Starting university is an all-out attack on your health. It feels like everything in the world is ruthlessly out to get you. You’re often on your own for the first time in your life and taking care of yourself is a new concept. So many expectations. There’s all the classes, lab reports, papers, clubs, and if we’re being honest, the parties. You’re being pulled in every direction, and sometimes it feels like there’s not enough of you.
So how do you take care of yourself? How do you prioritize all your commitments? What would a balanced schedule look like? What are the things that we should worry about? There are too many things to consider, but we’ll explore just a couple of the most important things.
1. Make sure you’re getting the best sleep.
It might feel like your professors are trying to strategically steal your sleep from you. But sleep is so important because it’s beneficial for both our mental and physical health. University students are among the most sleep deprived population, and studies show that a lack of sleep is connected to lower GPAs because it negatively affects concentration, memory, and the ability to learn.
How do you get the best sleep possible? Try to spend some time every day outside. The exposure to natural light will maintain your body’s natural 24 hour cycle, called the circadian rhythm. Artificial light from your phone, computer screen, traffic lights, even your light bulbs will disrupt your body’s circadian rhythm and sleep patterns. This is why it’s important to get sunlight and keep technology away from your bed. In fact, it’s recommended that you stop using devices thirty minutes before bed, allowing your body to wind down and relax.
All nighters and frequent naps can also negatively affect your sleep patterns. Consuming alcohol before bed is not recommended, because while it might make you feel drowsy, it can disrupt your sleep patterns and aggravate snoring and sleep apnea. Exercise also improves sleep quality because it reduces stress and can elevate body temperatures just right for the body’s natural sleep/wake cycle. Studies have also shown that regular, healthy, balanced meals can be beneficial for sleep quality.
2. Procrastination really won’t help you, I promise.
So it’s no secret that school is a lot of work. A lot. It can be so difficult to maximize your productivity when studying, because it’s so easy to procrastinate or feel so overwhelmed that you just give up. How can you help yourself optimize your studying time? As we have already discussed, avoid all-nighters! One all-nighter can negatively affect the brain for up to 4 days! All-nighters are connected to lower grades, poorer memory, and weaker reasoning skills. Study in bursts of 20-30 minutes. Studies have shown that your brain synapses will process more in these shorter windows than trying to absorb a large amount of information at once. Highlighters will not help the brain retain more information; in fact, flashcards are the way to go.
Studies have shown that identifying spaces exclusively for studying, putting away phones/social media, and turning off music are key in effective study habits (although some studies claim classical music has a positive effect on studying habits). Forming associations with information reinforces it in our brains. Research also suggests that exercise strengthens our brains’ processing speed. Their are some fats that are healthy for our brains and improve our processing; some foods with these omega 3 fatty acids or saturated fats are the avocado, nuts, olive oil, and salmon.
3. Being healthy is nothing to joke about.
You guys. You are entering a petri dish of all the germs. All the germs are out to get you. You’re suddenly living with a bunch of young people and nobody really knows how to take care of themselves. You’re sharing a room, bathroom, dining space, classrooms, and there is almost no private space. You’re in close quarters and your parents are not around to nag you about taking your vitamins. And being too sick for more than one class can sometimes be death to your grades.
Most common sicknesses on campus are respiratory infections, influenza, strep throat, the cold, meningitis, and mononucleosis. How can we avoid getting sick? Here are a few tips.
Don’t wash your dishes where you brush your teeth; use the communal kitchen. The bathroom sink is usually host to many germs, and washing your dishes here puts you at risk for diarrhea causing norovirus. Mono spreads when you share utensils, water bottles, or glasses. And I know it might be your best friend, but really, avoid contact with friends who are sick, or you will be too. Make sure to wash your feet in the shower, even if you’re wearing flip-flops, so as to prevent athlete’s foot, plantar warts, and fungal infections. Basically, practice good hygiene. Eat well, sleep well, exercise well, and relax (I know, I know, I sound like a broken record). Stay hydrated!! This is so important! And always wash your hands with soap in warm running water!
4. Make sure you keep your sexual health first and foremost.
I’ll keep this brief, because there are thousands of resources out there for practicing safe sex. First, let’s talk about consent. It is not enough to understand consent to mean No means No. You only have consent when you are sure that YES MEANS YES. You have the right to refuse sex at ANY POINT in the process. Anyone on the gender spectrum from man to woman to non-identifying can be sexually assaulted.
Ask your doctor about forms of birth control, whether that be birth control pills, a contraceptive patch, vaginal rings, etc. Understand that none of these will protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Condoms are the only contraceptive that will prevent sexually transmitted infections. Do not use more than one condom. Because it will break. “Pulling out” is not an effective way of preventing pregnancy. If you are sexually active, get tested frequently. It is best to ensure that your sexual partner has also been tested and is clean. Know where your clinics and women’s health centers are.
Okay friends, so these were the basics. College is fun and it can be so fulfilling, but it’s important to remember to stay safe. Make the wisest choices you possibly can for yourself, and don’t let anyone make you feel ashamed for the decisions you feel are best for you. Here’s to hoping your college careers are successful and wonderful and safe!