The decision to put your child or teenager on ADHD medications is a tough one even for the super informed. As a Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist I have had the opportunity to have this conversation with several thousand patients. The potential negative side effects of the ADHD medications are obviously numerous. As a result, many folks ask me for alternatives that can help with focus and attention. My goal of this article is to not overwhelm you with research data on a variety of supplements or products, but to emphasize the need for some lifestyle modifications that would help anyone with their focus and attention.
- A regular sleep-wake cycle with adequate night sleep will help anyone to focus and attend better. Our ability to think is directly linked to our sleep. I can’t emphasize this enough. If your teenager is not getting enough sleep, it makes no sense to go on medications until their sleep wake cycle is regulated. If you or your kids struggle with focus and attention, lack of sleep will have an even bigger impact on your focus and attention than someone else who doesn’t. Over-scheduling both for kids and adults is a common cause for not getting enough sleep. Adolescents need at least 8-9 hours of sleep. Very few of them actually get it. School schedule is to blame for some of this sleep deficit, but the use of technology and social medial in the evening is contributing a great deal to the problem. You can’t fool your brain. You need sleep to function optimally.
- Regular physical activity. There are many studies looking at the role of exercise in helping focus and attention. An hour of aerobic physical exercise will help anyone’s brain to work better. If you or your kids have a hard time with your focus and attention, then your need for exercise is paramount. There are studies showing that exercise helps us retain more information. Exercise needs to be incorporated into every school day regardless of age. Business owners and corporations should encourage all of their workers to get exercise during the day, it would increase productivity. Go for a short walk during the day if your work schedule allows it.
- Healthy breakfast. Studies have found that eating breakfast may improve short-term memory and attention. What you put in your body in the morning will affect how you think and feel throughout the day. Breakfast will affect both your cognition and your emotions. Eggs are an example of a great breakfast food that can help your focus and attention. There are of course many more foods besides eggs that are great for breakfast.
- Eat more Fish. Fish are high in Omega-3s which have been shown in some studies to help focus and attention. Salmon is especially recommended as a great source of Omega-3s. Do note where the salmon comes from since farm-raised and regular wild-caught salmon can be filled with mercury and toxins.
- Limit your use of Technology. You need to set limits on technology use both for yourself and your kids. You need to develop a concrete plan to do this. It will not just happen. Unlimited and unchecked use of devices is decreasing everyone’s ability to focus and attend.
This list is far from exhaustive but it is a starting point. It makes no sense to talk about treating a condition with medications with real potential negative side effects, if you are not willing to do some basic lifestyle modifications.