Kicking your brain into finals gear can be rough. If you find yourself feeling sluggish as you try to memorize history facts you learned back in August, heed this advice from husband and wife David and Rosa Schnyer, professors in the School of Nursing and College of Liberal Arts’ department of psychology, respectively.
David Schnyer’s first piece of advice is to keep your sleep schedule consistent. You don’t necessarily need 10 hours of sleep each night, but going to bed and waking up at the same time every day aids in regulating your mood and improving your overall cognitive functioning, which is a brain boost you may need while studying. “There’s enough work in sleep and consolidation of memory to indicate that sleep plays an important role in learning,” Schnyer said.
The consistency of your sleep pattern matters more than the amount of sleep because the pattern regulates your circadian rhythm, or your body’s biological processes that repeat at 24-hour intervals. Your circadian rhythm syncs with your pattern of sleep and wake, meaning you need to go to sleep and wake up at the same times to keep your circadian rhythm in check. According to Schnyer, you are better able to exercise cognitive control when your circadian rhythm is regulated, which will help you stay focused and crush your exams.
Schnyer’s second recommendation is one that makes coffee addicts cringe: limit your caffeine intake. As college kids, it’s almost our economic duty to send Starbucks’ profits sky-high, but drinking large amounts of caffeine can be harmful for your body. “[Drinking a lot of caffeine] is actually one of the worst things that you can do. The neurotransmitter systems that are boosted by caffeine will actually [end up] inhibiting the types of neurotransmitters you need to perform at optimal levels cognitively,” Schnyer said. Don’t worry, you won’t have to throw your coffee pot into the garbage — to keep your brain at its sharpest for finals, moderate your intake and just make sure you don’t overdo it on the espresso.
As far as what you should eat, Rosa Schnyer suggests high-quality proteins and foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and polyphenols. These foods will stimulate your cognitive functioning and help your brain perform well while studying and taking your exams. If you like to snack while you study, Schnyer suggests grabbing a power bar that’s high in protein rather than high in sugar or eating some walnuts or pecans, which are both well-known sources of protein.
Eating small meals frequently throughout the day will keep your brain stimulated. You can get omega-3s from foods like fish and pumpkin seeds and your polyphenols, which promote memory and learning, from fresh fruits and vegetables. For some extra polyphenol action, Schnyer suggests pairing your meals with a cup of green tea and treating yourself to small servings of high-cocoa, low-sugar dark chocolate.
“What you don’t want to do is eat a lot of white flour and refined sugar, because that makes your thinking and memory very sluggish,” Schnyer said. S, put down the chips and cookies and grab a handful of berries to fuel your mind while you prepare for your exams.
“The mind is a part of the body, and to the extent that the body is healthy, the mind will also be at its optimal performance,” David Schnyer said. While you’re doing your best to get through finals, remember you need to take care of your body first; the good grades will follow.