This past week has been absolutely nerve-racking beyond words. With the election in limbo and finals coming up, a lot of students really feel inundated with anxiety. During this period of time, most of us have the mindset that we need to get everything completed within eight hours when in reality, we need to do the opposite. We need to begin to take breaks and manage our time in a more prudent manner, because truthfully, it’s OK and healthy to take mental health breaks.
At this point in the semester, with no blocked out break in the school calendar, everyone feels burnt out. Effort is at a high level, but there’s no reward to accompany the work we’ve all done so far. Because of this level of effort, most of us are probably staying up insanely late to complete homework, sleeping for six hours and then getting up and doing it all over again — I’m definitely guilty of this.
We use sleep to get our rest. During sleep, our brain fills up with 60% more fluid and all of the dead dendrites and unused synapses shed, similar to how we shed skin cells daily. We shed away the motions of the day, preparing for tomorrow.
It’s important to get sleep so this process can occur and we can be well rested. On average, college students get about six hours of sleep per night, which is less than the recommended seven to nine hours.
While not entirely understood yet, there is a potential link between sleep and memory formation. An irregular sleep schedule can negatively impact learning, memory and performance. Dual-process theory suggests that certain types of memory are triggered by certain states of sleep, such as REM or NREM sleep. A NIH study found that deprivation of REM sleep wiped away sleep-induced improvement on a visual perceptual learning task. These tasks train your brain to make sense of what your eyes see and are very important for everyday tasks, such as writing, dressing and eating.
One phrase that is common in every college student's vocabulary is “pulling an all-nighter.” While the amount of work you may get done could be considered “efficient,” the potential margin for error because of sleep deprivation is at a higher level. In another study, students were told to identify the presence of the letters “T” or “L” and the orientation of three diagonal bars on a screen. Students who were sleep deprived for 30 hours or more showed no improvement, even after two days of post-recovery sleep. On the other hand, well-rested students’ performances improved within the next four days.
In order to have a good sleep schedule and be efficient during the day, we have to learn how to manage our time. It’s entirely possible to go to class, complete your necessary work and get eight hours of sleep while also finding downtime to relax and destress. More often than not, we find ourselves saying, “Oh I don’t have the time to do that,” when in reality, you do. We need to shatter the expectation that time is something that shapes us and builds our routines, when in reality, we are the builders of our lives.
A study asked 1,001 considerably busy women to log what they did within that week. Some of them had kids to take care of and others had businesses to run, but there was one woman in particular who stood out in the study. After going out for a night, she came home to discover that her water heater was broken.
With dealing with the aftermath all throughout that week by finding plumbers to fix the situation and a cleaning crew to repair the damaged carpet, she spent about seven hours of her week dealing with that very stressful situation. The idea that we are the builders of our lives and time saves itself is proven in this situation. Despite how busy this woman was, she still found the time out of her week to deal with the aftermath of her broken water heater.
Now, as students, we may not deal with a broken water heater, but we may find ourselves in a situation where we have several tasks to do within a certain time period, like the woman in the study. As college students, we often find ourselves scrolling through TikTok or playing Among Us. It’s great to have downtime, but not excessive downtime.
Downtime is something that should be purposeful but also relaxing. It shouldn’t be something that is distracting to the point of where you lose track of time. The work you do should be purposeful. Eliminate all distractions when you’re in a class, studying and doing homework. It’s so easy to check your Snapchat when you’re studying, but by doing that, you’re losing valuable study time.
A study that surveyed 478 students and 36 instructors from the University of Waterloo informs that over half of students believe that technology used for “off-task” use is distracting. The bottom line is that checking your phone constantly while studying is inefficient.
I can honestly say that while writing this article, I have checked my phone after every one or two sentences I’ve completed. If I had set my phone aside and not even worried about checking it, then this article would have been completed almost hours before it was sent in. If my phone was nowhere near me, then within two hours, I would have completed this story, my work for other classes and extra chores I have set out to do for the day, while also having time to take a short break to be on my phone.
We have the ability to prioritize our time prudently to complete work and take breaks. I like to utilize my breaks by taking 20 minute naps or talking to a friend to take my mind off of things. It’s important that at this time, you prioritize yourself and the state of your mental health instead of white-knuckling through your work. Pause, take a break and push on.
Adam Flowers is a freshman music education major. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.