So we’ve spoken about asking the right question in class, we’ve spoken about stimulating and participation in classroom discussion and we’ve spoken about active listening. But what about your living habits that moderate these actions? It might not seem so obvious but habits like your morning breakfast and sleep cycle influence our classroom experience (especially the ones in the morning) more than we’d like to believe.
Food is fuel for your mind and the sooner you start realizing that, the sooner you’ll take the time to eat a healthy breakfast. Research studies have shown that even when other social factors are considered, a child’s academic performance increases after about three months of an established breakfast routine. Jordan Peterson, a Clinical Psychologist and a Psychology professor at University of Toronto talks about how how if you have a nervous system that’s very reactive, you’re going to constantly respond to small signs of threat and uncertainty. Given that you’re going to encounter these small signs on more than half your days at university (maybe in the form of negative feedback on your assignment or feeling lost in class) it’s important that you’re emotional stable enough to deal with it in a calm and comprehensive manner. If you’re an anxious person and you don’t eat in the morning, your body hyper produces insulin, takes all the sugar out of your blood and dis-regulates your metabolism for the entire day. This means you’re going to have relatively aversive reactions to most things that manifest themselves as even slightly negative or threatening. He recommends a protein and fat (omega 3 fatty acids) rich breakfast. I think from personal experience I can see a huge difference between my participation in my morning classes in second year and now. It really is hard to focus in class or ask a question when your stomach won’t stop growling and you’re craving a large pizza. Two quick and healthy options that I have found useful are oatmeal and peanut butter with toast. Even if it’s just a protein bar, start with something.
Sleeping at least six hours and waking up at the same time everyday stabilizes your circadian rhythm. Which again, is extremely important for emotional regulation. Believe it or not, your dreams are not just random visuals in your head, they serve a purpose. According to a Freudian perspective your subconscious is trying to work out all the problems you haven’t dealt with consciously. That’s why sometimes when you’re up the next morning a solution might seem so much more obvious than it did the night before.
Moreover, sleep helps with learning! There are several studies that have proven sleep to be more beneficial than last minute cramming. Sleeping helps with consolidation and memory — two things that are key to your learning process. It’s really hard to focus and understand concepts in class if you haven’t slept enough even with that black coffee you invest in. While it might work for a couple of days, it’s definitely not sustainable and before you know it you’ll find yourself in the last row dozing off as the professor is talking. Even if you haven’t done the readings for class, being awake and alert will help you pick up on enough material to be able to participate actively.
I know when most of us hear our parents lecture us on our food and sleep habits we just roll our eyes and dismiss it. But trust me, there’s a good amount of truth to that and a whole lot of scientific researching backing it up. It’s easy to get caught up in making time for complex course readings and articulating perfect questions but sometimes the smallest and the simplest steps are the most important — in this case sleep and food! So I invite you to reflect on what your sleep and meal schedule has been lately. Does it tend to change drastically when things get busy? If so, what can you do to establish a healthy sleep and meal schedule that you will actually follow? Let me know in the comments below!