities.

What caffeine does, in simple terms, is getting you out of an energy slump and making you more alert. Caffeine’s ability to do this is believed to be linked to its interference with adenosine, a natural chemical in the body that promotes relaxation and restful sleep.

However, too much caffeine can harm your health. Regular intake of caffeine is believed to increase blood pressure, cause heart palpitations and may even contribute to the development of osteoporosis.

Long-term excessive intake of caffeine is also known to actually reduce mental alertness in general, as people that regularly consume high quantities of caffeine tend to sleep less, preventing their brains from getting sufficient rest, which is vital for mental alertness and concentration.

It is believed that short-term use of small amounts of caffeine is sufficient to promote mental alertness, without the damaging effects that are found with long-term use of excessive amounts of caffeine.
Editor recommends

Vitacharge Multiboost:
Vital Vitacharge Multiboost is a delicious blackcurrant-flavoured energy boosting syrup. It is formulated with herbs and nutrients that are known to boost mental alertness, memory and concentration. It is free from alcohol, colourants, gluten and yeast.

Guarana is a herbal remedy with energizing properties. It is an effective energy tonic, for mental acuity and also supports long-term memory. This formula also contains green tea extract, MSM, coenzyme Q10, L-glutamine, vitamin C and a high concentration of vitamin B complex. The B-complex vitamins all individually support memory and concentration, as they are nutrients that are essential for the functioning of the nervous system.

Vital Vitacharge Multiboost – your ultimate energy booster:

Precautions: Do not use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Avoid in cases of prediagnosed hypertension, except under practitioner supervision. Nutritional supplements should not substitute a healthy, balanced diet.

By: Andrea du Plessis – Vital Magazine


While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.