The Need for Speed
How to Stay Fast and Furious for All Four Years of Med School (and then some)
Diet, exercise, and sleep are widely accepted as the holy trinity of health for maximizing academic performance. The following strategies and mindsets can help make better decisions in these regards to meet the demands that medical school puts on your mind, body, and schedule.
Don’t be a 3-square
Eat multiple meals every few hours to replenish your brain’s energy reserves. Eat when your body tells you you’re hungry, not in keeping with a thrice-daily meal plan that goes back as far as the Middle Ages.
If you don’t already know that water is essential to the proper functioning of every part of your body, you’ve chosen the wrong career path. Consider that a mere 2 percent decrease in body water can cause dehydration and a drop in performance for athletes. Liter bottles of seltzer are dirt cheap, so try buying them in bulk and having one on hand wherever you go.
Choose whole grains and proteins over refined carbs and sugars
The University of Maryland’s Dr. Pamela Peeke writes that refined carbohydrates (e.g. pasta, white bread, white rice, processed foods) can cause a spike in sugar, “followed by plunge in insulin levels, which can cause fatigue and weakness.” Writing in the journal Neuron, scientists at the University of Cambridge found that eating foods high in protein leads to increased wakefulness and bodily activity.
Consider natural stimulants
Not all stimulants are synthetic. Consider maca, cacao, green tea, chia seeds, and other pick-me-ups that weren’t cooked in a lab.
Lose the “all or nothing” mentality
As a med student, you need more time than you have. Of course, a consistent exercise routine has several benefits, including keeping you alert on a regular basis, but in a pinch even a few short seconds of exercise can be as effective as a cup of coffee. Something is always better than nothing. In fact, long, intense workouts make most people tired anyway.
Look for targeted workouts with energy as their main objective
All exercise can boost your energy levels, but look for workouts specifically designed for this purpose. They’re out there.
Lean towards cardio
It’s summer all year long at a Caribbean medical school, and no one can blame you for wanting to work on your beach body. But the big muscles created by anaerobic exercise are not going to give you as much energy as aerobic exercise. A recent study in Physiology found that aerobic exercise can increase neurogenesis. That is, the growth of new brain cells in an already mature brain.”
Although the National Sleep Foundation (yes, such an entity exists) recommends seven to nine hours of sleep per night for adults, quality may be at least as important as quantity. With that in mind, here are some ways to sleep more soundly so you can be your best self the next day.
Avoid caffeine, tobacco products, and alcohol
Alcohol may initially take the edge off, but after a few hours it begins to act as a stimulant, just like coffee and cigarettes. Try not to drink within three hours of bedtime.
Turn off your smartphone, tablet, or laptop
These devices emit enough blue light to suppress the production of melatonin, a hormone essential to regulating sleep. Turn them off an hour or two before you call it a night.
Reset your circadian rhythm
Fasting for 12-16 hours before you wake up can help your body reprogram its assumed “morning” time. You can also try chronotherapy by gradually pushing your bedtime backwards or forwards to train your body for your desired bedtime. Bright light therapy is another method to help you synchronize your internal clock with the solar day.