Olivia Lawless

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The Exhaustion Epidemic

So many people suffer from it yet few suffer as severely as the average college student. The effects of the epidemic are everywhere: empty coffee cups and Redbull cans, glazed eyes, a few people slumped in a doze at the back of a lecture. It is not uncommon to hear students discussing how tired they are or how little they have been sleeping.

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In fact, it is usually more surprising to hear of anyone with a healthy and consistent sleep schedule. When people get more than seven or eight hours of sleep, it is a rare occurrence that usually happens only after several nights of sleep deprivation or after sleeping in for half a day on the weekend. Other times, people try to take back the sleep they can with long naps or short dozes between classes. Anywhere you look on a college campus, someone is either suffering from exhaustion or trying to keep it at bay with naps and energy drinks.

So why are we so tired all the time?

While much of the reason for weariness can be attributed to the massive workload many college students take on, this amount is not always as high as we’d like to think. Tests, assignments, projects and studio time piling up can force some to start scraping time out of their sleep schedule — but do they pile up because we’re actually that busy or do they pile up because our time management isn’t as efficient as it could be?

Countless people battle procrastination on a regular basis. If we’re not careful, it can be the thing that causes work to pile up and ultimately makes us dip into our sleep budget to compensate for it.

For people employed outside of school or taking on a high number of credit hours, it can be a struggle to get a sufficient amount of sleep every night. This is especially true if procrastination is involved. Other times, work can pile up despite our best efforts, so we just have to push through the weariness.

Other reasons for tiredness could be attributed to diet. Lack of a balanced diet or consistent eating schedule can deprive the body of valuable nutrients and thus valuable energy. At one time, all of us were guilty of eating only one meal a day or opting for some quick, unhealthy snacks to “fuel” us throughout the day instead of eating actual meals because we felt too busy or too lazy to do otherwise.

If you find this becoming a habit of yours, consider taking the time to eat something a little more substantial. When you’ve only had five or six hours of sleep, eating only a few granola bars and bags of chips will only make things worse.

It doesn’t help that society doesn’t prioritize sleep, despite it being one of the most crucial things a person needs to function properly. We want to seem like we don’t need sleep, because nowadays, being tired can be like wearing a proud badge that says, “Look, I’m tired because I just work so hard. I don’t need sleep to function.”

That is a lie. When we internalize ideas like that, we pretend we function just as well sleep-deprived as we do when we get seven hours or more. We devote less time and importance to sleeping. This in turn yields careless behavior, like lazy internet surfing, gaming or binge watching simply because we can. It is easier to go with the body’s momentum and stay up, especially if one is accustomed to staying up late.

We need this time. The brain uses sleep to process what we’ve learned during the day and move information from short-term to long-term storage. This happens during REM sleep, so light naps won’t cut it.

A lack of sleep can do much more than make one feel grouchy or less focused. Sleep deprivation can actually increase the risk of obesity and chronic illnesses like high blood pressure and diabetes. It can also lower your immune system, thereby making it harder to fight infections.

Fixing this is easier said than done. I admit I wrote most of this article late at night while running on coffee and hypocrisy. However, the only hope to treating this epidemic is to take it into our own hands. College students need to recognize the true value of rest and start making more of an effort to get at least seven hours of sleep a night. If the very thought of that makes you laugh, then you need sleep the most. Trust me on this and close Youtube and Netflix. Put the device down. In the morning, your body will thank you for it.

Beating gymtimidation

Tired of breaking wishy-washy promises to go work out with your friend and guiltily side-eying the gym every time you pass? It happens to the best of us. The bad news is that many people want to establish a solid gym routine and struggle with it. Here’s the good news: going to the gym on a regular basis is easier than you’d think.

First, try to find one or two times during the week that work well for you. This is ideally a few hours after finishing a meal or enough time before class that you can shower afterward. Sitting crammed next to several other people in a lecture and praying that they don’t smell the sweat on you is unpleasant for everyone involved, so don’t put yourself in a time crunch if you know you sweat at any hint of physical activity.

Let your first workout be more of an exploratory session to figure out what kind of routine you want. If wandering around and trying a few reps on every machine sounds like an awkward nightmare, maybe observe some people from the cardio area first. A treadmill or elliptical is a good place to casually glance around and start developing your plan of action.

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It also helps to google some exercises beforehand based off of your goals. MyFitnessPal is a great, reliable resource for useful exercises. Watching Youtube videos to learn proper form is beneficial too.

If your only goal is “getting in shape,” dig a little deeper, since that can mean a variety of things for different people. Think along the lines of something a little more specific, like strengthening your upper body or increasing your stamina. Look at ab, leg and arm exercises to see what seems appealing. Having more specific exercises and goals in mind will help keep you motivated.

Once you’ve experimented a little, return at the same time next week with your plan and with an intention to exercise with more focus. Not every single exercise has to be planned out, but having a plan can help avoid an uncomfortable, aimless feeling.

During your routine, don’t do any exercises you hate. If you absolutely despise jogging or lifting in the free weights section, don’t do it! So many people are discouraged from going to the gym because they force themselves to do things that they don’t like. There are tons of different ways to reach your fitness goals so you don’t need to force yourself to do anything. Find an alternative exercise that offers similar results. With that being said, many exercises have especially varied or good benefits, so it is worth trying that exercise a few times before you decide to hate it – even burpees.

It’s easy to feel self-conscious at the gym, especially if the people around you seem to be lifting heavier and running longer, but it’s important to remember that everyone has different skills and abilities. Try to avoid comparing yourself to others. Everyone starts somewhere, so no one is judging you for your exercise pace. I promise the guy that stopped deadlifting 150 pounds to stare intensely at you isn’t actually looking at you. He’s staring off into space thinking about how many reps he has left, what tests he has this week or what he’s going to have for dinner. Other people that glance at you during reps aren’t looking at you either; the human eye is just naturally drawn to nearby movement.

Return to the gym two or three times a week, but be careful to not overtax yourself on these first few sessions. Whether you’re just starting to work out or are trying to get back into a routine after working out for years, start slower than what you think you can handle and work back up. Not only is it dangerous to jump right into an intense workout after not working out for a while, but it is also discouraging to feel extremely exhausted and sore after pushing yourself too hard.

The key to keeping up this routine is actually very simple. Willpower and motivation help, but they are finite resources. No matter how determined you are to visit the gym, there will be some days that you would rather do anything else than work out. That’s why you need to establish something that is much easier to keep up than willpower: consistency.

Going to the gym regularly is like any other routine that people develop. Once you’ve tried a few different times and figured out what works, stick to those times. Go every single week. Of course, if it’s in your health’s best interest to not go – for example, if you have the flu or have only slept three or four hours – then don’t. But don’t let little excuses pile up and make you skip completely. Having a lot of homework, feeling tired or hanging out with friends are decent reasons to skip the gym, but oftentimes we trick ourselves into believing they’re more urgent than they actually are.

You committed that block to gym time, so honor that commitment. Pretty soon you’ll feel a compulsion to go to the gym whether you actually want to or not. That’s when you know you’ve done it. As long as you respect the commitment, consistency will work wonders for you and you’ll be waltzing in the gym like a regular before you know it.