Winter is coming, and no, I am not talking about Game of Thrones. For some of us, this means we’re on the downhill side of the semester. Midterms are ending, and finals are in the near future. It also means flu season and the approaching of the holidays. Halloween wasn’t that long ago, but don’t act like you haven’t started dreaming about Christmas trees and peppermint hot chocolate ... And remembering the stress that comes with it all.
Things are about to get hard. Really hard. That time is coming where you have to get into gear, stay focused and stick it out. But there’s a time to push yourself, and there’s a time to know when you need a break. There’s a difference between Netflix-bingeing all weekend and allowing your body some rest. It’s important to know such distinctions
In high school, I woke up one morning to my sister falling over against the hallway wall. She had gotten up for morning water polo practice. It was scary to see her pass out. We even almost called an ambulance because she couldn’t stay awake. She spoke delusionally to our mom, who tried to get her to the car.
By the end of the day, she was at the hospital hooked up to an IV. It turned out she was hit hard by exhaustion and dehydration. This was not a surprise. Daily morning and afternoon water polo practices, an average of seven hours of homework a night, recently going to school with a fever, a highly intense rank-deciding game the day before, being on her period, and stress because of it all will do that. It was a perfect storm.
Every year in high school during the beginning of second semester, I lost a little bit of weight. It made sense. My classes always had projects and essays due this time of year and I was especially busy with extracurriculars. I didn’t see it as an issue until my senior year when my photo teacher asked if I was doing OK. I told her I was fine. She was concerned because it seemed I had lost weight.
I probably had, but that wasn’t something I paid attention to. I’ve always had a leaner body. The next time I weighed myself I was 97 pounds. As someone that is 5’4, it would be healthier to be closer to 110.3 I realized my stomach was a little concave and that as an 18-year-old, I should be over 100 pounds.
When I came to college, I promised myself I would acknowledge when I was overly tired. Of course I’ve stayed up until the wee hours of the morning finishing final papers, but I don’t let this become a habit. So when your body is weaker and your brain is more tired than normal, here’s what you should remember.
1) Make sleep a priority.
Sleeping for five hours a night is something a lot of us can do. Heck, some of us have even had days where we functioned on two or three. But stop. Just don’t. Realistically at least, don’t let it be a habit.
We all find ourselves in extreme circumstances sometimes, but it’s essential to get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can lead to improper brain function and a weakened immune system.1 Caffeine can only go so far. If you get only about four hours of sleep for four or five days, then you become cognitively impaired like you’ve been awake for 24 hours.2
2) Remember to eat.
Your body needs carbohydrates. When digested, they break down into simple sugars and are converted to glucose.4 However, if you don’t provide your body with enough fuel, it will run out of glycogen stores and will eventually break down muscle.4 When this happens, you lose muscle mass, and we all need muscle to be healthy.4 Plus, how many times have you felt hangry after skipping out on a meal for too long?
3) Keep a schedule and stick to it.
When I go home for winter break, most days are spent with Netflix on the couch. But when it’s the middle of the semester, I am easily able to get through 13-hour days on campus. Having structure in my life helps me be productive, and my planner keeps me on track.
Humans are creatures of habit, so if you stick to a routine, it will eventually become easy.5 And if you need to make your schedule more productive, slowly add in tasks.5 You don’t want to be thrown off by too much change.5 Add in something about once a week,5 and before you know it you will finish work, class, homework, working out AND a 20-minute nap in a day. And you won’t be exhausted.
4) Take a day off if you’re sick.
There’s a difference between having a sniffle and truly being sick. So if you have a fever and feel like you are hacking up a lung every few minutes, for the sake of the rest of us, stay home.
If you think you can push through a day in class or at work being sick, good for you. I’m sure you’re a strong person, but the rest of us don’t want to get sick. Also important — it doesn’t mean you aren’t strong if you take a sick day. Your body needs to rejuvenate.7 Symptoms can get worse if you push yourself, so you might stay sicker for longer.7
5) Take breaks.
Our bodies are pretty perfect machines, but they need rest. Why else do we need sleep? Going too hard for too long can lead to stress and fatigue, which depletes your emotional and physical resources.6 This furthermore makes it harder to focus and be productive.6
A study at the University of Toronto found that restorative activities, like napping or being social, increase focus and resilience. So don’t feel guilty when you want to take a nap on Friday afternoon. Your homework will be there to do all weekend.
Reviewed November 7, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
1) The Effects of Sleep Deprivation on the Body. Healthline. Retrieved October 25, 2016.
2) Sleep Deficit: The Performance Killer. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved October 25, 2016.
3) How Much Should I Weigh? Rush University Medical Center. Retrieved October 25, 2016.
4) Does Your Body Burn Muscle Before Fat? Livestrong. Retrieved October 25, 2016.
5) Changing Our Routines and Habits. PsychCentral. Retrieved October 25, 2016.
6) The Secret to Increased Productivity: Taking Time Off. Entrepreneur. Retrieved October 25, 2016.
7) Too Sick to Work? WebMD. Retrieved October 25, 2016.