It's finally here, I thought to myself as my parents drove away from my dorm. I'm finally on my own! No one will tell me what to doI can sleep till noon, eat out all the time and have pizza for breakfast! OK, so I quickly learned I couldn't quite do everything I wanted.
My 8 a.m. class didn't allow me to sleep in, but I could stay up as late as I wanted. And although I couldn't afford to eat out all the time (or buy all that pizza for breakfast), I could eat whatever I wanted in the cafeteria. I started thinking, No one can tell me when to go to bed! Or not to eat Frosted Flakes and ice cream for dinner. And no gym teacher will make me run laps every day!
A few weeks into the semester I realized I wasn't taking care of myself. Even though no one was forcing me to do things like exercise or eat right, I still needed to. I quickly realized I had to find ways to keep myself healthy. It wasn't always easy, but I learned a lot that I can now share with you about taking care of yourself at college.
Recharge Your Body
One night, I put off studying way too long. Before I knew it, my final was just hours away. I pulled an all-nighter to study, and the next day I was basically a walking zombie. I couldn't concentrate, I was very irritable, and everything I had worked so hard to learn the night before seemed to have left me. I'd stayed up all night for this test, but as I sat there taking it, I was falling asleep. Even worse, it took days to get my body back on a normal sleep schedule. Lesson learned.
Our bodies just weren't designed to go without sleep for 24-hour periods. Like cell phones, we need to be recharged. When on proper rest, our minds are able to function better and we're not as likely to get sick.
So, how much sleep should you get? Health professionals recommend around seven to eight hours a night for normal, healthy adults. But in my scientific research (well, I asked some friends), it seems like it really depends on the individual. Some of my friends in college could sleep six hours and be fine. But I've always needed eight hours minimum to feel good and function well. Others may need a tad more. Don't feel weird if you need more sleep than your night-owl roommate who seems to be perfectly fine after sleeping in his chair for a few minutes. The key is to be tuned in to your own body. When do you feel the best? Be honest about how much sleep you need and adjust your schedule around it.
That doesn't mean always missing out on late-night fun. Just be aware of how much sleep you need. You'll have to make choices. Sure, go out with friends, but don't feel like you have to be out every night after midnight. Seek a balance. Don't skip every trip to the all-night diner, but don't make it a nightly habit.
Oh, and there's a big secret in college: Naps are cool. Take a quick nap to make up for the sleep you didn't get last night because your friend from home called late in the evening. Or schedule them just like you would study times. It's amazing how much an hour-long nap can help.
Eat to Your Health
Junk food is a college student's best friend. Or at least, it was this college student's best friend. But the key is moderation. Some ice cream or potato chips every once in a while aren't a big deal. Just don't make those kinds of food your main source of nutrition.
I made this mistake. After a few weeks of high-fat, high-calorie foods, I couldn't understand why I was always feeling so sluggish and run-down. When I started to eat more from the salad bar and grabbed fruit for snacks, I felt better physically and had more energy.
What if you just don't like salads and fruit? College cafeterias try to cater to everyone's likes and dislikes, so chances are you'll find something healthy you can eat. My college was great about having some kind of specialty barlike a make-your-own waffle station, a build-your-own sandwich bar and a pasta bar.