Health / Food & Drink

6 Quick Energy Boosts When Sleep Isn’t Practical

The words ‘student’ and ‘sleep’ don’t mix well.

Too much when you shouldn’t be getting sleep and too little when you should. A recipe for disaster that’s easy to fall into.

Regular bedtime is difficult to commit to with so much going on. Even when you sleep like a baby every single night, that doesn’t always stop the tiredness setting in halfway through the day.

Fear not. There are a number of things you can do to spruce up your mental and physical energy before you pack in a full night of buh-byes.

Sleeping (photo by RelaxingMusic) CC BY-SA 2.0

Sleeping (photo by RelaxingMusic) CC BY-SA 2.0

Here are 6 ways to get yourself a power up:

1. Powernap

I love powernaps. It’s like sleep, only quicker. Somewhere between 12 and 30 minutes having a short kip, leaving you refreshed and rejuvenated. Win!

The most effective powernaps take a bit of practice. For some, it’s best to get back up after no more than 12 minutes. For others, you may need half an hour. If one thing doesn’t work, keep testing times until you find what works for you. The mistake is only trying one length of time and giving up when it doesn’t work. My optimum powernap is 18 minutes. What’s yours?

2. Meditate

Relaxation has never been so energising…

Meditation is often mistaken for requiring a total lack of thoughts. In reality, your brain doesn’t switch off. Any thoughts you have should be allowed to move on.

With that in mind, you’re not getting meditation wrong. Just sit in a calm and comfortable place, feel your breathing gently in and out, and gently focus on different areas of your body from head to toe, relaxing each area as you breathe. Don’t worry about what happens as you sit there. When you notice your mind wander, give yourself permission to let go of those thoughts. Accept their existence and do not dwell on them. Stay focused on the peace and quiet for however long you wish. From a few moments to a few hours to a few days. You don’t need to keep pushing for longer rituals. One of my most refreshing meditations this month came in at two minutes.

3. Walk / Jog

Exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous and it doesn’t always require a gym. Walking for a mile or two is enough to clear your mind of a lot of stress and it can also help energise you for the rest of the day. My favourite time to walk is in the morning, but any time is good.

4. Change of Scene

Have you ever had that feeling when you’re tired in one place, but you suddenly feel wide awake when you go somewhere else? Find a new seat, a different location, or a different environment and watch your mood lift with no further effort required. I’m still surprised at how effective this can be.

5. Take a deliberate break

No matter how much you tell yourself to keep sitting there until you complete that task, it’s not going to finish any quicker. Leave it alone and do something else. If you have enough time, stop working on it all day. If you’ve got a deadline coming right up, take a ten-minute time-out. If you don’t want to try a powernap, meditation or a walk, you could just make a drink as an excuse to get up and stop what you’re doing.

A brief pause is a good way to break up the day and stop you from feeling bogged down. Tiredness doesn’t only happen because you need sleep. Your focus may simply be drained and it’s another way you tell yourself to take off for a while. You’ll be surprised at how much better you feel after a bit of time away from a task.

6. A ritual for energy (and calm)

I love loose leaf tea. Watching the leaves brew and relaxing to a cup of green tea at once relaxes and energises my mood. You should try the same. And if green tea isn’t your thing, find your own ritual that gives you a boost in a way that you can get used to without having to break into a sweat.

There are many ways to pep yourself up naturally. You don’t have to rely on energy drinks and other hardcore stimulants.

How do you restore your energy? Go on, share some of your own tips!

When Limits Give You More

Get breakfast right and the rest of the day will go right with it.

Forget choice. Over the last five years, I’ve eaten porridge in the morning. It lets me focus on other things, rather than having to work out what to eat once I’ve woken up.

As for lunch, I’ve started eating soup each time (unless I’m out and about). The only meal I actively consider is dinner.

I want to set aside all the stuff that doesn’t truly need weighing up in my mind. You’ve seen the supermarket aisles. Hundreds of breakfast choices all competing for your attention. And that’s not even accounting for cooked breakfasts and breakfast bars and breakfast milkshakes! You’re given too much choice. You have to invest in making those decisions each time. It’s tiring and tiresome.

gnome (photo by Rob Swatski)

Aarrrgghh! The range of choice was just too much for the poor gnome (Rob Swatski CC BY-NC 2.0)

Wasting time and mental effort on breakfast doesn’t hold you in stead for such a good day. Save it for the more important stuff.

When I see David Cain and Robert Pozen talking about limiting choices, it comes as no surprise. The more important the situation, the more effort you should exert. For a university student, breakfast isn’t one of those things.

Don’t get me wrong, what you eat *is* important. When you limit your choice of breakfast and lunch, that doesn’t mean you pick any old food to commit to. Focus on a food you will enjoy regularly and that suits your dietary requirements for optimum health benefits. Time spent working on this is time you don’t need to spend afterwards, and it’ll save you time each meal thereafter too.

Practice this beyond food. Everything you do works on different levels of importance. The problem is that it’s hard to explicitly see those levels working. Everything needs your time and input, so your choices seem to blend in. Effort on small decisions may seem minimal, but it adds up and distracts you from more important actions.

When faced with a decision that you have to make regularly, stop for a moment and ask yourself if you can improve your circumstances. Food, clothes, belongings, venues, colour schemes, music…If you spend too much time figuring out what you’d like each and every day, spend some time figuring out how to stop that cycle.

“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits. I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” – Barack Obama

Sleeping on a Busy Student Lifestyle

Returning, once more, to sleep. This might seem familiar to you:

“A lot of their tips for a better night’s sleep probably sound fairly obvious; keep to a regular schedule, take time to relax before going to sleep, avoid food and caffeine after a certain time of day. How easily these things can be slotted into an average student’s timetable is another question.” [Cherwell]

This has long been a fascination of mine. How do you balance a busy schedule with late nights and different hours, with a quality sleep each night? For so many students, sensible advice on sleep doesn’t help because you’re too busy doing less sensible stuff.

That’s not to say you aren’t able to act sensibly, but how many of you will stick to the same bedtime every single day of the year? I certainly don’t.

The BBC reports on a study at Boston College, which found high levels of sleep deprivation in school students. I wouldn’t be surprised if lack of sleep continues on at university too. And beyond!

(photo by BrittneyBush)

Sleep doesn’t have to be a nightmare (photo by BrittneyBush)

How do you keep up the lifestyle you want and get a better dose of sleep? Try these five things:

  1. Give it your best shot – When you know you’re tired and should be in bed, make a move toward getting the zeds. The number of times I hear stuff like, “I’m so tired, but I need to stay a bit longer” and “I’ve got important work in the morning, but I can’t miss this” is amazing. Nobody wants to miss out, but how often is it worth it in the long run? Make a choice and pay the price based on what you choose. Don’t try to fit everything in.
  2. Focus on the worst habit – All that advice may be hard to swallow, but just think how much you could benefit from tackling just one major sleep issue. Christie Mims says, “make one change that will make you feel better and will have a positive impact on your day”. If, for example, you go heavy on the energy drinks at the end of a night out, find a way to lay off them. That one sacrifice may be enough to improve your sleep in a big way.
  3. Deal with the easiest issues – Instead of dealing with the worst habit straight away, try the other way around. Get the small stuff out of the way. Anything that makes for a quick win can still help the cause for better sleep. Take baby steps and you may find that it only takes a few before you’ve improved your circumstances a lot.
  4. Be brutal when it counts – Perfect sleep over the whole year may seem to much to ask. Instead, try for a few better nights when you’ve got essays to write and exams to revise for. Check in advance when the big study events are scheduled and commit to hardcore sleep tactics during that time. No question.
    You may be tempted to stay out late, but don’t. You’d love that last pint, but don’t. You’d rather stay up late to get more revision done, but don’t. Remind yourself that this isn’t going to last forever and that you have good reason for what you’re doing.
  5. Listen to your body – Rather than get more hours of sleep, change the quality of the hours you’re already getting.

How do you bridge the gap between student life and awesome sleep? Let us know in the comments.

Desperately Seeking a Narrative

Hello 2013, what stories do you have in store for us? And by ‘stories’, I mean that quite broadly. We live in stories all the time.

Toward the end of 2012, students from several universities took time out to pour drinks over themselves.

As you do.

Newcastle started it with milking. The process? Buy the milk, open the milk, pour the milk over your head.

That’s all well and good. However, Durham students argued, what would happen if you poured port over your head instead? Same situation, different drink.

The results weren’t much different, as it turns out, although the clothing stains were more difficult to get out in the wash.

First milking, then porting. Would it end with single malting, I wondered.

A bunch of freshers at St. Andrews quickly answered. And, no, it wasn’t fine whisky at all. It was Moet.

The results of a champagning experiment turned out to be very different to those from milking and porting. Why? Mainly because of the narratives chosen.

Stories are fantastic. Stories are useful for making a point. That’s why stories are used again and again. Narrative flow helps us all to understand what’s going on with minimum necessary effort.

Unfortunately, that narrative flow also helps to create stories that aren’t necessarily there in the first place.

Champagning at St. Andrews took on a much bigger story than Newcastle and Durham’s pouring attempts. From harmless joke to social commentary, from joining in to proving a point, from healthy rivalry to bitter competition, the story behind the video quickly grew much bigger than the video itself.

In fact, the video was taken down from YouTube and an apology was issued, yet the debate rumbled on. The milking and porting videos remain online.

Champagne apparently brings ideas of expense, snobbery, and special occasion. The concern, it seems, was that in associating St. Andrews with champagne and wastefulness would bring ideas of privilege, money, and further snobbery.

In this, baggage and associations enhanced the story further. This take on the narrative would give a negative spin on the university.

Both the Students’ Association and the university expressed unhappiness over the video. President, Freddie Fforde, said, “This video has undermined our image and undoes a lot of good we have done”. A representative from St. Andrews told student newspaper, The Stand, “In a time of austerity, this was at best insensitive, and at worst, lacking respect for the great many students, staff and townspeople in St Andrews who have for a long time been committed to tackling out of date stereotypes and raising more funds for bursaries and scholarships.”

Newcastle and Durham both had news coverage surrounding the pouring stunts. Yet St. Andrews gained more coverage after the subsequent response. And more opinion. It provided a new angle. And the more angles available, the easier it is to keep a story running.

The story is in the mind. It’s like asking whether or not you find the video funny. The choice is yours. The same goes for assessing the deeper meaning of its content.

We’ll never know exactly what motivated the champagning video and how it became what it did. Even the makers will look back differently to how things were in the beginning. It’s unavoidable; the true narrative is lost, because we aren’t documenting the story as it happens. That comes later and cannot be exact, even when we want it to be. And everyone involved will have had their own ideas.

What if St. Andrews students made exactly the same video with water instead of bubbly? Or whisky, as I’d suggested? Or a cocktail? Or an energy drink? Or something that wasn’t even a drink?

What if the champagne pouring video had been made by students from Oxford? Or Nottingham? Or Bath or Birkbeck or Birmingham? Or if the video hadn’t even been made by students at all?

What if the video was professionally produced for a TV audience instead? Or if the St. Andrews video had some sort of disclaimer attached to it? Or if students from different universities participated in the same prank together?

What if the St. Andrews students in the video had been from the most deprived backgrounds? Or they were people pretending to be St. Andrews students but were actually from another university?

There are no answers to any of these questions. The narratives would have changed, but there’s no way of telling how.

Taking down the champagning video and apologising for causing offense has added to the story. Subsequent responses also gave new breath.

My response to Milking was: ‘Meh,’ but I did mention it on Twitter.

My response to Porting was: ‘Oh dear. Let’s brace ourselves for loads of variations on this before it goes away.’ And I mentioned it again.

My response to Champagning was: ‘Right, the latest instalment. I can’t be bothered to point this out.’

This is my narrative to you, anyway. Those responses are not concrete and definitive facsimiles of my thoughts with no margin for error.

No matter what my responses were, here I am talking about everything in much greater detail now. And I wonder what stories will shape 2013.

I guess we won’t get to see any whisky-based antics, but do let me know if it happens. Not so much for the video, but so I can prepare for the narratives that arise from it.