Material for this article is taken from the Healthy Living in Grad School workshop given by GPS and materials developed by the Baylor Sleep Neuroscience and Cognition Lab. If you would like to review the recording of this session, it is forthcoming on our website and will be posted to this page:

Grad School is an incredible opportunity: it’s a place where you’re able to make new discoveries, push the boundaries of knowledge, and build communities of scholarship that last a lifetime. However, between the excitement and the workload and the demands of an ever-increasingly-busy schedule, it can be easy to forget that we are more than our academic studies. And in forgetting this, we can actually harm our ability to pursue the things we love.

As a result, today’s article is on ways to cultivate healthy life habits in Grad School, particularly when it comes to sleep and fitness. Being intentional about these areas can not only enrich your life outside of the academy, but better equip you for flourishing within it.

Cultivating Better Sleep:

Sleep is an absolutely vital function for the human body, and it has the power to impact well-being in a variety of ways. Sleep deprivation can result in detrimental effects on memory, logical reasoning, mood, learning, and even overall happiness. Conversely, those who get enough good sleep often see improvement over time in the same areas. As a result, it’s important to be intentional about sleep schedules and ensuring you are getting enough rest. To that end, here are some tips to improve your sleep:

  1. Avoid electronics 30 minutes before bedtime.
  2. Avoid caffeine and any other stimulants after 5:00pm.
  3. Only use your bed for sleep, rather than studying or entertainment.
  4. If you can’t fall asleep within 10 minutes, get up and leave the room. Then try going to bed again when you feel sleepy.
  5. Avoid long daytime naps, and take a walk instead.
  6. Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on the weekends.
  7. If you go to bed and can’t stop thinking, write down all your thoughts or worries or to-dos for the next day, along with anything else that comes to mind.

Pursuing Fitness:

Part of being an embodied person is remembering that our bodies are made to move. However, many academic environments entail a lot of hours behind a desk or in a lab environment, which don’t always provide opportunities for lots of movement and can cause muscles to stiffen and atrophy over time. So make sure that you take space in your life to move, check in with your body, see where it is and what its needs are, and remind yourself of your physical limitations. This also creates an opportunity for you to interact with a different side of yourself from academia, providing a much-needed brain break that can be incredibly rejuvenating. As you begin this process, or perhaps as you continue on a process already begun, here’s a few things to keep in mind.

  1. Find the fitness method that works best for you. Maybe you like the sensation of running, the routine of choreographed activities, the repetition of a weights session, the scenic nature of a long walk, perhaps you’re looking for something low-impact or something really cardio-focused – whatever your preferences are, find the method that works for you and that you are excited about pursuing. It’s always easier to be intentional about something that you care about and it’s important to take the time to find out what will be the most suitable for your body’s needs.
  2. Talk to a medical professional or fitness instructor if you have questions about areas of your body experiencing pain or stiffness, or even if you are just unsure where to begin. It’s always wise to seek the help of experts, since they offer valuable insights and guidance, many times in unexpected ways.
  3. Discover community in your fitness journey. Fitness classes, programs, and activities can be a great way to find new communities and build support networks that last beyond your graduate journey. Becoming involved in a world separate from your workplace also helps reinforce a healthy work-life balance, while offering opportunities for meaningful achievements and goals not related to the academy.
  4. Whatever fitness path you choose, don’t think of it as a chore or something you have to do, but as a gift to yourself. It’s easy to get wrapped up in goals and milestones and become so hyper-focused on the body you want, that you forget to love and appreciate the body you have. This can add an extra level of stress to fitness that makes it difficult to enjoy, causing frustration because of the time it takes to achieve goals and making workout about a product, rather than a process.
  5. And finally, be intentional. Plan your workouts strategically throughout the week, so that they are long-term sustainable. It’s not helpful to set incredibly ambitious goals at the beginning of the semester, if halfway through, when your schedule intensifies, you become overwhelmed or have to give up altogether. Whatever you pick for your fitness method and however you schedule it, make sure this is something you will be able to consitently commit to, no matter what time of the year it is. One of the most important factors in any fitness journey is consistency, so set yourself up for success from the start.

Now, of course, these aren’t the only ways to cultivate a healthy life in Grad School. Hobbies, relationships, mental health, nutrition, spiritual life, and many other areas can all have a significant impact on your well-being. So don’t think of these tips as some kind of limitation, but as a starting place. And as you move beyond them into other areas, embrace the journey of becoming not only a flourishing grad student, but a flourishing human being.