Sometimes, staying awake in your afternoon classes seems almost impossible, especially if your brilliant neighbors decided to have an all-night Guitar Hero tournament (dorm rooms have notoriously thin walls). It’s 2:30 p.m., your morning coffee has just worn off, and you find yourself slipping in and out of consciousness during your American History lecture. What do you do? Coffee and energy drinks might seem like a quick fix, but they only prolong the inevitable crash, and who has time to slow down? Ladies, do not fret! Her Campus is here for you with five sure-fire ways to help you stay alert.
Skip the Pop-Tarts and opt for a healthier breakfast to prevent crashing.
Grabbing a quick breakfast may seem harmless, especially when you’re in a time crunch, but often times the quickest choices are not the best for your health or mental alertness. Foods that are high in carbohydrates and sugar, like energy drinks, Pop-Tarts, and your favorite sweet cereal, lead to fluctuating blood sugar levels. “When your sugar level drops, you get headaches and feel tired, so a lot of people eat more sugar,” says Dr. Lorianne Stiuso, Pediatrician. “In order to maintain your insulin and blood sugar levels, so that you won’t feel heavy fatigue, it is important to eat more protein than carbohydrates.” A balanced breakfast contains protein, calcium, and complex carbohydrates, so, rather than munching on that chocolate chip muffin you snagged from the Dining Hall, try a berry smoothie made with low-fat yogurt. The protein and calcium from the yogurt, combined with antioxidant rich berries, are sure to keep a skip in your step.
Classes can be incredibly tiring, and sometimes the thought of going to the gym is cringe-worthy, but exercise is essential in the fight against fatigue. Inactivity only leads to more inactivity, so when your body is sedentary, energy production slows down causing you to feel tired and sluggish. “Regular exercise helps you feel not as tired,” says Stiuso. “A regular exercise regimen of 30 minutes of aerobic type exercise a day will help with fatigue and stress.” If you are completely unwilling hit up the treadmill or elliptical (I am guilty of this too!), yoga is a great alternative. There are plenty of positions that target fatigue without requiring you to break land-speed records. Look up the schedule of classes at your school’s gym and enlist a friend to be your workout buddy. If you have a partner, it’s easier to stay motivated, especially if the gym is the last place you want to be. One yoga-inspired stretch that will help you target tiredness is a play on the classic Seated Forward Bend. This simplified move requires you to sit on a flat surface with your legs straight in front of you. Slowly stretch your back forward while inhaling. As you exhale reach towards your toes, and stretch until your forearm is level with the ground and your head is as close to touching your knees as it can be. If you are already in class and find yourself dozing off, step outside to stretch, or take a quick walk to the bathroom. It will get your blood flowing and help recharge your waning energy.
Sitting in the back is great for texting and gossip, but not for staying awake—move on up!
When I am tired and in class, the last thing I want to do is take a seat that’s front and center. In fact, I’m pretty sure the teacher in my 2:30 p.m. lecture doesn’t even know my name because I hide in the last row. This is terrible behavior and I do not condone it. Even if sitting in the back is very conducive to notebook doodling and hair-braiding, if you are feeling faintly fatigued, sitting outside of the teacher’s range of fire almost guarantees nodding off. As humans, a fear of embarrassment is perfect motivation for a plethora of activities. In this case, it’s great motivation to stay awake. When you sit up front, you are forced to pay attention for fear of being called on in that one moment that your eyes close. I once had a teacher who, the minute you put your head down, would walk up to you and ask why you had fallen asleep. I got major secondhand embarrassment for everyone who nodded off, and it’s safe to say that I practically held my eyes open with my fingers to stay awake. Sitting up close also enables you to become engaged in the lecture. Participating in class discussions helps your brain stay alert, which keeps you awake. It only takes a second to choose your seat, so if you force yourself to plop down front and center at the start of class, the good and the bad news is that you’re stuck there!
Cat Naps Are a Girls Best Friend
I am the biggest fan of naps that there ever was. I nap for all occasions—when I am bored, tired, know I’m going to be up late, or want to put off doing an assignment. I’ve even been told that in a past life, I was probably a cat; however, napping can sometimes do more harm than good. According to WebMD, napping more than 30 minutes pushes you into a deeper stage of sleep, which can seriously affect your ability to sleep at night and feel rested during the day. Taking a quick after-class snooze for 10-20 minutes will leave you feeling refreshed for the rest of the day, even though you might feel groggy when you first wake up. If you are anything like me, you probably have a tendency to overdo it during nap time, so set an alarm to help you wake up. When it goes off, fight the voice inside your cloudy mind telling you to go back to sleep, and get out of bed.
Do you know that unshakable feeling of exhaustion you get after a night of hard partying? Believe it or not, that feeling isn’t exclusively caused by your cocktail of choice. One of the main components of a hangover is dehydration, and you don’t need to be drinking alcohol to feel the effects. Like any busy college student, I sometimes skip meals, sacrifice my sleep, and realize mid-day when I’m about to make the campus mailroom into a temporary bed and breakfast, that I haven’t had anything to drink except for coffee. Dehydration has reared its ugly head again! According to WebMD, symptoms of dehydration include weakness, dizziness, headaches, and sluggishness (everything you need to help you doze off in class). To feel fully refreshed, it’s recommended that women drink 91 oz. (11 cups) of water per day. If you’re like me, and water doesn’t really do it for you, try some iced green tea with mint or orange juice. The aroma of mint and citrus helps wake up the senses.
Fighting your mid-day crash is simple with these five steps. Wake up after getting seven hours of sleep (when possible), hit the gym the hour before class (or later in the afternoon), grab an energy-packed breakfast, power through your morning classes, pick up a water bottle with lunch, sit up front in your afternoon class, and take a 15 minute cat nap before buckling down to do homework. If all else fails and you are still tired (or just really want it), go ahead and have a cup of coffee, but make sure you do it in the early afternoon so it doesn’t keep you up at night. If you follow these steps, you’ll have no reason to snooze through your Chemistry Lab again, and you can focus your attention from peeling your eyelids open to taking the initiative in class. Remember, the easiest way to prevent crashing mid-day is to get 7-8 uninterrupted hours of sleep at night and avoid too much caffeine. I offer this advice to sleep-deprived collegiettes everywhere: your neighbors down the hall will always be obnoxiously loud, and your roommate will always seem to be keeping you up at inconvenient times. Invest in some earplugs and get the sleep that you need to do your best.
Dr. Lorianne Stiuso, Pediatrician