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Nutrition For Exam Periods - Stressful Times!

 

Exam periods are typically times where stress and anxiety is high. The pressures of doing well brings on its own stress which is often made worse from a lack of sleep, a drop in our nutrition quality and the extreme levels of focus and concentration we exert on our brains. While good nutrition might not make up for any gaps in knowledge you’re being examined on, it can help increase concentration levels and help maintain energy over this period. Here are a few points to help you stay on track...

Keep Eating

In an effort to free up more time to revise, don’t skip meals or go for quicker, less nutritious options over a proper meal. Getting enough protein and opting for lower GI foods may help stave off hunger and keep you going between meals (think oats or eggs for breakfast and maybe oily fish for lunch). Skipping meals or opting for quick and easy sugar fixes might save you minutes but will ultimately be more costly when it comes to energy and concentration.

Hydration

This is not the most exciting piece of advice but hydration has been shown numerous times to affect cognitive function. In school children, slight dehydration during the day led to lower cognitive test scores compared to a group who maintained hydration levels 1. In another study, when younger children drank a glass of water, they scored higher in cognitive tests and had an improved ‘happiness’ rating2. When it comes to water, some of us need to make a conscious effort to make sure that we’re getting enough. Use urine colour as a rough guide to how hydrated you are; aim for a clear colour or very pale yellow. When it comes to the exam, it is also a good idea to take a small bottle of water in with you. Long exams in hot rooms can leave you slightly dehydrated so take small sips throughout the exam. Try not to drink it in big gulps though as this might result in a toilet break.

Sleep

Regularly not getting enough time in the land of nod can have an impact on your cognitive function. In fact, in medical students it was found that sleep quality was associated with academic performance3. Your nutrition can play a role in your sleep quality. Here are a few tips to make sure you get enough shut-eye4;

  • High GI foods an hour or more before bedtime (rice, potatoes, pasta etc.) have been shown to help promote sleep
  • As too has high protein
  • Alcohol and caffeine have both been reported to cause impairments in sleep quality. Limit caffeine to before lunch time and alcohol for post exam celebrations
  • Hydration throughout the day is important. But overdoing it later on in the day might result in a midnight trip to the toilet.

Boost your Immune System

The added stress of exams will take its toll on your immune system. Take a look at our blog on “Colds, sniffles, sneezes and flu” for tips on helping prevent colds.

 

References:

  1. Bar-David, A. R., Urkin, J., & Kozminsky, E. L. Y. (2005). The effect of voluntary dehydration on cognitive functions of elementary school children. Acta Paediatrica, 94(11), 1667-1673.
  2. Edmonds, C. J., & Jeffes, B. (2009). Does having a drink help you think? 6–7-Year-old children show improvements in cognitive performance from baseline to test after having a drink of water. Appetite, 53(3), 469-472.
  3. Medeiros, A. L. D., Mendes, D. B., Lima, P. F., & Araujo, J. F. (2001). The relationships between sleep-wake cycle and academic performance in medical students. Biological Rhythm Research, 32(2), 263-270.
  4. Halson, S. L. (2014). Sleep in elite athletes and nutritional interventions to enhance sleep. Sports Medicine, 44(1), 13-23.