College students: Salutations and happy studying! My hope is that this 3 minute read will help you succeed in all of your endeavors! My experience as a student consists of kindergarten, 8 years of grade school, 4 years of college, and 4 years of medical school, and five years of tutoring college students for the medical college admissions test (MCAT). Over the years, I have developed a list of study aids, or as I like to call them, creature comforts; comforting goods, services, and behaviors to make the student study experience as pain-free as possible, and today I would like to share them with you.
Problems: Back pain, neck pain, buttocks pain.
- Behavioral interventions: Upright posture whilst sitting (feet flat on ground with 90 degree bend in knee, spine in line with head) or use a standing desk, stretching, and a consistent exercise regimen.
- Back massager: I put this item so high because I think it is the most important item on the list. I cannot stress this enough. Rigorous studying causes back pain, and this is an unnecessary hindrance to consistent studying. Short of a personal masseuse, an over-the-chair back massager combined with physical activity is the most effective way to treat this sort of back pain. I have found it to be far more effective than foam rollers, posture correction, or exercise alone, and I recommend it to all my premedical students who engage in studying for 40+ hours per week. While there are many options available, here is the one I personally use and recommend: https://amzn.to/3A4FQeo
- Computer chair: A close runner-up is a comfortable chair. As students of the world, we often spend more time sitting down than we do lying or sitting. The chair to the student is like the sneaker to the marathon runner; a poorly constructed chair will leave you busted and battered as would an ill-fitting sneaker. If you are using an old chair your parents bought 5, 10, or 15+ years ago, consider upgrading to a new computer chair. I have two recommendations in this department, ranging from price high to low: Herman Miller chair | Amazon mid back chair
- Book stand: Paper books are often a thing of the past these days, but if you do use paper books, a book stand can help decrease neck and back strain from reading. https://amzn.to/2UCeADL
Problems: Eye strain, dry eyes
- Behavioral Interventions: Decrease screen brightness, less screen time (e.g. use paper books instead), corrective glasses, and use sunglasses if squinting often.
- Blue light filter: All light is not made equal; some wavelengths of light are more irritating to your eye than others, particularly blue wavelength light. In newer computer operating systems (Windows 10, Apple OS) you can filter out blue light; this can help decrease the eye strain associated with using your laptop for several hours per day. Instructions are below:
-Windows 10: type in "night light" in the search bar on the bottom left => click => adjust the bar to your liking and turn on.
-MAC: ‘System Preferences’ => ‘Displays’ => ‘Night Shift’ => adjust the bar to your liking and turn on.
- Artificial tears: A dry eye is a painful eye. Apart from ensuring proper hydration and a humidifier for a dry room, artificial tears are a helpful adjunct to eye health for the student glued to the computer screen. I recommend using preservative-free artificial tears. Please avoid redness relieving drops; these are distinct from artificial tears. The artificial tears I prefer are here, as they are preservative free. If you are using the drops <4 times per day, it is okay to use preservative-containing eye drops.
Problems: Low mood, burn out
- Behavioral interventions: Exercise, healthy diet, create a list of 20+ mood-improving activities and use it when sad, engage in principals of cognitive-behavioral therapy, and do not feel guilty for doing things you love to do. Smile for no reason at all.
- *Light therapy box: When sunlight hits the skin, it causes for the release of a compound called β-endorphin, a naturally-occurring substance that promotes pain relief and a happy mood. In fact, this is postulated to be the reason some people become “addicted” to sun tanning! Students often do not get enough sunlight; and a light therapy box may help counteract the negative impact that this lack may cause. This therapy has also been proven to be effective in seasonal affective disorder (depression with seasonal pattern) which is depression that occurs typically with winters and dissipates during the summer. I have used this therapy box and have found it quite effective to my own mood maintenance. https://amzn.to/3dirsW8
*Warning, may rarely induce seizures in epileptic patients.
- Therapy: Therapy works wonders for mental health and burnout. Ask your primary care provider (your doctor) for a referral or try this online cognitive behavioral therapy website. I think you may be surprised about how many negative coping mechanisms, harmful perceptions, and unnecessary stress you are unknowingly engaging in.
- Food & Errands: When studying, make sure you have snacks that you enjoy. I personally find a scoop of jam makes me feel…spectacular. For this reason, I always make sure my fridge has some farm fresh raspberry jam. It seems to make my studying-related headaches go away. I believe this is due, in part, to the fact that the main source of energy for the brain is sugar, and some of the sugar from the jam is absorbed directly in the mouth. Preparing meals for lunch and dinner in advance is also a great way to efficiently use your time off for more recreational activities. You may also purchase meal preparation services, have groceries delivered to your door-step, and/or have your laundry washed and folded for you. Engaging in these services will leave you more time to do the things you love to do.
Problems: Insomnia, environmental stimuli
- Behavioral interventions: Sleep at-least 7 hours per day, exercise (but at-least six hours before bed), healthy diet, avoid alcohol, avoid stimulants (e.g. caffeine, nicotine), quiet + dark + cool room, avoid large meals before bedtime, have a set bed + wake time, avoid reading or working in bedroom, and leave the bedroom if cannot fall asleep after 20 minutes to read a book.
- White noise +/- earplugs: Having grown up in an eleven-person home, I truly understand the struggle that is sleeping in a noisy home. I have two solutions; the first is white noise, the second is earplugs. White noise is a sound that we often play to help babies sleep. I find it very helpful to block out other environmental noises, like a door opening or someone walking in the corridor. Secondarily, I will use earplugs with the white noise for the extra noisy nights. This is the soundtrack I use for white noise (which, in my case, is a fan noise rather than white noise proper). These interventions are also helpful during the day to block out the environmental distractions! https://open.spotify.com/track/3Nk19T6QlhyshOKhIVitMq?si=TfE6tzLeRR2H_qV7Kcm3ow.
- Weighted blanket: If you are someone who has anxiety or fidgets in bed, a weighted blanket may be a helpful therapeutic option. I find it to be an amazing comfort. You should go for approximately 10% of your body weight. For example, if you are 150 pounds, you would go for a ~15 pound blanket. https://amzn.to/3vWiKU1
- Blackout curtains: One of the stimuli for wakefulness is light. A blackout curtain may help promote sleepiness by blocking out light from your windows. https://amzn.to/3BuLlUC
- Caffiene: We all know this one, but a cup of coffee goes a long way for mental clarity and focus. If coffee upsets your stomach, you can try caffiene pills instead! https://amzn.to/3vO1nY0
Full disclosure: I receive a 2-5% referral commission from the links in this blog post, but I receive commission for all items sold on amazon, and have only recommended goods and services that I personally have used and found effective.