I have to say that I thought University would come more easily to me than it did in my first year. I’d pictured oodles of time for myself and my other interests, so I could focus on the hobbies I love as well as singularly indulging in my favourite subject.
The reality, I discovered, was somewhat different. By the first week after Freshers’ I was snowed under with work, contracted Freshers’ flu and generally accepted a lower standard of health than I was normally used to. The rest of the first term was not much different. It was a mixture of a frankly useless immune system, severe lack of sleep, and a tremendous amount of work that needed to be completed.
Luckily, I had obtained a rhythm to University by the time I got to my third term. I was sleeping better, working better, and enjoying life more – verging on the prospect of the University idyll. It’s not just the education I’ve obtained so far, I’ve also learnt some valuable life lessons for surviving that first year at University.
Remember to catch those zzzzs
My advice here is to be aware of what you are doing, and how you are sleeping. I downloaded a free app called Sleep Cycle which helped me monitor my sleep and directed me towards a healthy, consistent routine. For best sleep quality, it is recommended to develop a set bed time and stick to it. This then prepares the body and mind for sleep each night, so that you wind down into a calm state, resulting in a deeper and more relaxing night’s slumber.
I’m aware this isn’t realistic for students every night though. There are parties, club nights etc. to attend which will break this cycle – but try and keep these disturbances infrequent! If, however, you are determined to go out nearly every night of the year then you could slowly alter your sleep cycle to adapt to this.
Stay on top of that workload
It can be a bore, a chore and an absolute time killer, but unfortunately at some point it’s also a must. If you face being snowed under with work then it can be a depressing prospect for the rest of the day or week on which you face it. The motto “due tomorrow, do tomorrow” may come to mind here, but ultimately just won’t cut it.
I found a method called “time-blocking” particularly helpful, and it even prompted me to buy a paper diary so that I could plan out my days. It revolves around each task being allocated the amount of time it will take to complete, and slotting these into your day, giving you specific and measurable tasks to succeed in conquering your work.
Try and avoid caffeine dependence
The body naturally produces adenosine molecules, which bind to receptors in the brain and induce a feeling of drowsiness. Caffeine prevents these molecules from binding, which stops the feelings of tiredness and gives you that feeling of alertness.
Prolonged use has some adverse effects however. Your brain will begin to create more adenosine and more receptors in an attempt to capture the molecules and induce mental fatigue. Ultimately, this means people with an extended caffeine intake could end up feeling more tired than when they first started having their morning coffee!
I ended up drinking several cups of coffee a day during term time, and know someone who still drinks upwards of twelve. To prevent the drowsiness, I recommend exchanging a coffee for a decaff once in a while, or maybe a cup of tea!
With the demise of my sleeping schedule came the demise of my focus and subsequently the demise of my work. Ironically the less sleep I got, the more prone to distraction I was, which meant I got less work done and ended up losing more sleep. I found I ended up spending more time scrolling my Facebook feed than I did working on my degree, and it became the bane of my life. Bye-bye Facebook (I deleted the app).
Studies have shown that even just having your phone in view while working decreases your efficiency. It is said that after spending 15 minutes on a task that you find a “flow” – a heightened state of work. Each break disrupts this flow, and it takes another quarter-of-an-hour to find it again – all these phone distractions rack up that inefficiency.
Maybe best to tuck that phone away in a drawer?
The real advice to take from all this is to take it slow, and to not to go in all guns blazing. Sign-up for stuff and ease into it gently, slowly change your sleep schedule and gradually fill your time with activities, so that you and your body can adapt to this new life. Obviously do the things that you enjoy, but perhaps don’t go nuts to begin with.