Ask the Expert

You have asked, Rey has delivered! Yet again, our resident expert has provided a fantastic response to your most pressing questions. Remember to submit your own question by emailing with the subject “Ask the Expert”.

This week’s question comes to us from Marisa a college student in Chicago, IL. She asks, “It’s almost time for finals and lots of my classmates are getting sick and run-down. How can I stay healthy between studying, exams, and my work-study job?”

Here’s Rey’s advice:


“Good health habits - actions that enhance our emotional and physical health – are as important for academic success as good study habits. Setting aside time to study and joining their study group for review and practice won’t help students very much if they are sleepy, hungry, tired, worried, or upset. Just as athletes prepare themselves mentally and physically for competition so also students need to prepare themselves for academic success.


If we want to be optimally alert, engaged, and attentive - ready for class, lab, or exam – many things need to go well. Even if only one important factor is missing its absence can compromise our preparedness for success, even perhaps our emotional and physical well-being.


Let’s begin with sleep, a key component of good health.


Many people need 8 to 8 ½ hours of sleep for good health and to function well. Naturally, there is some variance and some individuals may need to sleep more, others less. Find out how much sleep your body needs and schedule your day around that. If you find that you are sleeping more and getting out of bed later on days when you don’t have classes (or on weekends) that could be a sign that you’re not getting enough regular sleep during weeknights. If you already get regular and sufficient sleep, make sure to let your friends and study group partners know how important that has been to you.


Breakfast: the most important meal of the day.


A good night’s sleep is followed by a hearty breakfast, although some individuals exercise first then have breakfast afterwards. The longest gap between meals is usually the gap between dinner the previous evening and breakfast the following morning. After such a long gap the body needs nourishment. Imagine how unprepared you would be to learn or to do well in an exam if you stayed up late, didn’t sleep enough, and skipped breakfast! A hearty breakfast after a good night’s sleep is an excellent way to start any day, every day. Eat a hearty breakfast yourself; your study group partners should do the same. Let them know.


Are you a “morning person” or a “night owl”?


Some individuals are most alert in the morning, others at night. If you are a “morning person” you’re likely to learn best by taking morning classes and studying in the morning. Morning people go to sleep early and wake up early and often begin the day by studying or reviewing before attending class. If you are a “night owl” give yourself one or two hours after waking up to build up your alertness before your first class or exam. Having had plenty of sleep and a hearty breakfast will help, of course.


A moderate lunch


Eating a good breakfast will help you avoid eating too big a lunch, which causes drowsiness. Schedule your classes so you can have plenty of time to have your lunch between your classes. A moderate lunch will give you the energy and alertness for the long afternoon of classes, review, and group study.


Make sure to include appropriate exercise in your regular health-enhancing schedule.


We learn in many different settings: in the laboratory, in the field, in the library, in class, in talking with friends and older students, from our professors, from former students and graduates, as well as alone sitting at our desks. “Seat time” study is an essential component of learning. And the more time we spend sitting and studying at our desks the more important exercise becomes. Appropriate regular exercise is helpful both for the body and the mind and helps us to be more alert, energetic, and focused.


Set aside leisure time for yourself and time to be with friends and to make new friends.


Just as it is important to take small breaks from studying so likewise is it important to include non-study relaxation and enjoyment as part of your college career. Remember that most university study is done over four years. No one expects students to spend four years devoted exclusively to learning and study. Making friends and enjoying yourself with your friends are good in themselves, of course. And university friends can become lifelong friends or future colleagues. One workable schedule is to reserve each week night for study and set aside one or two nights in the weekends for enjoyment. If you and your friends studied diligently during the week you will be ready and be glad to take a break – you earned it! And you will all enjoy yourselves without regretting that you didn’t study enough. Likewise, if you and your friends enjoyed your night off, you will then be refreshed and ready to return to your studies.


Take a vacation every year.


University study is done in a yearly cycle of smaller divisions called semesters, quarters, or sessions. Such a cycle provides a natural opportunity for students to take a vacation every year. A vacation is a period of moderate length when you are not studying, not working, and not in your usual domicile. Whether you go back home to see your family, or travel to new places with your friends, or do something else, a yearly vacation is as much a necessity for one’s emotional and physical well-being as sleep, regular meals, exercise, and friendship.


Emotional health


Drowsiness is a signal to sleep and hunger a signal to eat. Likewise, feelings of loneliness, excessive distress, worry, and anxiety that we may notice in ourselves, or that we may notice in one of our friends, can be signals of personally stressful difficulties. Surprisingly, it’s sometimes easier to notice personal stress in a friend or someone we know than to recognize it in ourselves. We have all felt drowsiness and hunger and recognize the signal. But often a very stressful personal difficulty is likely to be something new, creating in us anxiety we may not have experienced before. University courses are more difficult than secondary school courses and it’s painful to fail an exam or get a bad grade on a lab report. Likewise, being in an unfamiliar campus and city, an initial academic or professional endeavor that is unsuccessful, or a romantic interest that is rejected can be quite stressful. Take appropriate and responsible action for your friend or for yourself. Talk matters over with a trusted friend, professor, or advisor. Very many universities have counselors with whom to discuss stressful matters.
Good mental and physical health habits enhance alertness and energy which aid in learning and academic success. Eat a hearty breakfast and regular meals and get sufficient sleep every day. Exercise regularly. Spend quality time with family and friends on a regular basis and take a vacation every year. Take care of your emotional and physical health and well-being and look out also for the health and well-being of your friends and fellow students.”


Thanks, Rey! Check out Rey’s article from last week about the mistakes not to make when applying to college.


Remember, you can submit your own question by email to with the subject line “Ask the Expert”.