Finals, already? Strategies to avert zombie mode.


Finals – the word itself can make one cringe. Knowing the majority of our grade in a course depends on this final exam can bring out the worst in us whether it is sleeping 4 hours/day, drinking 3 cups of coffee to get out of zombie mode, eating muffins for lunch or sitting in the same library spot for 8 hours.

Now, I am not going to go on and provide you with a lecture on eating 3 healthy meals/day, exercising at least 5 hours/week, and sleeping for 8 hours/day during exam time. Ideally, this is what most of us would like to do but the exam period seems to be a major obstacle coming in our way. What I will do is provide some easily attainable alternatives that have worked for me like a charm:

1) Typically someone will tell you to lay off the junk food during exam time and focus on eating less fatty foods. What I say is this: “Your brain needs sugar. Eat!” A Harvard University study has found that for a 155 pound person, in 30 minutes, computer work such as typing burns 50 calories, desk work in terms of writing burns 65 calories and sitting in class simply listening to a professor burns 65 calories. You need lots of calorie intake since you’re exercising your brain, your most important organ. 1 gram of fat contains the most units of energy, 9 calories, compared to carbs and proteins which each house 4 calories. I’m not saying you should go off eating chips, chocolate cake and the ever-so-lovely tasting, mouth-watering bagels from the Spoke on a daily basis. What I do say to keep you happy during exam time, go ahead and have some cake but eat in moderation alongside healthy snacks or meals. Balance is key.


2) Exercise… what you wish you could be doing but too stressed and rattled about that final you have in 2 days that you don’t feel you’re in the mood to go, sweat, shower, and/or dry your hair. Not to worry! I’ll tell you what works for me and keeps me awake. I admit, during this time of year, most of my days are spent at Weldon library. This place gets PACKED by 10 am and one can barely find a decent spot to study until around 7 pm. Leaving the library for an hour to work out and coming back guarantees your spot will be taken by someone else. My exercise has been to walk around in the library and come back to my seat. It works! Moving around every 2 hours is key to letting your brain know that your legs are still attached and gives you a soothing free-your-mind feeling. I’ve managed to discover 2 hidden, spotless washrooms, a concealed tunnel, and untouched study rooms. Have a friend join the exploration too. Bonus points for socialization.


3) Sleep 8 hours/day? I’ll be honest and say that sleeping for that long makes me feel lethargic and drowsy the next day. It just doesn’t work out for me. Everyone is different. A person I know needs to sleep 9 hours/day to feel completely energized. Someone else I know has been used to 5 hours/day since the eleventh grade. During exam time, our adrenaline is on the high and this can make us sleep less. So it is naturally ok! Power naps for less than 30 minutes are crucial if you are sleep deprived and on the edge of falling off your desk. DO NOT GO OVER 30 MINUTES. Past that point, you are most likely to wake up with decreased alertness and performance according to a research study, aka zombie re-emergence.


I hope these alternatives work for you in keeping you awake on your journey to conquer those exams. Only less than 2 weeks left to go – you can do it!

Good luck!

Sources – if you’re interested in checking out more details (and to prove I did not make my points up):

Harvard study – calories burnt/day:

Power naps: Brooks, A; Lack, L (2006). “A brief afternoon nap following nocturnal sleep restriction: Which nap duration is most recuperative?”. Sleep 29 (6): 831–40


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