It is 3 a.m and you walk into your dorm room. Your roommate is up, dark circles under her eyes, and she is mumbling about Karl Marx. There is another person passed out on the floor next to a pile of what may be vomit but smells like Powerade. It doesn’t matter. Techno music thuds loudly throughout the room. You sit at your desk. You have a final research paper due in five hours. Time to begin.
Is this your life? For the sake of your health, I hope not. It was my life when I started college four years ago. Finally free from parental impositions, I created my own schedule. I could sleep, eat and study when I wanted to. I lived on a system that I will dub the prewards system. It went like this: I would take on as many projects as I could. Sure, I will take five classes. Sure, I will accept this job. Yes, I can put in extra hours. Then, without doing any of the work that these projects entailed, I rewarded myself richly. I am doing so much, I would think, eating a raspberry croissant in bed and watching “30 Rock.”
Then the deadlines crept up and I followed up on my system of prewards. First, I would spend hours gazing at Tumblr and drinking sugary Starbucks frappuccinos from the C-Store. Maybe I would visit some friends downstairs and watch violent Japanese movies with them. Finally, as the early hours of the morning arrived, I would sludge upstairs and start my work in the worst possible mindset.
The prewards system is a failure both for productivity but especially for personal health. If any part of that sounds familiar, then you are doing things wrong. It is really important to take breaks while studying or performing any other kind of work. Human beings are not machines and if you try to write 12 pages in one night, some of it will just be gibberish.
College students know this and there are plenty of tips on time management and stress relief. I am advocating that you realize the effect that these stunts take on your personal health and surroundings. Let’s imagine that the research paper only took five hours to write. What did you eat? A leftover hamburger you found in your fridge. Where did you sleep afterward? In a crumpled heap on your desk chair.
In my first and second years of college, I first gained 15 pounds, then lost 20. College students hold their weight in constant flux because they don’t have stable eating habits. They get sick often because they sometimes fail to perform basic hygienic needs. (When was the last time you washed your bedsheets?) Studies show that the communal living style of most college students contributes to bacterial infections.
While it is difficult and boring to cook a healthy meal every day, it is relatively easy to make sure you eat fairly healthy things throughout the day. Make a day once a month where you clean the stuff in your room that desperately needs it. Above all, get at least eight hours of sleep fairly frequently.
College is supposed to prepare you for your future academically. But for me, being away at college has also set the pace of how to live as an adult. You have to learn how to take care of yourself or all the rest of that stuff does not matter. While there is a kind of romance in being a starving college student, you should never let things get out of hand. There is a reason all the adults in your life drilled bedtimes and well-balanced meals into you. You need them to live. A tube of cookie dough and an old tomato is not an acceptable meal. Treat yourself better and let college make you into a functioning adult.