A Guide to Rest & Relaxing During Exam Season
Feeling burnt out? Worried about the exam season? Want to stay ahead of the curve? Check out this guide to resting & relaxing written by the Peer Health Educators’ (PHE) Rest & Relaxation team. Have any questions? Reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org and our students can help answer them!
Sleep is non-negotiable
Sleep is a crucial component in our everyday functioning as it allows our mind and body to recharge. The average university student requires between 7-9 hours of quality sleep with consistent bed and wake-times (CSEP, 2021). Some may question the power of sleep; however, it has been proven to improve one’s mental and physical well-being. Sleep helps keep one’s circadian rhythm in check, as it is caused by the “physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle” (SNHU, 2022). Such circadian rhythms also impact our hormones, eating habits, metabolism, digestion, body temperature, and other vital bodily functions. Similarly, one’s Rapid Eye Movement (REM) cycle while sleeping helps encode information in one’s long-term memory (SNHU, 2022). A good night’s sleep also puts one in their best mindset. Staying up all night to finish that essay may leave an individual sleepy and more irritable the following day. Moreover, sleep is essential in maintaining academic performance. In fact, it can even act as a barrier in experiencing burnout. Since sleep helps to optimize one’s performance and productivity throughout the day, it reduces the risk of burnout. Productivity allows one to have more room in the day to wind down and relax. Further, burnout has been linked to insomnia, sleep disturbances, and not enough sleep (Metlaine et al., 2018). Ultimately, sleep is an important aspect in academic performance. Prioritizing a good night’s sleep has a vast number of benefits that allow us to be our best selves and good students!
How can you improve your sleep quality during exam season?
Considering the following tips:
Creating a “bedtime” schedule and trying to go to sleep/wake up at the same time each day
Finding ways to wind down in the evenings (putting electronics away, reading a book, etc.)
Getting comfortable with pillow, bedding, and mattress that you enjoy
Avoiding alcohol and caffeine in the evening
Exposure to natural light and regular exercise during the day
Blocking out excess light (turning off all hall lights, etc.) and sound (using a sound machine or listening to a white noise playlist) to maintain quality of sleep
Physical activity is critical to our overall well-being. Engaging in regular exercise benefits our physical and mental health by improving mood and self-esteem and lowering stress and anxiety levels (Mikkelsen et al., 2017). Additional physical benefits include reducing blood pressure, enhancing cardiovascular fitness and prevention of disease. According to the 24-hour movement guidelines, to achieve health benefits, adults between 18-64 years old should be physically active each day and seek to minimize sedentary time. More specifically, performing a variety of physical activities is encouraged, including at least 150 min of moderate to vigorous aerobic activities per week and muscle strengthening using major muscle groups at least twice per week (CSEP, 2021). Sedentary activities should be limited to less than 8 hours with less than 3 hours per day of recreational screen time (CESP, 2021). Thus, it important to remember to maintain your physical activity routine even when you get busy as it helps to reduce stress, improve your mental health, achieve better sleep, as well as concentrate and learn new information.
How can you remain physically active during exam season?
Go on a walk with your housemates, listen to a podcast, and/or listen to music
Join a group fitness class at the ARC
Go to the gym with a workout buddy
Get up and move in between studying (some jumping jacks, run up and down the stairs, etc.)
Incorporate Healthy Foods in Your Diet
Healthy eating is also essential for your physical and mental health. Not only is healthy eating important to reduce the risk of chronic diseases and nutritional deficiencies, but studies have shown positive effects on the brain associated with a healthy diet. For example, foods containing vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants support the brain and protect it from oxidative stress, which entails a low number of antioxidants (Frederick Health, 2021). In addition, it has been shown that high sugar intake and processed foods are linked to negative effects on the brain (Frederick Health, 2021). Some other perks of eating healthy include bone strength, optimal skin, teeth, and eye health, and a reduced risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes (CDC, 2021). Remember that food is fuel. Eating foods that are high in vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants contributes to concentration, stress reduction, and a reduction in fatigue. Take care of your body by creating healthy eating habits, and your body will take care of you!
How can you prioritize healthy eating during exam season?
Consider meal-prepping – this can help save you time in the long-run & also facilitate making conscious decisions regarding what you are eating!
Hydrate – using a reusable water bottle can serve as a useful reminder to drink water
Plan your grocery list in advance
Try to have balanced meals by following the Canada Food Guide
MAKE TIME FOR YOURSELF
During exam season, in our efforts to do the best we can as students, we often forget about what matters the most – our health and wellbeing. An integral part of the exam preparation process is knowing when and how to take breaks to rest, regroup and rejuvenate! Just as we schedule in different chapters or subject areas we are to review, so should we schedule in designated self-care time to do activities that are inherently relaxing or that we enjoy. For example, this could be reading a book chapter, watching your favorite sitcom, calling a friend, or even going through a night-time routine before bed. While integral to maintaining mental and physical health, setting aside a defined “me-time” can also serve as additional motivation to complete your priorities and study more effectively.
What steps can you take to prioritize personal time during exam season?
Block-out personal time on your daily schedule, just as you would for any assignment
Be comfortable with saying no to tasks which may interfere with your designated “me time”
Be firm with yourself; it is natural to initially feel guilty when setting aside time for yourself, even more so with a busy schedule – questioning this guilt is the first step towards becoming being more comfortable with taking such wellness breaks
Avoid distractions during your designated “me time” – put away your computer, silence your notifications and be present in the moment!
Throughout university, we are constantly stressed with exams, assignments, midterms, extracurriculars, personal circumstances, and more. Thus, it can get overwhelming trying to juggle all of these responsibilities while still making time for us. Rewarding yourself with both minor and major gestures produces dopamine in the brain, which is the “feel-good” hormone (Bagas Sinaro, 2022). This can alleviate stress, improve your mental and physical health, and improve your overall work progress. Self-reward does not always have to be after accomplishing a major milestone. You can reward yourself after completing a specific goal you set out for the day. Having this reward to look forward to can increase your motivation and make your tasks seem more feasible. Self-reward is an act of self-love which is essential for developing our confidence. Thus, here are a few ideas of different types of self-rewards you can choose. Select whichever resonates with you and fits in with your schedule and interests!
What are some examples of rewards?
Free Rewards: spending time with family and friends, drawing/painting, having a long shower/bath, hosting a game night, taking a walk to the pier etc.
Entertainment Rewards: playing video games, going to an art gallery, having a night out with friends, watching movies, going to a carnival, retail therapy (shopping, going to the mall) etc.
Outdoor Rewards: explore Kingston, go for a morning walk, go for a swim/run, go stargazing, playing Frisbee, watch the sunrise/sunset, go for a hike etc.
Ashley Wallis Jun 24, 2020, Oct 28, 2022, E., Oct 25, 2022, E., & Oct 20, 2022 E. (n.d.). How much sleep should a college student get? Southern New Hampshire University. Retrieved October 25, 2022, from https://www.snhu.edu/about-us/newsroom/education/how-much-sleep-do-college-students-need
Bagas Sinaro. (2022, February 7). Self-Reward: Is It Good or Bad? – Project Child. Project Child. https://projectchild.ngo/blog/2022/02/07/self-reward-is-it-good-or-bad/#:~:text=When%20you%20give%20yourself%20a,us%20to%20develop%20our%20confidence.
Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP). (2021). 24-Hour Movement Guidelines. Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology. https://csepguidelines.ca/guidelines/adults-18-64/
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention). (2021, May 16). Benefits of healthy eating. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 1, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/resources-publications/benefits-of-healthy-eating.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, September 14). How much sleep do I need? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html
Frederick Health. (2021, March 15). Brain Power: How Food Affects Your Mind and Mood. Frederick Health. Retrieved November 1, 2022, from https://www.frederickhealth.org/news/2021/march/brain-power-how-food-affects-your-mind-and-mood/
Mental health and sleep. Sleep Foundation. (2022, April 15). Retrieved October 25, 2022, from https://www.sleepfoundation.org/mental-health
Metlaine, A., Sauvet, F., Gomez-Merino, D., Boucher, T., Elbaz, M., Delafosse, J. Y., Leger, D., & Chennaoui, M. (2018, January 31). Sleep and biological parameters in professional burnout: A psychophysiological characterization. PloS one. Retrieved October 24, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5791983/
Mikkelsen, K., Stonjanovska, L., Polenakovic, M., Bosevski, M., & Apostolopoulos, V. (2017). Exercise and mental health. Maturitas, 106(1), 48-56. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.maturitas.2017.09.003
von Bernhardi, R., Eugenin-von Bernhardi, L., & Eugenin, J. (2017). What is neural plasticity? Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 1-15. 10.1007/978-3-319-62817-2_1
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