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Health & Safety

2 Key Health Talks to Have with Your Student


Health and wellness have many facets, and it's challenging for young adults living on their own for the first time to take proper care of themselves.

Parents can help. Start by talking to your student about the basics: getting enough sleep and managing stress.

The Importance of Healthy Sleep Habits

Sleep is the foundation of wellness yet almost 40% of us struggle to get enough — and that percentage is surely higher on college campuses. Without sufficient sleep, your student will find it harder to learn, and to remember what they learned, and will lack the energy to make the most of their college experience.

Here’s what you need to know to mentor your student in healthier sleep habits.

Why eight hours? What happens when we sleep?

Our bodies are super busy while we slumber. During sleep we fix damaged tissue, toxins are processed and eliminated, hormones essential for growth and appetite control are released and restocked, and energy is restored. When sleep is cut short, the body doesn’t have time to complete all of this work.

The health risks of sleep deprivation include:

  • Impaired cognitive function: Even one night of sleeping less than six hours can impact your ability to think clearly the next day.
  • Increased risk of accidents: Sleep deprivation slows reaction time; you are three times more likely to be in a car crash if you’re tired.
  • Increased emotional intensity: The part of the brain responsible for emotional reactions can be up to 60% more reactive when you’ve
    slept poorly.
Tips for Deep Sleep
  1. Sleep in a dark room (or use a sleep mask). Reduce exposure to bright lights and screens before bedtime.
  2. Stop eating at least two hours before bedtime, so the
    body isn’t spending the first few hours of sleep digesting
    a heavy meal.
  3. Exercise. A Stanford study found that moderate-intensity exercise helps people fall asleep 15 minutes faster and sleep about 45 minutes longer.
  4. Eat good food. Processed food will make your body work extra hard during the night to remove the toxins, leaving less time for healing and repair.

Quality sleep starts the moment we wake up. The choices we make about what to eat, how much to exercise, and how to handle stress all impact our ability to get a great night’s sleep. On the subject of stress...

Getting Ahead of Stress

Parents understand that the college experience isn’t only about earning a degree but also about learning how to manage life. This includes learning to manage stress and regulate emotions.

What IS stress exactly, and what does it do to our brains and bodies?

When the mind perceives normal adjustments to college as threats, the human stress response is activated. This response is an amazing mechanism for safety and survival. The confusing part is our brains can’t decipher levels of threats. Feeling overwhelmed with college registers in the brain the same as jumping out of the way of an oncoming car.

Some amounts of college stress are necessary to study productively, maintain motivation and accomplish tasks, but the negative effects of stress (anxiety, exhaustion and hopelessness) can disrupt daily living and thriving.

Students can learn to manage the pressures of college so the demands don’t seem as unbearable and the stress response is deactivated. In addition to good sleep habits (explored above), here are six tried-and-true strategies.

1. Make a study schedule.

Write it out, draw it, color it, mind map it, keep it visible. Include:

  • Study breaks, sleep, recreation
  • 1.5–2 hours of study per class, then break
  • Switch classes for the next 2–hour study session
  • Use “backwards planning” if this works for you (
2. Determine your ideal study spot and times.
  • Pick the place you feel the most productive, calm (not cozy) and focused. Keep going to this spot for a few weeks to train your body and brain for study mode. (Do not study in your bed. Stay alert.)
  • Notice what time of day/night you study best. Use this time slot to prepare for your most challenging classes.
  • Be aware of what distracts you. Pay attention to time wasters: cell phone, friends, Netflix.
  • When your thoughts get stuck, or move away from the material at hand, bring yourself back into the “zone” by getting up to move and stretch.
  • Acknowledge perfectionist thinking and eliminate it.
  • Remember that last-minute cramming induces panic. “All nighters” are counterproductive to recall and focus.
3. Hydrate and nourish.

Reduce or eliminate sugar drinks, caffeine and alcohol — Gatorade, energy drinks, teas (the kind with added sugar) and sodas included.

Foods rich in vitamins B and C, iron and magnesium (oranges, broccoli, avocados, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, berries, grass-fed beef, salmon and sunflower seeds) are helpful in reducing the effects of stress and strengthening the nervous system.

4. Breathe.

Practice “4-7-8” deep breathing daily (watch the YouTube video), and try “square breathing,” too. Use breathing apps. It only takes ten minutes to engage your diaphragm and activate the calm part of your nervous system.

5. Attend to self-care.
  • Notice how often and how much you move your body. A short walk, jumping jacks or push-ups will suffice if  you can’t fit in a work-out.
  • Engage in a fun activity — frisbee, basketball, a dance or fitness class.
  • Take an extra shower a day during exam weeks. Brush your teeth an extra time a day. Get a haircut. Pamper yourself!
  • Take advantage of campus social and counseling resources.
6. Fill your brain with positive mantras:

“I’m thankful every day for the opportunity to go to college. In four years, I’ll have grown exponentially and will contribute to society in ways I never imagined.”

“I’m right where I need to be! With this comes tough times. I am tough enough — I will be just fine.”

Adapted from "The Connection Between Sleep and Health in College" by MJ O'Leary and "Getting Ahead of Stress This Semester" by Lori Bender.

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