I know from personal experience that finals week can be a nightmare. It is packed with numerous exams, sometimes projects, and endless hours of studying. But did you know that there are some factors other than how much you study that play into your performance on exams? Below I have compiled some of my tips for how you can help your brain and your body function optimally so that you will have a successful finals week. I know you have lots of studying to do, so I'll get straight to it.
My tips for having a successful finals week:
Get some sleep!!!- I know it's hard when you have a ton of exams you have to study for, but it is SO SO SO important! Sleep is actually the time in which your brain processes information and stores memories, so getting enough sleep will actually help you remember the information you've been studying! If you absolutely have to stay up late studying for an exam, try to at least get a few hours of shut-eye. DO NOT PULL AN ALL - NIGHTER... EVER! It may seem like a good idea, but I promise you that you will do better if you get some sleep. Seven to nine hours of sleep a night is ideal, but some is better than none.
Remember peppermints!- Research has shown that peppermint actually enhances memory and concentration, so have a cup of peppermint tea while you are studying, and then have a mint just before you start your exam. It will help stimulate your brain so that you can recall information and focus better while taking tests.
Nutrition is key!- It's the end of the semester, you are probably really stressed, and you are crazy busy. That probably means you are dying for a pizza or some form of fast food. Let's face it, it's quick, it's easy, and it's cheaper (I know... I'm a college student too!). It can be really tempting to eat unhealthy food during finals week, but filling your body with the right nutrients will allow you have more energy, feel better, and focus more on studying. So try to include a variety of fruits and vegetables in every meal (especially breakfast on the day of your exam). It's also a good idea to stay away from foods with a high glycemic index as they will make your energy levels crash and cause you to feel hungry earlier. Some foods to avoid include white bread, white rice, cereals, pastries, pasta, candy, and other refined carbohydrates. Below are some of the key nutrients you should focus on getting enough of when preparing for your finals:
B Vitamins- B vitamins are the superstars when it comes to metabolism and maintaining energy levels. Folate and B12 also play a key role in promoting synaptic junctions in your brain, which allows to hold on to more information and learn things faster. Good sources of B vitamins include whole grains, legumes, eggs, leafy greens, fish, and poultry.
Zinc- This mineral is found in high levels in your hippocampus, a region of the brain that is involved in consolidating information from short-term memory into long term memory, which is exactly what you want so you can do well on your tests. Zinc is in red meats, shellfish, and whole grains.
Potassium and Calcium- These minerals play an important role in cell-to-cell communication (in other words it helps your brain and other tissues work better). Both of these minerals can be found in dairy, whole grains, legumes, and coconut water.
Vitamin C- There is just about nothing worse than getting sick when you have a ton of exams, but stress will actually put quite a strain on your immune system, making you more vulnerable to bacterial and viral infections. Vitamin C is great for supporting your immune system and keeping you healthy. This vitamin is found predominantly in citrus fruits, cantaloupe, strawberries, mangoes, and papaya, most of which are not in season this time of year. Thankfully there is also vitamin C in brussels sprouts, broccoli, and other dark green vegetables.
Essential fatty acids- Aside from glucose, which your body will get plenty of if you are eating your fruits and vegetables, essential fatty acids such as omega 3 and omega 6 may be the most important nutrients for optimizing brain function. You can find these healthy fats in avocados, fatty fish, nuts, and seeds. I love to use tahini, which is made from ground sesame seeds, in my salad dressings as a source of healthy fats.
Stay hydrated- I can't even begin to explain how important water is, so just trust me and drink it! You should aim to get 1.5 - 2 liters every day, but if you are drinking a lot of coffee or other caffeinated drinks (most people are during finals week), try to get even more than that. (As a side note, try not to go overboard on the caffeine because the evidence is pretty inconclusive on what adverse health effects there may be from high levels of caffeine. Everything in moderation. And please stay away from all the commercial energy drink brands that are loaded with chemicals!)
Stretching/Yoga- Sitting in the same position for hours on end is horrible for your body, but that's exactly what you do when you are studying or taking exams. Try to get up at least every 2 hours to do some stretches. I love to do a simple five minute yoga flow. I find that it really helps alleviate the tension in my spine and shoulders and helps me concentrate more.
I hope that these tips were helpful and that you do well on your exams! Hang in there... Christmas break is just around the corner!!
Please comment below if you have any thoughts or questions!