Sunday, April 20, 2014

Diet, Exercise, and Sleep

Some law students have ill-conceived notions about their priorities for studying and how those priorities interface with basic life needs.  They decide that the way to get better grades is to either skimp on/skip or go overboard on meals, exercise, and sleep.  Unfortunately, any of these choices is a sure way to jeopardize their grades.

I had a law school friend who survived mainly on Dr. Pepper and Snickers.  He lost lots of weight since that diet was his staple one.  He also spent little food prep time (the vending machines just wanted a few minutes for their coins to be dropped in).  However, he also had little sustained energy because of sugar high and crash cycles; he was sick every time a bug circulated; he was lethargic most of the time. 

Several law students I know have decided over the last few years to imbibe energy drinks at high levels to stay awake and have ended up in the emergency room with heart palpitations or panic attacks.  They lost more time (not to mention the stress and anxiety they had) than they gained. 

My first semester in law school I foolishly stayed up until the wee hours of the morning studying and then overslept an exam.  My law school allowed me to take the exam and have the full time, but my grade was automatically dropped two levels as the penalty. 

I know a bar studier who spent hours each day exercising only to fail the bar - but his abs were in great shape.  One law student spent so much time each day training for marathons that he flunked out of law school his third year.  I know lots of law students who spend 2-3 hours in the gym per day because "exercise is important to me."

Both the skimpers/skippers and the overdoers have the wrong idea.  Nutritious meals, 7-8 hours of sleep, and 150 minutes of exercise per week are all essential to a balanced and healthy life - and to better grades.  Your brain and body need fuel: meals and sleep.  They also need stress release and proper sleep inducement: exercise does both.

Meals with a healthy balance of the food groups are essential to your body and brain.  Eat lean meat (or other protein foods) and lots of fruit and vegetables.  Add whole grains and dairy (or substitutes if you are gluten or lactose intolerant).  Drink lots of water to stay hydrated.  Have regular meal times so that you do not starve your body and then overeat.   Avoid excessive amounts of sugar and caffeine.

Sleep allows your brain and body to work at optimal levels.  Your brain absorbs more information quickly and retains it better.  You get more done in less time because you are focused.  You are alert in the exams rather than foggy.

The medical research shows you need 7 - 8 hours every night to avoid becoming chronically sleep depraved.  A regular bedtime and wake up time mean even more benefits for you.  And do not vary your sleep schedule more than 2 hours on the weekend; you will lose the benefits of your weekly routine if you do so.

Get some exercise.  You will feel more energized.  Your stress level will be lower.  You will sleep better.  Thirty minutes five times a week works!  It can be a walk - you don't have to be a super athlete to get the benefits.

Here are some tips to work these healthy habits into your life even during this crunch time of the semester:

  • Adjust your sleep schedule in increments if it is totally off schedule.  For example, you decide that 11 p.m. bedtime and 7 a.m. wake up are your goals.  Adjust your bedtime over several nights by 15 minutes to get closer to your goal.  Then spend several nights getting to bed 15 minutes earlier than that.  Continue the adjustments until you get to 11 p.m.  Stay on your bedtime goal for 2-3 weeks consistently - your eyes will pop open 5 minutes before the alarm goes off once your body has its new routine.
  • Make time for healthy meals in your schedule.  You will relax more and help your digestion if you sit down for your meal and eat slowly - no standing at the kitchen counter and gulping it down please.  To shorten your food preparation each day, make large quantities of food on the weekend that can be portioned out over the week.  Buy healthy prepared foods at the grocery store to use all week rather than depend on fast food or the vending machines.
  • Combine an exercise and meal break for perhaps 2 hours at dinner time.  First get your exercise and then take time for your meal.  A longer break at this time of day generally helps to re-energize students for evening study.
  • Be on the alert for when you are using sleep, meals, or exercise as avoidance behavior rather than healthy behavior.  If you get a regular sleep schedule, naps should become  unnecessary.  Watch out for sleeping until noon on the weekends.  Remind yourself that gym time 7 days a week for 2 hours is not supported by the research.  Encourage yourself to complete meal planning for the week ahead of time to avoid having to cook for an hour every night. 

Use your sleep, meals, and exercise to promote your study.  You can still get lots of studying in while taking care of yourself.  (Amy Jarmon)

 

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