By Stacey Edwards, Health Educator at Student Health Services
While it is commonly accepted that studying increases the likelihood of receiving good grades, a strong influence often left out of the picture is how health impacts academic performance. In fact, it is the seemingly benign health choices that influence academic success the most. Listed below are common health-related choices students make daily and the campus resources available to help.
While it may seem like a luxury, it is in fact a biological necessity for adults to get an average of seven to nine hours of sleep each night. Getting too little affects the body’s metabolic system and can transition a perfectly healthy person into a pre-diabetic state fairly quickly, as well as promote weight gain. The other downside to inadequate sleep is that memories are not fully consolidated from the day. A study on sleep and academic performance found that students who crammed and pulled an all-nighter before a test did not score better than those who crammed but got a full night’s rest. So save yourself the gallon of coffee you’ll need to function the next day and just go to bed.
There are a few caveats about sleep to keep in mind: first, there is no such thing as “catching up” on sleep. Logging 12 hours of sleep on the weekends will not make up for sleep deprivation throughout the weekdays. Therefore, maintain the same sleep schedule each day, including weekends. You will find that you can perform better cognitively and physically (this includes sex) with consistent and adequate sleep.
Secondly, remember that drinking alcohol near bedtime ruins sleep quality. A glass of wine or beer may seem like a great way to wind down from a stressful day, but alcohol actually inhibits REM sleep and promotes nocturnal muscle movements that can awake you. Instead, read, listen to music, or choose other soothing things like drinking non-caffeinated tea to wind you down at bedtime.
If you have concerns about the quality of your sleep or would like more information, visit http://studenthealth.oregonstate.edu/sleep or make an appointment at Student Health Services.
Students typically believe that everyone at OSU drinks alcohol and does so to excess, but this is just not true. In fact, surveys show that one in five OSU students do not drink at all and of the 80 percent who do, most drink at moderate levels and do not binge drink (defined as five or more drinks in one sitting for men and four or more for women). So if you are a student who chooses not to drink or does so moderately, you are in good company among your peers. While you may hear students regale others with tales of beer pong and blacking out, remember that you are in a majority of students who make less risky choices around alcohol.
For those curious about how much they drink compared to their peers, Student Health Service’s website has a quick survey to assess your drinking. Go to http://studenthealth.oregonstate.edu and click on e-Chug to learn more.
Much like you would not pour water into a car’s gas tank to make it run, the body cannot perform at its best without getting its nutritional requirements. A few suggestions for eating healthy include: loading at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables; choosing whole grain options; and drinking water instead of empty-calorie and sugary beverages.
Thankfully you do not need a big budget to eat healthy. Websites like http://helpguide.org/life/healthy_eating_on_budget.htm offer suggestions on how to shop frugally and eat well, or you can set-up a free appointment with a health coach or nutritionist through Student Health Services to get you started.
If you do not have the financial means to purchase food, there are campus resources like the OSU Emergency Food Pantry (541-737-3473) and local food assistance programs to help meet your needs.
Not only is exercise beneficial to maintaining a healthy weight and muscle tone, but getting as little as 20-30 minutes of moderate exercise four to five days a week can do wonders for lowering your stress or anxiety. Even during the rainy months of Oregon, incorporate exercise into your day. Dixon Rec Center and the Beaver Strides pedometer program through Student Health Services can provide the support you may need and keep you motivated throughout the year.
Many of us know the consequences of tobacco use. Yet, even though 50 percent of all tobacco users will die prematurely or develop chronic disease early in life, 14 percent of OSU students still use tobacco either daily or occasionally.
Aside from the severe health risks and increased sick days tobacco users have compared to non-users, a strong motivation for kicking the habit this year is OSU’s Corvallis campus becoming smoke-free beginning September 1, 2012- less than one year from now. If you are student who wants help quitting, Student Health Services provides free tobacco cessation appointments, as well as free nicotine patches and gum to those participants. Call 541-737-9355 (WELL) to set-up a free one-on-one appointment.
In spring 2010, the health factor that negatively affected academic performance the most was stress. Twenty-three percent of OSU students reported that they received a lower grade on an exam, project, or in a course; received an incomplete or dropped a course; or experienced a significant disruption in thesis, dissertation, research, or practicum work due to stress. Therefore, find healthy ways that work for you in managing your stress and engage in them often to prevent becoming too overwhelmed and vulnerable to illness. Regular exercise, meditation, spending time with loved ones, not procrastinating with course work, using the Mind Spa at Counseling and Psychological Services or speaking with a counselor are all examples of things students can do to balance their lives. Visit http://oregonstate.edu/counsel to learn more about mental health services on campus, or schedule an appointment at the Academic Success Center (541-737-2272) if your stress is primarily stemming from struggling in class.
In closing, welcome to a new academic year and opportunity to succeed at OSU!
Be Well. Be Orange.