Did you know that the first song copied down in the English language was the 13th-century rota “Sumer Is Icumen In”? It speaks to something elemental in the human experience: summer is a time of joy and relaxation after the bitterness of winter and the high drama of spring. But for high schoolers, summer has a flip side: the threat of losing valuable knowledge gleaned during the school year to sun-baked days.
But don’t panic! According to neuroscience, there are several specific things you can do to keep your brain sharp during the summer. The ideas below are based on research cited in psychologist Louis Cozolino’s 2013 book, The Social Neuroscience of Education. So, how exactly can you make sure those neurons keep firing over summer break?
1. Exercise. Exercising increases blood flow to the brain, which allows for more connections to form between neurons (brain cells). The more connections between neurons, the more new information you can absorb, which is the biological basis of learning!
2. Reduce stress. Over time, stress reduces your memory capacity by eroding a part of the brain called the hippocampus. If you can spend the summer minimizing feelings of stress and anxiety, you’ll make sure your brain starts off on the right foot in September.
3. Keep a regular sleep schedule. Our brains need to “power down” each night so that they can make sense of the experiences we’ve had during the day. Without sufficient sleep, you might not retain the things you’ve learned. The teenage “catch-up” tactic of sleeping all weekend (or all summer) to make up for lost weeknight sleep is actually counterproductive because it confuses our bodies’ natural rhythms. Obviously, if you were sleep-deprived during the school year, it’s fine to get some extra hours, but do try to keep to a regular schedule.
4. Try new things. Exposure and repetition strengthen connections between neurons, which in turn builds brain capacity for learning new things. If you take something up “just for fun” this summer (not something stress-inducing!), the experience of learning and practicing will help keep your brain active.
5. Stay socially connected. Too much isolation is bad for human brains. Social interaction stimulates us to think in different ways, which in turn strengthens our brain’s readiness to absorb new information.
Whether you’re lounging by the pool, working a summer job, or galavanting off on a Roman holiday this summer, these tips will help you enjoy your free time while also making sure that your brain is primed for the next school year. Soak up that sunshine, people!