It’s that time of year again, not only Christmas but finals, which can make many college students feel like walking zombies after too much last minute cramming and too little sleep.

Of course, heightened stress and minimal sleep around finals time can cause related back pain, neck pain and other physical problems.

With all of this in mind, here are some tips you might pass on to your kids in college, or utilize yourself if you are studying.

  1. Maintain Proper Posture While Studying

    A major part of finals involves studying, including catching up on reading assignments that conveniently fell to the wayside during the past three or four months.

    Whether studying at the library, in a dorm room, or somewhere else, be sure to apply the following ergonomically-friendly tips:

    • Align your back with the back of the office chair, and make a conscious effort to avoid slouching or leaning forward, which can be a bit difficult after hours upon hours of studying (see tip #2 to avoid slouching)
    • Keep your arms flexed at a 75 to 90 degree angle at the elbows when studying at an office chair or desk, and make sure that your shoulders are straight
    • Keep your feet flat on the floor and your knees even with or slightly higher than the hips. If this proves difficult, use a footrest (just as long as the footrest does not include your textbooks, which you’ll need to pass your exams).

    For more information on correct posture while sitting, see Office Chair, Posture and Driving Ergonomics.

  2. Give Yourself a Break – Get Up and Stretch

    Intent on getting through a semester’s worth of materials in less than 24 hours, many students try to stay fixated in the same study position when cramming.

    While this method may be an effective, down-to-business strategy for studying, it is not very courteous to the body, often resulting in back soreness and neck stiffness.

    With this in mind, get up every 30 minutes and stretch.

    Not only does stretching provide a nice break for the mind, it allows the body to refresh, specifically by getting the blood flowing and muscles active following such long periods of inactivity.

    A variety of quick stretches can be completed during a 5-10 minute study break, including this simple office chair stretch.

    For more stretching ideas, see Stretching for Back Pain Relief.

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  1. Eliminate the All Nighter and Get Your Sleep

    If you are like I was in college, the all nighter was all-too-familiar before Christmas break, leaving me feeling like a wreck during and after finals.

    While getting the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep may not be attainable (especially if you have dreaded, killer back-to-back finals), try not to dip below six hours each night.

    With that said, keep these other tips in mind:

    • Stay on a regular schedule. While difficult, try to maintain as much of a regular schedule as possible. For example, try to go to bed at the same time each night, and wake up and get out of bed at the same time each morning during finals.
    • Don’t let finals change your schedule. Rather, make alterations to your daily schedule that allow for more study time without compromising sleep.
    • Avoid naps during the day. A nap may seem like a good idea following a sleepless night spent preparing for a 7 a.m. final, but it can actually disrupt the routine sleep-wake cycle even more. Of course, none of us are perfect, and a nap may be necessary following studying. If this proves the case, try to take a short nap rather than a longer one that makes it difficult to get to bed later that night.

    • Make your bed a resting place. A lot of students will choose to study with their books in bed, which can either make it easy to pass out when overtired or that much more difficult to get to sleep.

      Try to separate your studies from sleep time. This means making your bed a place to rest rather than one to study. Keep your books out of bed and out of your head, at least for a short period of time.

    • For more information on the relationship between sleep and pain, see Chronic Pain and Insomnia: Breaking the Cycle.

  2. Eat Healthy

    Just as many students tend to sacrifice sleep for the sake of studying during finals, the same goes for proper eating.

    Too often, finals week becomes a time to subsist on unhealthy fast food and caffeine rather than eating food that is healthy for the body and mind.

    Instead of falling into this trap, consider drinking water and eating foods that are full of essential vitamins and nutrients, such as fruits, vegetables, and many dairy products.

    For more information, see Food for Thought: Diet and Nutrition for a Healthy Back.

  3. Use Your Free Time to Exercise

    If there’s one good thing about semester finals, it’s that there can be a lot of down time, which is a perfect way to get away from the stress and do something good for your body.

    • Play some pickup basketball at the campus recreation center
    • Hit the weight machines or treadmill in your dorm
    • Participate in a weekly yoga session
    • Take a jog around the quad in the morning.

    Whatever works for you, engaging in exercise is a great way not only to give the mind a break but to let the body recuperate, especially if it’s taken a beating during the week.

    For more information on the importance of exercising for a healthy back, see Exercise and Back Pain.

With all of this said, best of luck as you enter the final stretch of the semester.

Remember that while this week may be tough, a nice, long winter break is waiting for you!

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