Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning
Brain Fact Friday on “Transforming the Mind Using Athletics and Neuroscience”

Brain Fact Friday on “Transforming the Mind Using Athletics and Neuroscience”

April 9, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, for Brain Fact Friday and episode #122.

This week we interviewed Paul Zientarski,[i] the former PE teacher from Naperville Central High School, who reinvented physical education using the understanding of simple neuroscience. Then last week’s interview with Dr. John Ratey,[ii] and his book Spark, cemented the idea of the profound impact that exercise has on our cognitive abilities and mental health.

Paul Zientarski said many things that caught my attention in the interview and took me by surprise especially with the whole idea of their Zero Hour PE creating such noticeable results with students in the classroom, and even going on to inspire some student to become PE teachers in the future. I thought what their research uncovered at Naperville was important enough to reinforce and take a closer look at why those students at Naperville scored so high on their tests after they took this NEW Physical Education class that blended aerobic activity with an understanding of neuroscience.  If you haven’t listened to Dr. Ratey’s episode #116, or Paul Zientarski on #121, be sure to go back and listen after this brain fact.

BRAIN FACT: Aerobic activity can transform not only the body, but also the mind.

Dr. Ratey said it clearly in his book Spark when he said that “aerobic activity has a dramatic effect on adaptation, regulating systems that might be out of balance and optimizing those that are not—it’s an indispensable tool for anyone who wants to reach his or her full potential.” (Spark, Page 10).

By now we all know that exercise increases brain activity, and that the benefits of exercise “come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells.”[iii]

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Dr. Chuck Hillman[iv], from the University of IL (now at Northeastern University) conducted a series of brain scans on students and showed what their brain activity looked like after sitting quietly (not much color if you look at the images in the show notes) vs how vibrant the brain looks after even a 20-minute walk.

Without knowing anything about fMRI scans, one look at how the brain lights up after exercise, and we all can come to the same conclusion. “Exercise primes the brain, putting it in the right environment for learning.”

Hillman took his research a bit further, and divided students (aged 9/10) into 2 groups. Higher fit (if they could run 0.25 miles without stopping) and lower fit if they had to stop in this 0.25 mile run.

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The students were asked to take a test similar to what you would find on Lumosity.com and the brains of the higher fit students lit up during the easy test, showing more red color (more brain activity) than the lower fit students. The most noticeable difference was during the difficult test, the brains of the higher fit students lit up bright red, showing the increase of brain activity they had access to, and the lower fit students just didn’t have enough brain power during the difficult test.

This study clearly shows how the power of exercise and being physically impacts our brain and cognition.

Hillman went another step further with his research and created a 9-month intervention PE program, taught by future PE teachers.

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Half of the students had an hour of PE prior to their school day, and half didn’t attend the PE program. They went straight to school (they called them the wait list group).

The brain scans of the one-hour PE group showed a significant increase of brain activity compared to the students who did not take this extra hour of PE each day.

If you are listening to this podcast, I am sure that this will get you as excited as Paul Zientarski was when he first saw these results, and what made Dr. John Ratey jump on an airplane when Naperville scored so high on those tests, using this strategy.

“Many studies have suggested that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory (the prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex) have greater volume in people who exercise versus people who don’t.”[v]

How Can You Implement This Brain Fact in Your Life?

Whether you are an educator working in the classroom, or an employee working in the corporate world, this concept can be easily implemented to get you into a state of heightened awareness before learning, or before you need to sit and work for long periods of time at your desk.

  1. START WITH WALKING: If you have something important you need to work on, go for a walk ahead of time, to activate and prime your brain for the focused attention it will need. Hillman’s study showed it only took 20 minutes of walking to light up the brain. How much physical activity would you need to do to impact your memory? Standard recommendations advise “half an hour of moderate physical activity most days of the week, or at least 150 minutes a week.”[vi]
  2. START YOUR OWN MOVEMENT: If you want to take advantage of this concept and work in a school, share Paul Zeintarski’s[vii] podcast with your site administrator, and see how you can spearhead a movement of neuroscience in your school.  Watch episode #3 with Ron Hall, from Valley Day School on “Launching a Neuroeducational Program in Your School.”[viii]
  3. LEARN FROM OTHERS WHO HAVE PAVED THE WAY: If starting an exercise program seems too much, start doing some research to see how other people began theirs. I loved seeing the story of the Dallas Stars Executive, Tom Holy, who lost almost 100 pounds from starting a walking routine every night.[ix] What started for Holy with just 3 mile walks a day, at the beginning of COVID turned into walking 26.2 miles in a day, and over 100 miles in a week.  He began inspiring his neighbors to do the same, and health really is infectious. Everyone wants to help or motivate each other.
  4. MEASURE YOUR HEART RATE: It was adding the heart rate monitors into the game that really made the difference for Naperville students. To experience the best results with their Zero Hour PE, Paul Zientarsky explained that they had to measure the student’s heart rates during exercise and they needed to get their heart rate into the Peak Heart Zone Range of over 150 beats per minute, for at least 20 minutes. Of course, after I heard this, I looked at my workouts the past few months and noticed that although I exercise a lot, I’m very rarely in that Peak Heart Zone Range, unless I’m running. If we want to experience the benefits to our brain, we must put in the effort for this to occur.

I hope you have enjoyed diving a bit deeper into what exactly exercise does to the brain. As brain scan technology improves and advances, I know we will have more questions answered, and more strategies to implement for our brain health and well-being. Until then, I hope you have found something that lights a “Spark” for you to take some new action towards exercise, to improve your brain health.

See you next week.

 

RESOURCES:

Exercise Appears to Improve Brain Function Among Younger People Dec. 18, 2006 by Melissa Mitchell https://news.illinois.edu/view/6367/206773

REFERENCES:

[i] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #121 with Paul Zientarski on “Transforming Students Using Physical Education and Neuroscience” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/naperville-central-high-schools-paul-zeintarski-on-transforming-students-using-physical-education-and-neuroscience/

[ii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #116 with John J. Ratey, MD on “The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/best-selling-author-john-j-ratey-md-on-the-revolutionary-new-science-of-exercise-and-the-brain/

[iii] Regular Exercise Changes the Brain to Improve Memory and Thinking Skills April 9, 2014 by April Godman  https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110

[iv] Dr. Chuck Hillman https://cos.northeastern.edu/people/charles-hillman/  

[v] Regular Exercise Changes the Brain to Improve Memory and Thinking Skills April 9, 2014 by April Godman  https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/regular-exercise-changes-brain-improve-memory-thinking-skills-201404097110

[vi] IBID

[vii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #121 with Paul Zientarski on “Transforming Students Using Physical Education and Neuroscience” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/naperville-central-high-schools-paul-zeintarski-on-transforming-students-using-physical-education-and-neuroscience/

[viii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #3 https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/interview-with-ron-hall-valley-day-school-on-launching-your-neuroeducational-program/

[ix] How Dallas Stars Executive. Tom Holy, used COVID-19 to Lose 100 pounds.https://www.star-telegram.com/sports/spt-columns-blogs/mac-engel/article245434890.html

 

Naperville Central High School’s Paul Zeintarski on “Transforming Students Using Physical Education and Neuroscience”

Naperville Central High School’s Paul Zeintarski on “Transforming Students Using Physical Education and Neuroscience”

April 7, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, episode #121 with the former PE teacher from Naperville, IL, Paul Zientarski.

Watch the interview on YouTube here.

Hello and Welcome back! I’m Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with learning the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports and the workplace, for the past 20 years. If you have been listening to our podcast for some time, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with putting our brain health first. We’ve mentioned that exercise is one of the top 5 health staples that’s a known brain-health and Alzheimer’s prevention strategy, from our episode #87[i]  helping us to take our results, productivity and health to these higher levels.  Ever since I came across John J Ratey’s book Spark[ii], I have been drawn in, wanting to learn more, so that I can share his research you, with the hope that something he has uncovered, inspires you, like it inspired me, and that together, we make improvements, even small ones, in our lives, that lean us closer towards the health and wellness that we need these days.

Today, I am so excited to introduce you to Paul Zientarski, the physical education coordinator from Naperville’s Central High School as well as the football coach who worked closely with Phil Lawler to attain the profound results that put Naperville on the map for outstanding academic achievement with their Zero Hour PE Program. John Ratey described Paul Zientarksi in Spark as “a grey-haired furnace of a man with steady eyes and a fact-is fact delivery with the presence of Mike Ditka and Bill Parcells rolled into one figure of authority.”(Spark, Page 18).  This paints the picture of one tough coach, with high expectations and no room for messing around. I have worked with a couple of PE teachers who had this same reputation in the toughest schools in the West end of Toronto, and found that there was always a softer side to this tough exterior, that I felt when I watched Mr. Zientarski’s TED TALK.[iii] You can see for yourself or go to his website where you can learn more about his Learning Readiness PE Program[iv] that reveals the passion he has for his students to learn, and be healthy at the same time.

What excites me the most as I am preparing my interview questions for coach, they called Mr. Z, is that not only did he have the vision for what he expected of his team, school and players, but that he had the vision of the “Smart Jock” back then, before everyone was talking about the importance of neuroscience in the classroom. Dr. Ratey recalled saying that when he first met Mr. Z, he was shocked that he heard these coaches saying things he never expected coaches to be saying. He quoted Mr. Z saying, “In our department, we create the brain cells, and it’s up to the other teachers to fill them” (Spark, Page 19) with regards to their academics.

I’ve thought long and hard about the questions I want to ask Paul Zientarski, whose presence has been described as that of “a seasoned U-boat commander” (Spark, Page 22) with the hopes that something he says, lights a Spark for the listener, to do something, take some action, using the immense wisdom that transformed Naperville’s well-oiled PE Program.

Let’s hear from Mr. Z!

Welcome Paul Zientarski! What an honor to have this opportunity to speak with you. Thank you very much for joining me on the podcast today. What part of the country have we reached you today?

Q1: Paul, can you take us back to when Phil Lawler[v] (who I was sorry to see lost his battle with Cancer in April, 2010) first came to you with this idea for this new PE program. Dr. Ratey said that it took the longest time to convince you. What do you remember about this new PE idea and what made you want to give it a shot?

Q2: As the movement grew, and the media attention caught a hold of what you were building at Naperville, from Newsweek, to your appearance in Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me Documentary[vi],  how did you start to make the connection between what you were doing, the results you were creating, and the brain, to begin your work studying neuroscience back then?

Q3: Who were you studying? What were other teachers saying as you began to share what you were learning? Did you receive any pushback from anywhere?

Q4: When schools began cutting PE, how did you make sure your vision that I see you’ve created with your Learning Readiness PE[vii] kept going?

Q5: What drew me in when I first heard about you, was your vision for the “Smart Jock” years before it was “in.” I hear all the researchers talking about how it’s the kids who look after their brain, who might have not be the coolest kid in school because they are kind of nerdy, not the typical jock we might have remembered back in school, but nerdy is in, and smart, from what I see, are those kids who work hard, with an understanding of their brain (health, nutrition etc). When did you first notice the need to recognize and reinforce this new stereotype?

Q6: What exactly did zero-hour PE entail and how did you motivate students to put in the hard work needed to attain the results?

Q7: I liked seeing a student mention that she took the skills you taught her in high school into college, and when she was stressed with her work in college, would run up the stairs to manage this stress. What do you think it was that took these students, and made them life-long exercisers?

Q8: Were there any concerns with pushing these students too hard and causing injury? (liability) and did any parents protest this rigorous PE program before the results were clear?

Q9: I love how Dr. Ratey compared you to Mike Ditka and Bill Parcels, 2 of the toughest head coaches in football history. With that being said, and knowing there’s always a soft side to the toughest coaches, how did you know how hard to push these kids? I know we can all go a bit more than our limits, but what was your strategy for this?

Q10: If someone is listening to this podcast, and wants to learn more about you and your program Learning Readiness PE, what’s the best way? https://learningreadinesspe.com/

Thank you so much for your time today Paul, for sharing the legacy you have built redefining PE class, reinforcing the “Smart Jock” with our next generation’s brain health in mind. It’s a true honor to have had this opportunity to speak with you.

Have a wonderful day!

RESOURCES:

Exercise Appears to Improve Brain Function Among Younger People Dec. 18, 2006 by Melissa Mitchell https://news.illinois.edu/view/6367/206773

Dr. Chuck Hillman https://cos.northeastern.edu/people/charles-hillman/  

REFERENCES:

[i] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #87 with Andrea Samadi on “The Top 5 Brain Health and Alzheimer’s Prevention Strategies”   https://www.achieveit360.com/the-top-5-brain-health-and-alzheimers-prevention-strategies-with-andrea-samadi/ 

[ii] Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey, MD (January 10, 2008) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07D7GQ887/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

[iii] Want Smarter, Healthier Kids? Try Physical Education! Paul Zientarski Published on YouTube May 26, 2015 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V81cO8xyMaI

[iv] https://learningreadinesspe.com/

[v] Remembering PE Advocate Phil Lawler by Michael Popke for Athletic Business April 2010 https://www.athleticbusiness.com/people/remembering-p-e-advocate-phil-lawler.html

[vi] http://wjhmspe.weebly.com/super-size-me.html

[vii] https://learningreadinesspe.com/

Personal Review of the Fisher Wallace Wearable Medical Device for Anxiety, Depression and Sleep/Stress Management.

Personal Review of the Fisher Wallace Wearable Medical Device for Anxiety, Depression and Sleep/Stress Management.

April 3, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, episode #120 with a review and my experience using of the Fisher Wallace Brain Stimulator from episode #108 with Kelly Roman.

REVISION ADDED APRIL 5th/2021 at 9:58 marker with TIPS from Kelly Roman, Fisher Wallace Co-founder and CEO.

You will learn:

✔︎ What to expect if you want to try the Fisher Wallace Brain Stimulator to improve your sleep, anxiety or mood.

✔︎ How Andrea Samadi measured and tracked her sleep, using the FitBit App, and improved her sleep from getting around 5 hours and 28 minutes in her baseline week to hitting close to 7 hours of sleep in her final days of the trial.

✔︎ How you can try the Fisher Wallace Brain Stimulator for Improved Sleep, Reduced Anxiety or Depression.

Access past episodes here: https://lnkd.in/grfaE7y

Hello and Welcome back! I’m Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with learning the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports and the workplace, for the past 20 years. If you have been listening to our podcast for some time, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with putting our brain health first. We’ve mentioned that sleep is one of the top 5 health staples that’s a known brain-health and Alzheimer’s prevention strategy, from our episode #87[i]  helping us to take our results, productivity and health to these higher levels, so when I had the opportunity to improve my sleep, I jumped on the chance, with the hopes that with what I learn from my experience, could help you, or someone you know who might be struggling with getting enough sleep each night. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t hear someone in my network mention that they are working on improving their sleep.

If you want to hear the episode with Kelly Roman[ii], the CEO of Fisher Wallace Labs and their wearable medical devices to help improve sleep, while also treating anxiety and depression, go back and listen to episode #108. After this interview with Kelly Roman last February of 2021, I shared with him that my brain scan at Amen Clinics (in July 2020)[iii] showed what Dr. Shane Creado felt my brain showed signs of sleep deprivation, and Kelly graciously offered to send me one of the devices/paired with a Fitbit see if we could improve my sleep. I accepted the offer and promised to take the month-long trial seriously.  It’s just a few days after the end of the month, and the results are in.

But first,  if you’re interested in this device, contact Fisher Wallace Labs[iv] at www.fisherwallace.com or by calling 1-800-692-4380. For just under $500 (they show a discount on their website when I last checked) you will be mailed a kit with the simulator, electrode headset, Velcro headband, sponges, carry case, manual, and shipping label. The Fitbit is separate if you want to measure your results like I did, and something you can purchase on your own. They offer a 30-day Refund Policy.

There are videos that you can watch that show you how to use the device right on their website.[v] When I received the Fisher Wallace device, it came quickly, via Fedex, and was simple and easy to set up, after I watched a video through their website.

Here’s what I learned:

Before doing the month-long trial of wearing the device, Kelly suggested getting a baseline for my sleep, and measure at least 3 days without using the device, to see the quality and quantity of sleep beforehand. I wanted to get the most accurate reading of how I was sleeping before I tested the device, so I did everything I knew would help my sleep like eliminating alcohol one week prior and during the baseline so I knew it wouldn’t interfere and setting the stage for a good night sleep each night.

Just a note: I have a strange sleep schedule, going to bed by 8:30pm each night and waking by 3:30am, which is a 7-hour slot. I live in Arizona and choose this sleep time mostly because the summers are hot, and it’s helpful to be able to hit the hiking trails early morning, see the sunrise, and beat the heat that gets well above 110 degrees in the summer.

My baseline was shocking, and if you have never measured your sleep, I highly suggest doing this as a starting point. In that 7-hour slot, I was only averaging 5 hours and 28 minutes of sleep each night, and this was with me really trying during my baseline measurement.

IMAGE OF BASELINE RESULTS FROM THE FITBIT APP:

If you are listening to this episode on iTunes, go to the Podbean Site to see the images in the show notes.

 

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After week 1 of using the device twice a day, for 20 minutes, I felt a surge of energy as well as a clear head, but that first week I had a couple of things that I had to complete late into the night, and it threw off my schedule for that week. Also, being a Mom, there are times the kids wake up at night, and that threw it off this week.

After week 2, I was averaging 6 hours and 23 minutes of sleep each night. This was a significant jump. So for the 7 hour block, it was saying that I was sleeping for most of that block, and not awake for an hour or so, like the baseline week showed. When the baseline week showed I was up an hour or so, this wasn’t me up, walking around, doing work or anything. This was the fact that without the machine, the quality and quantity of my sleep was much less.

After week 3, I was close to 6 hours of sleep each night, and week 4 and 5 breaking the 6 hour mark again averaging 6 hours and 10 minutes.

With what I know about sleep, just from the research I have been doing, and from my brain scan conversation with Dr. Shane Creado, a sleep expert who works with elite athletes, I know that I can still improve my sleep from getting 6 hours to 7 hours, but this would mean not waking up as early and I know that for the time being this is the best slot, so I will see how close to 7 hours of sleep I can get using the device.

This whole experience has given me a lot to think about, and far more understanding with how to create more energy in the day by using a device that was designed to relax your brain and improve sleep. It clearly has improved mine.

Here are the specific weekly results:

Baseline Week 1 (Feb 21-28) Averaged 5 hours and 28 minutes of sleep).

2/24: 5 hours and 53 minutes sleep. (took 10 minutes to fall asleep, 5 times awake, 11 times restless and 48 minutes awake)

2/25: 5 hours 45 minutes sleep. 1 hour 3 minutes awake SLEEP SCORE 70

2/26: 5 hours 21 minutes sleep. 40 minutes awake. SLEEP SCORE 76

2/27: 4 hours 54 minutes of sleep. (took 15 minutes to fall asleep, 3 times awake, 5 times restless and 25 minutes awake).

2/28: 5 hours 18 minutes of sleep. 31 minutes awake.

 

Using Device for 20 minutes 2x/day

WEEK 1 (averaged 5 hours and 23 minutes of sleep)

3/1: 3 hours 22 minutes (first day using the device I had a deadline and had to work well past my bedtime to meet it. This happens sometimes, but I wasn’t tired after just 3 hours of sleep and felt energized on day 1 of using the machine.

3/2: 5 hours 46 minutes. 58 minutes awake.

3/3 5 hours 7 minutes. 53 minutes awake. SLEEP SCORE 68

3/4 5 hours 37 minutes. 34 minutes awake.

3/5 6 hours 34 minutes 18 minutes awake.

3/6 5 hours 58 minutes 1 hour awake. (kid up in the night).

 

WEEK 2 (averaged 6 hours and 3 minutes of sleep).

3/7 6 hours 46 minutes with 26 minutes awake.

3/8 6 hours 17 minutes with 38 minutes awake.

3/9 6 hours and 12 minutes. SLEEP SCORE 79

3/10 5 hours 56 minutes. SLEEP SCORE 74

3/11 6 hours 15 minutes awake 24 minutes.

3/12 5 hours 16 minutes. SLEEP SCORE 76

3/13 5 hours 36 minutes. SLEEP SCORE 66

 

WEEK 3 (averaged 5 hours and 51 minutes of sleep).

3/14 6 hours 3 minutes. SLEEP SCORE 71

3/15 5 hours 29 minutes. SLEEP SCORE 68

3/16 6 hours and 18 minutes with 37 minutes awake.

3/17 6 hours and 28 minutes with 28 minutes awake.

3/18 6 hours and 19 minutes with 45 minutes awake.

3/19 6 hours and 7 minutes with 41 minutes awake.

3/20 4 hours and 13 minutes with SLEEP SCORE 66.

 

WEEK 4 (averaged 6 hours and 10 minutes of sleep).

3/21 6 hours 46 minutes with 49 minutes awake.

3/22 5 hours and 10 minutes with 39 minutes awake.

3/23 6 hours and 38 minutes with 43 minutes awake.

3/24 5 hours and 54 minutes forgot to wear fitbit. Don’t know how many min. awake.

3/25 5 hours and 56 minutes with 56 minutes awake.

3/26 5 hours and 49 minutes with 27 minutes awake.

3/27 6 hours and 54 minutes. Forgot to wear fitbit.

 

WEEK 5 (averaged 6 hours and 10 minutes of sleep).

3/28 5 hours and 51 minutes with 21 minutes awake.

3/29 5 hours and 36 minutes with 23 minutes awake.

3/30 5 hours and 52 minutes with SLEEP SCORE 69.

3/31 6 hours and 51 minutes with 42 minutes awake.

IMAGE OF FINAL WEEK RESULTS FROM THE FITBIT APP:

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TRIAL OVER

4/1 5 hours 22 minutes with 33 minutes awake. DIDN’T USE DEVICE.

4/2 6 hours and 53 minutes with 34 minutes awake. USED DEVICE.

Mood and Anxiety

I did notice some other improvements in addition to sleep, and I know the device also helps to improve your mood, anxiety and depression. While depression does run in my family, and it’s something I am fully aware of, it’s not something I’ve encountered any symptoms with to date, and I think this might that I’m aware of the fact that I need a certain amount of exercise to keep the endorphins and neurotransmitters flowing.

But I did notice that I had more patience, was less high strung or anxious, and was calmer with my day-to-day activities. I noticed this change immediately (and so did my husband) and along with an increase of energy, I was able to complete more tasks, in less time, and felt less stress before going to sleep.

Final Evaluation

I will continue to use the Fisher Wallace Brain Stimulator, maybe not every day, as I do want to continue to measure and see how I do without it, but I’d love to get my sleep into the 7-hour range, because I know this would help me in many other areas of my life. If you would like to try the device, and have any questions at all for me, please feel free to contact me with your questions. [vi]

In the meantime, if you want to learn more about tips to improve your sleep, I recommend going back to some of our podcasts that dive deep into the importance of sleep, like episode #71 on Self-Regulation and Sleep with a Deep Dive into Dr. Shane Creado’s “Peak Sleep Performance for Athletes”[vii] or episode #85 with Dr. Sarah McKay on “High Performing Brain Health Strategies that We Should All Know About and Implement.”[viii]

See you later next week with episode #121 with Paul Zientarski, who is the former PE teacher from Naperville, IL where I will dive deep into exactly what their program entailed to achieve the outstanding results that put them on the map for the most compelling case study proving the profound impact that exercise has on our cognitive abilities.

See you next week!

SLEEP STUDY REVISION (added April 5th/2021) at marker (9:58).

After I released my sleep study episode, I sent it over to Kelly Roman from Fisher Wallace Laboratories, and he let me know that there were some important considerations that I should mention to further improve this episode, to go a bit deeper into the sleep study results. He suggested that I read the article “How to Interpret the results of a sleep study”[1] that had some important terminology that he felt was important to mention.

The article explains Total Sleep Time

“The total sleep time is the total amount of sleep time scored during the total recording time. This includes time from sleep onset to sleep offset and is distributed throughout the sleep time as minutes of Stage N1 sleep, Stage N2 sleep, Stage N3, and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. All these times are described in minutes. A low total sleep time may indicate that the patient slept for an insufficient period of time due to non-medical/non-physiological reasons, certain medical or sleep disorders, or as a result of the effect of medications. Long total sleep time may suggest prior sleep deprivation, medical conditions, or effects of medications. High levels of sleep fragmentation, as defined by recurrent awakenings and/or stage shifts may result in complaints of non-restorative sleep even when an apparently normal total sleep time is present.” (How to Interpret the Results of a Sleep Study).

A Fitbit does measure these sleep stages, and in my study, I showed the total time I was asleep in the 7-hour block of time, and minutes awake but didn’t share the REM time since I only got this report with a sleep score. I’m not sure why some days I didn’t get a sleep score.  If I was to repeat this study, or go deeper into my results, I could look at the stages of sleep and REM time to see how much deep sleep I’m getting using the device vs without the device. Looking at the scores, I can see that in my baseline week I was averaging 42 minutes of REM sleep and 58 minutes in my last week using the device.

Sleep Efficiency

“Sleep efficiency is another important parameter that refers to percentage of total time in bed actually spent in sleep. It is calculated as sum of Stage N1, Stage N2, Stage N3, and REM sleep, divided by the total time in bed and multiplied by 100. Sleep efficiency gives an overall sense of how well the patient slept, but it does not distinguish frequent, brief episodes of wakefulness. A low sleep efficiency percentage could result from long sleep latency and long sleep offset to lights on time with otherwise normal quantity and quality of sleep in between. Many laboratories report total wake time, that is, the amount of wake time during the total recording time in minutes after the sleep onset. The total amount gives a general estimation for overall quality of sleep. Total wake time is the reciprocal of total sleep time. A high total sleep time percent is always associated with low total wake time percent and vice versa.” (How to Interpret the Results of a Sleep Study)

I looked up sleep efficiency and found a calculator[2] to help figure out this time and I’m not sure how accurate this calculator is, but this is a start for taking a closer look at the data from my sleep study.

BASELINE: To see my sleep efficiency in my baseline, I took 2/24 where I went to sleep at 8:27pm and woke up at 3:12am. I used the sleep efficiency calculator to see how efficient it says my sleep was in the baseline period. It calculated that I was in bed for 423 minutes, (7.1 hours) was awake 1.3 hours, and had a sleep efficiency score of 82%.

FINAL WEEK: I took the last day of the study, 3/31 and where I went to sleep at 7:56pm and woke up at 3:29am. The calculator logged 454 minutes of sleep (7.6 hours) with 57 minutes awake, and a sleep efficiency score of 87%.

Wakefulness After Sleep Onset (WASO)

Another important reported parameter is “wake after sleep onset, also known as ‘WASO’. This refers to periods of wakefulness occurring after defined sleep onset. This parameter measures wakefulness, excluding the wakefulness occurring before sleep onset. WASO time is a better reflection of sleep fragmentation.” (How to Interpret the Results of a Sleep Study).

 

The Fitbit measures total time awake, and I did log this time in my results. This was the part of the study that I found to be a bit shocking, since I just assumed that when I went to sleep around 8:30pm, that I was sleeping until I woke up around 3:30am or so. I didn’t know that during my 7-hour block of time, I was averaging 53 minutes of wakefulness in my baseline and only 29 minutes of wakefulness in my last week of testing. It’s definitely eye-opening to see how the device improved my sleep WASO score.

In my baseline, I was showing an average of 47.2 minutes awake or WASO and in the final week of the study, WASO score was significantly improved, averaging 36.8 minutes using the device.

Kelly Roman suggested that I look at each week using the device, compared to the baseline of 5 hours and 28 minutes of sleep, (323 minutes)  showing week 1 not much change due to that one night I worked late with 323 total minutes of sleep , week 2 showed an increase in 35 minutes of sleep, Week 3 an increase of 23 minutes, week 4, an increase of 42 minutes, and week 5, the same increase of 42 minutes above the baseline.  According to Kelly Roman, 20 minutes of sleep increase is what he says would be the gold standard minimum that doesn’t seem like a lot but allows for improved REM sleep and over time he says reduces sleep debt.  What was powerful was that my study showed an increase of much more that this gold standard of 20 minutes improvement showing me that the device worked better than I realized without showing him these results.

He also suggested the importance of talking about drug therapy for sleep improvement, where a drug like Ambien would be clinically significant to improve total sleep time by 20 minutes per night, and my results showed to be much higher than this. The Fisher Wallace Device is an incredible tool for improving sleep without using any medicines, but it’s important to note-- I’ve heard over and over again from Dr. Daniel Amen of the negative impacts that sleep aids have on the brain saying “They cause memory problems, daytime drowsiness, confusion, addiction and severe withdrawal syndrome if they are abruptly discontinued”[3] If you are listening to this episode, using a doctor prescribed sleep medicine, please do speak to your doctor before making any changes to your health care plans.

I hope this additional information on my sleep study was helpful for you, if you know that sleep is something that you want to improve.  I am going to continue to improve mine, and so grateful to have had this opportunity to test the Fisher Wallace Sleep Device.

RESOURCES:

The Secret to Overcoming Sleep Problems by Dr. Daniel Amen June 25th, 2019 https://www.amenclinics.com/blog/the-secrets-to-overcoming-sleep-problems/

[1] How to Interpret the results of a sleep study by Deepack Shrivastava, MD Published Nov. 25, 2014 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4246141/

[2] https://mysleepwell.ca/cbti/sleep-efficiency-calculator/

[3] Sleeping Pills, Anxiety Meds, and the Impending Disaster by Dr. Daniel Amen, June 11, 2020 https://www.amenclinics.com/blog/sleeping-pills-anxiety-meds-and-the-impending-disaster/

 

REFERENCES:

[i] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #87 with Andrea Samadi on “The Top 5 Brain Health and Alzheimer’s Prevention Strategies”   https://www.achieveit360.com/the-top-5-brain-health-and-alzheimers-prevention-strategies-with-andrea-samadi/  

[ii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #108 with Kelly Roman, the CEO of Fisher Wallace Laboratories on “Wearable Medical Devices for Anxiety, Depression and Sleep/Stress Management” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/ceo-of-fisher-wallace-laboratories-on-wearable-medical-devices-for-anxiety-depression-and-sleepstress-management/

[iii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast EPISODE #84 BRAIN SCAN RESULTS “How a Spect Scan Can Change Your Life” with Andrea Samadi PART 3 https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/how-a-spect-scan-can-change-your-life-part-3-with-andrea-samadi/

[iv] https://www.fisherwallace.com/ 1-800-692-4380

[v] https://www.fisherwallace.com/

[vi] andrea@achieveit360.com

[vii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Episode #71 on a Deep Dive into Dr. Shane Creado’s “Peak Sleep Performance for Athletes” https://www.achieveit360.com/self-regulation-and-sleep-with-a-deep-dive-into-dr-shane-creados-peak-sleep-performance-for-athletes/

[viii] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Episode #85 with Dr. Sarah McKay on “High Performing Brain Health Strategies that We Should All Know About and Implement.” https://www.achieveit360.com/neuroscientist-dr-sarah-mckay-on-high-performing-brain-health-strategies-that-we-should-all-know-about-and-implement/

Brain Fact Friday on “The Key Ingredients of Learning with the Brain in Mind.”

Brain Fact Friday on “The Key Ingredients of Learning with the Brain in Mind.”

April 2, 2021

Welcome back to the Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast, for Brain Fact Friday and episode #119.

Hello and Welcome back! I’m Andrea Samadi, a former educator who has been fascinated with learning the science behind high performance strategies in schools, sports and the workplace, for the past 20 years. If you have been listening to our podcast for some time, you will know that we’ve uncovered that if we want to improve our social and emotional skills, and experience success in our work and personal lives, it all begins with putting our brain health first. As I am working closely with neuroscience researcher, Mark Robert Waldman, and learning new ideas that could help improve results for students in our classrooms, or those in the corporate world, I will share with you what I am learning, with the hopes you can implement the new idea in your life, for immediate, improved results.

This week’s brain fact goes right along with the past few episodes where we have been talking about the profound impact that exercise has on our cognitive abilities and mental health. Dr. Daniel Amen, (who we’ve talked a lot about on past episodes) and Dr. John J Ratey would both agree that it’s “simply one of the best treatments we have for most psychiatric problems.”[i]

Instead of just one brain fact about the importance of exercise on our brain, I have a few-- to really hit the importance of this brain fact home.

Here are Your Brain Facts for This Week: Did You Know That:

“Physical activity is crucial to the way we think and feel.” (John J Ratey, MD).  

“Children who exercise regularly are likely to do the same as an adult.” (Spark, Page 12)

“Statistics show that about half of those who start out with a new exercise routine drop out within six months to a year” (Spark, Page 260) probably because they jump in at a high intensity, it’s too much, and they give up.

If you have heard our past 2 episodes, you will know that Dr. Ratey wrote the book Spark on this topic after he saw Naperville’s scores on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) where they scored #1 in science and #6 in math, in the world, proving that there was something unique that they had discovered with the correlation of exercise and academic achievement.  Naperville provided a powerful case study that “aerobic activity can transform not only the body, but also the mind.” (Spark, Page 19)

Dr. Daniel Amen often talks about the importance of exercise, or walking 5 days a week, like you are late (he would say) for your brain health. He mentions that “blood vessels age, not your brain cells”[ii] and the best way to keep blood vessels healthy so blood flows to your brain, is with moderate exercise.

So for such an important brain fact, that two of the most famous brain experts I know, have focused most of their careers teaching the world about, why isn’t everyone taking advantage of this profound impact of exercise on the brain—for our students in our classrooms and for everyone in the workplace looking for increased productivity.

It All Begins With Understanding How Our Brain Works

Most us have not had the crash course in this topic. Since we know that our brain is involved in everything that we are and everything that we do, it’s important that we understand how it works, especially when it comes to making habits (like implementing a new exercise program) stick.

I was speaking with Victoria Sambursky this week (she is working closely with Dr. Ratey with her company Edominance)[iii] with assessments that unlock personality and behavior, and she was asking me about the best way to break a habit. I shared with her what I cover on episode #35 on “Using Your Brain to Break Bad Habits”[iv] since what we must do to break a habit is the exact opposite of what we must do when forming our new habit, like our new exercise routine that we want to start.

I Shared with Her—Here’s How We Break Habits and Here’s How We Form New Ones

Learning creates a synaptic connection when you are thinking, feeling, or actually doing something new. New neural pathways are formed. I’m sure you have seen the YouTube videos that show how the pathways look in the brain, like a highway.[v] Each time you think that same thought, or do that same action, you strengthen that neural pathway.  Each time you do that new exercise routine, that pathway strengthens. This is how you create a new habit.

Breaking a habit is just the opposite; by avoiding certain thoughts, feelings or actions, your impulses or neural connections become weaker and weaker. Just as knowledge and skills are constructed in our brain with focus, they also diminish (or prune away) without the focused attention. As we learn, our dendrites actually grow as they make new synaptic connections. Learning something new happens when we forge these new connections.

Think About it This Way:

“Neurons that fire together, wire together” and “neurons that are out of sync, fail to link.” If we want to form a new habit, we must practice the new skill over and over again, (wiring and strengthening the pathway) and breaking a habit, means don’t practice the skill—don’t even think about it.

It’s easy to see now that “we are what we think about” or “we create our reality” as we do reinforce our neural pathways with the attention to the habits or goals that we want. We even reinforce what we don’t want when we are thinking” I don’t want that piece of pie” or” I don’t want this project to fail” or “I don’t want to lose that game” and so on. The neural pathways for “I don’t want this or that” are being formed! Our brain only knows what we tell it, so we must be very careful with our thoughts, feelings, and actions, as they will reinforce those neural pathways in our brain.

In Learning Something New: The Key Ingredient is Motivation

Since the brain only hold information it finds to be useful, and discards what is doesn’t need, we have to be sure that when we want to learn something new (for ourselves or for others) that we make the learning relevant, and interesting. The brain will be motivated to learn when it’s exposed to something new, and unfamiliar.

How to Motivate Students to Learn and Move with Brain Health in Mind

I’m always looking for new ideas to help students learn when searching through social media, and this week I saw something that caught my attention.

If you are looking for tools, or ideas on how to motivate your students in the classroom, or kids at home if you are homeschooling, I highly suggest taking a look at the FutureSmart Program[vi] where MassMutual’s Foundation has partnered with the NHL to provide engaging financial education along with movement. The videos are motivating, interesting, and we know they are building the brains of our next generation.

If we can encourage our children and students to move, in any possible way, we will be stimulating their thinking skills needed for academic performance.[vii]  A new study suggests that “when academic classes include physical activity, like squats, or running in place, students do better on tests.”[viii] Take a look at this resource for some new ideas that go beyond just movement. They also have financial education and skills to help prepare our next generation to be future-ready.

What Does the Latest Neuroscience Research Reveal About Exercise and Our Brain?

We know that exercise increases levels of serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine—important neurotransmitters that monitor the flow of our thoughts and emotions. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, and maybe you know low levels of it is associated with depression, but even many people don’t know the rest.

“They don’t know that toxic levels of stress erode the connections between the billions of nerve cells in the brain or that chronic depression shrinks certain areas of the brain. And they don’t know that, conversely, exercise unleashes a cascade of neurochemicals and growth factors that can reverse this process, physically bolstering the brain’s infrastructure. In fact, the brain responds like muscles do, growing with use, withering with inactivity. The neurons in the brain connect to one another through “leaves” on treelike branches, and exercise causes those branches to grow and bloom with new buds, enhancing brain function at a fundamental level.” John J Ratey

We are just starting to learn about the impact on our brain cells with exercise at the gene level and as technology in neuroscience improves, there will be new ways to measure the changes that are happening in the brain. I just learned from Dr. Andrew Newburg, who is a Professor in the Department of Integrative Medicine and Nutritional Sciences and the Director of Research at the Marcus Institute of Integrative Health at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, from episode #88,[ix] that the changes in brain scan technology make his job very exciting. Like Dr. Ratey mentioned we can see the changes in the brain with exercise, Dr. Newburg says that someone could start a mediation practice today, (or an exercise program) and wonder if they can measure the changes in the brain, and Dr. Newburg would say they can. With time, the frontal lobes of meditators become thicker, and he can see the changes in the brain with Blood/Oxygen Imaging that follows the brain through meditation.  With time, and new technology, it will be very clear that exercise and meditation changes the structure and function of the brain. I’m looking forward to learning what else they discover here.

Once We Know How to Create This Heightened State of Well-Being, Where Else Can We Use It?

In our podcast episode #27 with Friederike Fabritius, we covered the DNA of success or peak performance[x] which is that brain state where we lose the presence of time and are the most productive.

If we can create this heightened state of well-being for our students through exercise, we could also create this environment in our workplaces.

Friederike mentioned the importance of having fun with your work, (or with your workouts) releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine, having just enough fear, fun or a challenge to release the neurotransmitter noradrenaline and that with these two factors, focus will occur, and the neurotransmitter acetyl choline will be released to help us to achieve the “flow” that occurs at this heightened level of productivity. These three neurotransmitters must be in place for peak performance to occur and when we hit this level of performance, it’s important that we are able to manage our distractions so that we can stay here for as long as possible for those higher levels of productivity.

Neurotransmitters-Peak_Performance_20196wbsi....

To Review Our Brain Facts, Let’s See if We Can Gain Some New Insight with Our Brain in Mind

“Physical activity is crucial to the way we think and feel.” (John J Ratey, MD).  

An understanding of our brain helps us to see why. Rigorous activity helps to put the brain in the right environment for learning to take place.

“Children who exercise regularly are likely to do the same as an adult.” (Spark, Page 12)

Since they have built the neural pathways in their brain that they reinforce over and over again. The only way they would not keep the same habit as an adult, is if they stopped exercising. And even with this example, we do have incredible muscle memory, for anyone who has ever had to stop their exercise program for a certain amount of time. Your muscles will remember, and your neural pathways will keep strengthening even with your time away.

“Statistics show that about half of those who start out with a new exercise routine drop out within six months to a year” (Spark, Page 260) probably because they jump in at a high intensity, it’s too much, and they give up.

That’s because most people start off fast and lose motivation when it becomes difficult. Pace yourself, remember that everyone is different, and don’t compare your workout or results to anyone else’s. Find something that you enjoy, and you will be motivated, creating the neurotransmitters you will need to reach those peak performance levels.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these Brain Facts, preparing us for our interview with next week with Paul Zientarski, the PE Teacher from Naperville, who will help us to see exactly what was involved with their PE program to reveal such outstanding results.

See you next week!

REFERENCES:

[i] Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John J. Ratey, MD (January 10, 2008) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07D7GQ887/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

[ii] Dr. Daniel Amen on the Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast “It’s Not Your Brain Cells That Age, it’s Your Blood Vessels” https://brainwarriorswaypodcast.com/its-not-your-brain-cells-that-age-its-your-blood-vessels/

[iii] https://www.endominance.com/company/about-us/

[iv] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning Podcast Episode #35 on “Using Your Brain to Break Bad Habits” with Andrea Samadi https://www.achieveit360.com/how-to-use-your-brain-to-break-bad-habits-in-2020/

[v] Neural Plasticity YouTube Uploaded November 6, 2012  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELpfYCZa87g

[vi] FutureSmart Program https://www.nhl.com/fans/futuresmart

[vii] How Exercise Can Boost Young Brains by Gretchen Reynolds October 8, 2014 https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/08/how-exercise-can-boost-the-childs-brain/?_r=0

[viii] Movement During Class Improves Students’ Academic Abilities by Linda Carroll October 21, 2019 https://mobile.reuters.com/article/amp/idUSKBN1X02CZ

[ix] Neuroscience Meets Social and Emotional Learning EPISODE #88 with Dr. Andrew Newburg on “Demystifying the Human Brain” https://andreasamadi.podbean.com/e/neuroscientist-andrew-newberg-md-on-neurotheology-spect-scans-and-the-aging-brain/

[x] Friederike Fabritius: “Fun, Fear, and Focus: The Neurochemical Recipe for Achieving Peak Performance” | Talks at Google Published Jan.15, 2019  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWi-oCySuFA

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