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Finals survival guide: Caffeine, all-nighters and more

Tips on how to use caffeine, snacks and sleep to improve your studies during finals
Finals Week: How to use caffeine, sleep and snacks. A person who is studying has their head on the table behind a pile of books.

In the last few weeks of the semester, students find themselves running on a lot of caffeine and sugary snacks with very little rest. Students push their bodies to the extreme, and according to Matt Hoffman, DNP, APRN, FNP-C, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Nursing, it can impact their grades. He gives some easy tips to stay healthy and awake during finals week, which may help improve your grades on those dreaded final exams.

Make healthy snacks to eat while studying

“One of the most important things you can do during finals is to eat healthy,” Hoffman explained. “Putting the right nutrients into your body will keep your brain working smoothly.”

Healthy snacks can help you avoid the ups and downs that come with eating a lot of sugar and starches. A healthy snack is considered low in added fat and sugar, but high in fiber and water. Hoffman suggests fruits, vegetables or whole-grain chips.

Students often rely on wherever they are studying—home, library, coffee shop—to supply them with snacks. Unfortunately, many of these study spots are loaded with sugary pastries and drinks. “Try to stock your pantry with healthy and easily portable snacks like dried fruits, nuts or popcorn,” Hoffman said. “Bonus points if you even separate them in advance into sandwich bags so you can grab and go.”

Drink water and pay attention to caffeine intake during finals week

“Caffeine in reasonable doses can stimulate your nervous system to make you feel more alert,” Hoffman explained. “But you need to balance drinking caffeine with drinking water during finals week. High amounts of caffeine in your body can increase anxiety and give you headaches.”

If you find yourself having the “shakes,” and your fine-motor skills are suffering, stop drinking caffeine immediately and switch to water. It is possible to have too much caffeine in your system, and drinking water can help flush out the high dose of caffeine that’s hurting your performance.

Get seven to eight hours of sleep before studying and taking a test

“Sleep is often the first thing to go during finals,” Hoffman said. “Try as best as you can to stick to your regular sleep cycle. Caffeine cannot reverse the effects of sleep deprivation, so do not think you can study through the sleepiness with extra coffee or energy drinks.”

Most people need at least seven to eight hours of sleep at night for the body and brain to function normally. So, if you stay up all night, missing out on the recommended amount of sleep, your brain will be equally as weary—rendering a sharp decrease in performance for specific learning and memory tasks.

Avoid pulling an all-nighter, but if you do, then do it strategically

“An all-nighter is rarely the best course of action,” Hoffman said. “Lack of sleep, or sleep deprivation, affects the hippocampus in the brain, which is used to make new memories. People who try to learn new material without enough sleep are not going to be able to remember the material as well.” If you have not slept, then your ability to learn new things could drop by up to 40 percent.

However, sometimes you need to lose a little sleep during finals week. Hoffman identifies some easy tips to help you stay awake.

  • Increase the brightness of the room
  • Eat protein-rich snacks like nuts, cheese or tuna
  • Avoid energy drinks and sodas to prevent a sugar crash
  • Bring a jacket to stay warm
  • Take breaks and walk around

“If you do find yourself in a situation where you have had little to no sleep, then avoid driving. Sleepy driving can be just as dangerous as drunk driving.”

Take study breaks

“Break up long chunks of studying with a quick walk around the library,” Hoffman said. “If you get your body moving, then the blood flow to your brain will increase. If possible, try to schedule time for exercise breaks. You will feel better mentally and physically.”

Hoffman mentions if you find yourself feeling slow or sinking into your chair, then get up. Temporarily move your study spot somewhere else or take a walk outside. “Sunlight and activity can be rejuvenating,” he said.

Mental health tips to survive finals

Not only will these tips for finals week help your body survive, but it will also help your mental health. “Final exams can be incredibly stressful on a person’s mental health,” Hoffman said. “The results of one final exam is not likely to dictate your entire future, so relax and study wisely by taking care of your mental and physical health.”

Most campuses offer school-wide events during finals week to facilitate de-stressing and productive studying. If you need additional assistance managing your stress, contact your school’s counseling services.

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