Study well tips #5 – Eat, exercise, sleep, repeat
What you do outside of the classroom and the library can have almost as big an impact on your student experience as what you do inside. A regular, sustainable sleep schedule, healthy diet, plenty of water, and enough exercise all help keep you fighting fit and can help you both tackle and feel better about yourself, your studies, and everything else in life. Let’s take a quick look at each in turn.
Sleep like you mean it
Sleep is a surprisingly active process. You probably do nearly as much while you sleep as you do during the same period of being awake. When you go to sleep, your body begins a period of active repair and reconfiguration, adjusting and fixing damage and other problems in the body, while the mind processes, sorts, organises and makes sense of all that has been seen and done during the day. It is from surfacing to consciousness through this cacophony of ideas, feelings and senses that dreams emerge. This article by BBC Future describes the process of sleeping in more detail.
Sleep is necessary to function properly while you are awake, regulates the immune system to keep you well and reaffirms your in-built day-night rhythm of sleeping and waking. Rising levels of the sleep hormone melatonin make deeper sleep easiest around midnight, while intense light, such as morning sunlight falling on the eyes (even through closed eyelids!), stimulates the pineal gland causing sensations of wakefulness. Everyone’s preferred working rhythm varies to some extent, but it seems to be that we all have an optimal time to be asleep, from between six and nine hours (averaging about 7.5 hours) a night, spanning midnight.
What seems to matter more is having regular times that you sleep in a dark, cool and comfortable room with calming rituals that lead up to bedtime. Avoid stimulation, including glaring screens, caffeinated drinks and intensive exercise in the run-up to bedtime, keep a notepad to jot down things to remember or deal with in the morning, put everything beyond your immediate control past caring and allow your body to relax.
Further advice and help
Click here for advice on getting a good night’s sleep from the NHS.
If you are consistently having trouble sleeping, speak to your GP or the University Wellbeing Service.
Eat, drink, and be happy
Eating well has long been honoured as a sign of self-respect. Good nutrition underpins everything from the way you feel physically and mentally to the proper function of your immune system. While this might be more of a challenge if your store cupboard supplies have run low, leftovers, odds and ends and things that are stale but not yet mouldy make for great eating with just a little ingenuity.
The British Heart Foundation have some tasty and simple recipe ideas, including how to salvage slightly stale bread, the BBC offer student recipes on both their Good Food and Food websites (not sure what they are trying to say about the latter set of recipes there), while Eating Well hosts a huge number of pantry tips and recipes to inspire you to get cooking. Given the variety of ingredients some of these recipes require, it seems doubtful that you will ever want to cook any of the particular recipes exactly as they describe them. Just remember that you can substitute anything you have at hand for ingredients you do not have. Some people end up with an entirely different meal by the time they have finished delicately substituting one thing for another and that’s just fine! The only thing that matters is that you enjoy what you eat and that you eat as much of a variety of different foods, including wholegrains, fruits and vegetables as you can.
Making the most of your food
Eating regularly, taking the time to chew and enjoy your food, and sipping plenty of water while you eat all help you digest your food more easily and get the benefit from it. “Eating is meditation” as a wise man once put it. Be in the moment with your lunch, enjoy every mouthful, engage your senses and sink your mind into your body. Be one with your meal while it lasts.
Staying wet inside
By the time you start to feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. Thirst is your body’s alarm bell ringing to tell you that you are already stiffening up in all the wrong places, feeling worse and thinking less clearly than you would if you were sipping water. The usual response is to upend a can of energy drink into yourself and carry on. The minor drawback of drinking a lot in a short time, particularly a lot of a chilled drink, is that it then tends to rushy through the body without touching the sides, prompting an urgent trip to the toilet. The body absorbs drinks best that are sipped regularly over time and are close to body temperature. That means that the best hydration you can get is from a bottle of tepid water. Water is also available on tap, while energy drinks currently require outpacing the competition in the supermarket so as to arrive at the last remaining cans two metres ahead of the competition.
Culturally, most of us have learned an aversion to room temperature drinks – either hot drinks that are almost cold or cold drinks that have warmed up but it’s a preference that’s easily changed when you just want to focus. Let your hot drinks cool a little, and choose water from the tap or from the non-chilled tap at the water fountain ahead of when you need it so it can warm up on your desktop and then sip it gradually over time.
While water is best, all watery drinks are good, tea and coffee included. Only alcoholic drinks actively dehydrate you, just one more reason why they leave people with a hangover including dry mouth, stiffness, sickness and headache the morning after the night before.
Get active, stay active
I’m going to admit I know less about exercise than I do about eating but I do know that moving more and moving more regularly – not getting sat for long periods without moving around – is good for you physically and mentally. Walking briskly is an excellent form of exercise for most people, while adding in intense exercise to strengthen and develop your body is recommended by many.
Why not wander over to Ravelin Sports Centre and ask the lovely people in Sports & Recreation how they can help you get more active? If a gym membership seems too expensive, the NHS and others offer free exercise videos you can follow online.
Click here to explore what Sports & Recreation have to offer.
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