Study, Sleep, Guilt, Repeat

It’s 8 P.M. and you’ve been in the library since 9 A.M. Your eyes can hardly stay open after hours of reading and staring at screens. You consider leaving to go home and relax. Maybe you’ll take a shower for the first time in three days or actually cook a meal instead of eating a dry, barley toasted Tim Horton's bagel for the fifth day in a row. Even better, maybe you’ll sleep for more than five hours!

But then an uneasy feeling begins to stir in your stomach. Are you hungry? Did you drink too much coffee? Is it butterflies? No, it’s guilt. The feeling taking over your body, demanding you stay in your cubicle for another five hours, is guilt.

Exams are one of the most stressful times for university students everywhere. The pressure we feel to do well on our finals is overwhelming. Trying to balance time between studying for your first exam and studying for your hardest exam requires extreme time management skills that, quite frankly, none of us have mastered. On top of that, we’re over-worked, over-tired, and barely making it to the next day. The fact that we feel too guilty to stop studying and take care of ourselves is a very big problem.

University culture encourages students to spend every waking hour devoted to learning course material, especially during exams. Campus initiatives such as 24/7 library hours, midnight meals, and coffee stations incite the feeling that we should keep studying even while we’re falling asleep on a desk. On top of that, if our friend who has the same exam decides to keep studying, then we somehow feel like we’re falling behind. Some students appreciate these resources; however, the fact remains that, because of them, we forget to take care of our physical and mental health.

The thing that most students forget, or maybe simply don’t realize, is that the negative impacts of over-working will be much greater than the positive impacts of studying a few extra hours.

A study done by Western’s own team of scientists found that after sleep deprivation, “there is much less activity in the frontal and parietal lobes [of the brain] – areas we know are crucial for decision making, problem solving and memory.”  

So, if lack of sleep negatively impacts our ability to make decisions as well as memorize, then what is the point of staying up all night? If our brains are tired and not retaining information, it’s actually hurting our studying.

We shouldn’t have to feel guilty for stepping away from studying. Taking a break, getting a good night’s sleep, and eating a solid meal will help the study process more than anything. If you’ve studied for a full day straight, that’s a sufficient amount of time. After that point, your brain is tired, you’re low on energy, and your mood is probably at an all-time low.

I can’t speak for everyone. Some people prefer to study at night and others like the excitement of pulling all-nighters. Some people genuinely don’t need a lot of sleep to function well, and that’s great for them. Sometimes you’ve left everything to the last minute and you have no option but to stay up all night to get something done. But no matter who you are, how good you are at studying, and how much experience you have with exams, negative impacts to your health will have negative impacts on your study process.

If you don’t care about your health and all you’re concerned about is your exams, fine. But if you want to do well, you have to take care of yourself first.

Now, close this article, turn your phone off, ignore the guilty feeling, and take a nap. You’ll feel so much better for it. 

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