Updated: Apr 20
Tests of any sort are going to induce stress in a vast majority of the population. The studying, the time devotion, and the event of the test itself are all sources of stress. These things are inevitable. However there are things that you can do outside that scope that can help reduce the amount of stress on your body to help you hopefully perform better. These physical stressors can either lead to a stress overload and possible breakdown or help you get through a high-stress period of your life.
Sleep is essential to the gathering and retaining of information as well as a key factor in immune system function. It is recommended that most people get 6-8 hours of sleep per night for proper rest and regeneration. Not only is the duration of sleep important, quality of sleep is just as important. A mode of sleep called “rapid eye movement” or
REM sleep is key to some of the most important functions of the human body. REM sleep happens for 30-90 minutes at a time usually in the early hours of the morning. What happens if we don't get enough sleep? In a sleep deprivation study two groups were kept in lab conditions. One group with a full night of sleep and a group of people are kept awake for a whole night without the help of caffeine or naps. The next day they were placed in an MRI machine and taught a list of new facts. Later they were tested to see how effective that learning had been. The results were a 40% deficit for the group who were kept awake (1).
The results were a 40% deficit for the group who were kept awake
That is the difference between acing an exam and failing it. In another experiment, a group of people had their immune function tested and then had their sleep restricted to 4 hours of sleep for a single night. The following day their immune system function was tested again. There was an average of 70% reduction in immune system function, putting them at higher risk of illness and infectious disease (2).
There was an average of 70% reduction in immune system function
How do we sleep more efficiently?
Evaluate sleeping conditions, is your room the right temperature, 60-67 degrees fahrenheit is recommended. Are your pillows and mattress comfortable and supportive? Are there noises or distractions where you sleep?
Stick to a sleep schedule, establish and maintain a bedtime and wake up time every day of the week, even weekends. This will help regulate your body’s internal clock to help you get to sleep faster and stay asleep longer.
Use light to manage your circadian rhythm, expose yourself to bright sunlight during the morning and daytime if possible and limit light during pre-bedtime and night time.
Remove all screens from your bedroom, screens and work materials should remain out of the bedroom or sleeping area, for a clear calm mindset to sleep and recover. Charge your phone across the room and get an analog alarm clock.
If you can’t go to sleep, go somewhere else and do something relaxing until you get tired. If you remain in bed while you are wide awake, or do other non-sleeping activities on your bed you will disassociate your bed from sleep. Use your bed only for sleep to strengthen the association between bed and sleep.
Nutrition is another key factor in making sure your body is firing on all cylinders. Food is fuel for your body, and the quality and timing of that fuel source can help you be more productive and feel stress free. Thinking critically and learning new things consumes a lot of calories. The quality of your food can impact your cognitive function,
we all know someone who gets “hangry” when they don't eat. This is a breakdown of critical thinking skills due to lack of calories. This can similarly affect being able to understand and learn new facts and materials. Making sure you get the right amount of calories is key to making sure you are taking care of your body and mind.
The rate at which we process and assimilate food has a huge role to play in how we process different types of fuel sources. You can find your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) by using these formulas from the National Academy of Sports Medicine.
Step 1. Weight (lbs) X 10 = BMR Step 2. BMR x activity factor (see table below) = Total Daily Expenditure (TDE)
Example: Heavily Active 180 pound human
180 (lbs) x 10 = 1800 BMR
1800 (BMR) x 2.1 (activity factor) = 3780 calories expended per day (TDE)
However, this is not an exact science and wearing a fitness tracking device is much more accurate and reliable day to day.
Avoid excessive amounts of soda, juice, tea and coffee, as these all dehydrate the body and can have high levels of sugar that is bad for insulin sensitivity. Avoid junk food and fast food, the occasional hamburger or pizza won't kill you, but don’t make it a habit. Try to eat fresh fruits and vegetables more than 2 times per day. Eat a good portion of protein before you stress yourself mentally or physically for the day to prevent exhaustion. Protein is very satiating and calorie dense. Another good idea is to meal prep when you can so you have a few meals ready to heat up so you never skip a meal. This can also be ready to go snacks like fresh fruit, nuts and cheese. Keeping a single serving of protein powder in your backpack is also an easy idea for a quick snack.
Meditation is one of the best methods to help clear and calm the mind. For the
simplest method, follow these steps:
Find somewhere comfortable sitting or laying down and close your eyes.
Start to breathe slowly and evenly. Find a spot or action to focus on, like your stomach or chest, and just feel the raw data of your breath.
As soon as your mind starts to think about something else, refocus on your raw data. That's it. Everytime you refocus on your breathing is like a workout for your attention span.
You can do this in most places. However, a quiet place is easier. This is a great way to clear your mind and prepare yourself for studying, class, or right before a test to help calm the nerves.
These tips will help you prepare for finals and other tests, but they can also be used in your regular routine to help you become healthier and happier.
By Austin Chaffin, Adjunct Professor at Mercer University
Yoo S-S, Hu, P, Gujar, N, Jolesz, FA, Walker MP. A deficit in the ability to form new human memories without sleep. Nature Neuroscience: 2007: 10, 385-392.
Irwin MR, Mascovich A, Gillin JC, Willoughby R, Pike J, Smith TL . Partial sleep deprivation reduces natural killer cell activity in humans. Psychosom Med 56(6):493-498.