Wednesday, February 1, 2012

got sleep?

My sophomore year of college I gained 15 pounds. My normally blemish-free face broke out in a complex pattern of whiteheads. My hair lost its color and shine, and my eyes formed permanent bags. I skipped three months of menstrual cycles. I was always tired, always slow, always stressed. 

One year later, I am 10 pounds lighter. My face only gets the occasional zit. My hair is the thickest, healthiest and shiniest it has ever been, and I am rid of those under-eye bags for good. Without fail, Mother Nature delivers me a present once a month. And I am more alert, focused and relaxed than I have ever been.

What’s the difference? Not my workload. This year I am taking more credit hours and have more extracurricular activities than ever before. Not my diet. I eat the same, healthy with an occasional chocolate treat. Not my exercise. I was and still am an exercise addict, no less than five days a week.

The difference is my sleep schedule. Last year I was lucky to get five hours a night. This year I never get less than seven. If I have learned anything about health and fitness during my three years of college, it is how incredibly important a good night’s sleep can be.

Like any ambitious college student, I thought I had to give up one of the great trifecta—school, social life, and sleep. As an achiever, school was out of the question. There was no way I was going to bed without reading every chapter, answering every question, or studying for every quiz. As a social butterfly, giving up friend time never even crossed my mind. If anything, my friends kept me sane during all those long hours on the newspaper. 

Instead I did what any normal college student would do. I gave up sleep. And though it seemed the most beneficial course of action at the time, it ended up hurting me in the long run.

According to, the benefits of sleep outnumber and outlast any that may be associated with all-nighters. Several studies have linked an adequate amount of sleep to better grades, improved creativity and a healthier weight. Sleep helps to sharpen your memory and attention span. It also can lower your risk of cancer and lengthen your lifespan.

But if you are anything like me, the problem isn’t knowing you need more sleep, it is knowing how to get it. For most college students, this means better time management. I know for me it did. Here’s how I did it:

Declare a bedtime. I know we threw the concept out the window the moment we graduated high school, but bedtimes are essential. Having a regular sleep schedule—even on the weekends—will put your body in rhythm and result in deeper, more refreshing sleep.

Master multitasking. Exercise, homework, and socializing are all important aspects of my life. Why can’t I do more than one at the same time? I always take some class reading with me to the cardio room so I can prepare for Philosophy and burn calories at the same time.

Plan ahead. I don’t want to sound like your mother, but she really knows what she’s talking about. If you know you have a huge project or paper due, break it up into manageable chunks so you aren’t staying up the whole night before trying to finish it. Not only does this guarantee more sleep, but it also guarantees less stress.

Say no. I am not trying to be a fuddy-dud, but sometimes you just have to turn down that invitation to a midnight Taco Bell run. Like my daddy always says, “Nothing good happens after midnight.” Trust me, you won’t be missing out on anything besides calories. Because, really, when have the best moments of your life ever happened in the a.m.?

Learn from my example. Break the college stereotype. Follow these tips. And get more sleep. It’s worth it.

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