Your ability to focus on your work, prioritize your studies, and make time for your reading and assignments is a major component of academic success in your post-secondary years. And your day-to-day lifestyle choices will likely bear heavily on these needs. Here are a few quick thoughts on your lifestyle choices.
Are you a party animal? The COVID-19 pandemic notwithstanding, do you find that most of your weekends are in search of late-night socializing, fuelled by alcohol? While there are lots of good things to be said about taking a break, and letting your hair down, moderation is key–staying up late, and drinking too much will significantly affect your next morning, since you may sleep right through it. Even when you are up, your foggy hangover will further impair you for several hours more, and *poof*, what might have been a productive eight+ hours of study is reduced to one or two. Go ahead, socialize, have a drink, but two may already be too many, especially if it alters your view on your academic priorities for the next day. Be sure to get home before midnight–a good night’s sleep is a perfect start to a productive day.
Are you a smoker? Whether tobacco or otherwise, does it need to be said that there are no known health benefits to sucking smoke into your lungs? Instead, it will impair your breathing, aggravate asthma, decrease your fitness, distract you, waste large amounts of money, and eventually shorten your life. These days, you will see virtually no one in positions of wealth or power who smoke, implying that the road to success is not littered with cigarette butts. Most young people start smoking to experiment, exert their independence, to feel included in a peer group, or to somehow feel more like an adult. And yet, as you exert your independence and gain maturity, these reasons lose their relevance. As for marijuana, its mood altering effects may be pleasant, but, unlike water-soluble alcohol, the fat-soluble active ingredients in marijuana can persist in your brain for several days, even weeks, thereby prolonging their impairing effects.
Are you into street drugs? Very dangerous and highly addictive. They are not part of any academic plan for scholastic attainment, and they will eat up huge parts of your free time, money and may even cost you your life–’nuff said.
Are you a coffee drinker? Although more than 2/3s of adults in North America and Europe drink coffee daily as a morning pick me up, and/or as a social lubricant, the benefits of chronic caffeine intake may diminish after three cups a day. Put more simply, though, if caffeine is needed to start your day, one can ask two questions: Is this need based on withdrawal and addiction, or is this need based on chronic sleep deprivation? Both suggest some lifestyle reconsiderations–the point is, you shouldn’t need coffee to get through a day. If you absolutely cannot function without coffee–Houston, we have a problem.
Do you get enough sleep? If you are constantly staying up late, whether due to socializing, entertaining, or late-night cramming, you may be chronically sleep-deprived, and you may have disrupted your sleep-wakefulness cycle. Sleep-deprivation is now a common condition in Western cultures (fueling the morning need for caffeine stimulation), chronic fatigue can dull your mind to learning and concentration, and also affect your academic success. And do not kid yourself on how much sleep you need: If you are of college age, 6 hours of sleep is simply not enough–9 to 11 hours of sleep may be better for you. If you doubt this, the next time you have no morning commitments, see how long you sleep in without an alarm to wake you–it may tell you alot about either how sleep deprived you are, and how many hours of shut-eye you really need every night.
Do you do regular exercise? Many young adults quickly fall off any pattern of activity once they leave high school, since the team sports they did in gym class are no longer structured for them. If there are no easy access points to regular team sports participation, young people will need to find something to keep them moving regularly that is accessible and inexpensive–walking, running, swimming, fitness classes, gym activities, like spin classes, cycling, weight training, are all available for most.
So what is so great about exercise? Regular exercise–anything that gets you moving for at least 20-30 minutes–improves sleep quality, reduces stress, and stabilizes mood. It helps control weight and appetite. It improves blood flow to every part of your body, including your brain. Almost every known disease risk is lessened with a commitment to lifelong regular exercise. Some have argued that this is the best medicine there is for health, happiness, and longevity.
What kind of food do you eat? Are you part of the sub sandwich/ramen noodle crowd at lunch? Cheerios and coffee for breakfast? Many budget-conscious students understandably eat with price being their only consideration when they choose what they eat, although time and convenience factor in as well. Fast food is easy, cheap, and almost ubiquitous, but processed food over long periods is not a great health choice. Your body needs a multitude of nutrients in sufficient amounts for optimal function, and the solution is not vitamin pills–it is unprocessed foods! As food author Michael Pollan once said, “If your grandmother wouldn’t recognize it, it probably isn’t a real food–but rather a ‘food-like’ substance.”
Clean up your lifestyle–to live better, longer and happier–and to do better in school as well.