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What are your tips for staying alert throughout a long day

  1. Sep 18, 2013 #1
    I'm a Physics undergrad and I find that although I have the motivation to study for long periods of time, my mental acuteness declines throughout the day. I tend to start the day at around 8am and work until around 8pm (with a few hours worth of breaks scattered throughout). If I'm not in class I try to focus on studying. However as the day goes on I notice that it's more difficult to focus and internalize what I'm reading; almost as if my perception becomes more cloudy.

    I was hoping to get feedback on what others do to combat these things. Some of the more obvious:

    -Get plenty of sleep
    -Eat well/exercise
    -Take breaks periodically

    Any other tips? Most Internet resources turn up a bunch of pseudo-scientific BS so I'm hoping to get better advice.

  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 18, 2013 #2


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    - Coffee
    - Coffee
    - More Coffee

  4. Sep 18, 2013 #3


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    Good advice I got from one of my early mentors at work:

    If you have 10 days work to do and 5 days to do it in, spend the first 4 days working out which 9.5 days work isn't worth doing. Then do the half-day of important work on the last morning, and take the last afternoon off.

    That's a much better plan than hoping that if you work twice as hard or twice as long for all 5 days, you will get the job finished on time!
  5. Sep 18, 2013 #4
    Coffee is garbage, tea's effect lasts throughout the day, it's not like a sudden burst, releases slowly.
    I'm taking taking really cold showers, in the morning it feels like liquid nitrogen being poured on you, but it helps me stay alert.
  6. Sep 18, 2013 #5
    My solution is to just drink another coffee. Tea's effect on me is way too subtle.
  7. Sep 18, 2013 #6
    I actually think that the three you mentioned, in reality are it, but what they mean to you and how well you hold yourself to them are perhaps not so easy or obvious. Being older and having some health issues, I have to pay very particular attention to this stuff, so I kind of consider myself an expert, since if one elements out of balance I'm practically no good at all. The younger and healthier can be more flexible. Now, I'm doing math and no physics, but I hope you don't mind if I relate my experience here:

    1) Sleep
    Plenty means different things to different people. The more recent studies seem to say that not everyone needs x hours of sleep. There are legitimately people who can do 4 hours a night and be fine, and there are people who need a lot more. See :http://abcnews.go.com/Health/Sleep/10-sleep-myths-dream/story?id=10602717

    I find I do need about 8, BTW. I'm in bed with a book by 9:00 to calm down and probably fall asleep 10ish or later, and get up 6 or so.

    2) Eating well

    This means regularly, like every 2 hours, seriously. This is a really big deal for people who need their brains to work. And not just potato chips. I eat a lot of nuts, cheese (combined usually with some crackers or fruit, or just or on it's own), hummus (which I make myself) with crackers or vegetables, and anything I can find to put peanut butter on.

    As for coffee, I'm not good for giving advice there, as it is my last vice on earth (besides peanut butter) though I tend to not have more than 3 "shots" a day (I drink espresso). I find that under a certain level I can't think, and over a certain level I can't focus.

    3) Exercise. For me it has to be daily or I can't focus, though I only do something for 15 minutes. I alternate biking and running. Quick 15 and I'm done. I realized I don't have time to get into a serious exercise regimen right now, but doing it daily really does the trick.

    4) breaks
    This is another area where I would be wary of advice that puts numbers on this. (Like study for 45 minutes and break 15 or something). Sometimes you just get into a groove with something and it's better to keep going. I think taking breaks should be a very obvious and organic thing.

    The only exception? Bedtime. I cease all activity at 9:00pm unless it's super urgent (but I usually choose to get up earlier rather than stay up later.)

    You simply cannot expect your brain to work at the same level all day. I made a post about this recently. Give your brain something to do that is proportional to what energy you have at the moment rather than try to force it to do harder stuff.

    For me, this means I can't do any seriously thinky stuff after a certain time, but I can go through books and take some notes or write some definitions. If you've read the chapter already, do it again and find something you've missed, because trust me, you missed something.

    Here's another one. Say it's 6:00 pm and you want to hold yourself to studying two more hours, but your brain says "absolutely not - brain full." I often try to find something that might be my idea of "fun" but related to what I'm studying. So I might watch a youtube documentary that is math related, or do fun experimental math on my whiteboard, or read something about math history (which I actually find interesting.) There are plenty of physics analogs to what I just described here. I kind of think that just being immersed in what we're studying feeds our brain and can be very useful.

    I hope this is helpful.

    -Dave K
  8. Sep 18, 2013 #7
    There are no facts that support this statement. Caffeine is caffeine. The only thing different in tea vs. coffee is the amount per serving.

    -Dave K
  9. Sep 18, 2013 #8
    There are countless observations, however, it will most likely Not work if one's been caffeinating in high dosages for years. Same as a crack-smoker going back to regular cigarettes in terms of "feeling the hit".
  10. Sep 18, 2013 #9
    Not trying to be pedantic but you are being very imprecise here.

    It doesn't matter whether ones caffeine dosage comes from years or months of use, generally, except perhaps for the psychological (and sometimes cultural) aspect of it. If one decides to cut back on caffeine, (especially cutting it out altogether) it will take about 3 months total for your cortisol levels to normal out (which caffeine artificially raises) so you don't feel you need the "hit." And it doesn't matter if the caffeine is from tea or coffee or pills. Tea drinkers are just as addicted as coffee drinkers if they do it regularly.

    When/if cutting down, go very gradually. I recently cut back a bit by mixing decaf with regular about 1/8th part per week, and eventually got to half what I was drinking before. The difference during the cut back period was noticeable, but tolerable.

    -Dave K
  11. Sep 18, 2013 #10


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  12. Sep 18, 2013 #11
    If one is not a napper, does it take awhile to like...get the hang of it? I have tried napping before but it always made me feel strange and groggy.
  13. Sep 18, 2013 #12


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    Napping probably doesn't work for some people. Like caffeine and exercise don't work for me. People need to experiment and find what works for them.
  14. Sep 18, 2013 #13


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    You have to be in good shape to have more energy.So paradoxically spending some energy at the gym 3 times a week or playing a sport will help you.

    Also , coffee or any other stimulants can boost you temporarily.
  15. Sep 18, 2013 #14


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    Huh... none of these seem to work for me. :cry:
  16. Sep 18, 2013 #15
    And sugar lots more sugar....
    (psychopathic glee)
  17. Sep 19, 2013 #16
    Develop akathasia. That will keep you alert.

    To be honest I've always been able to power through work even on 2 hours of sleep a night.

    I guess what worked for me was that I really loved what I was studying, so I simply enjoyed the challenge.
  18. Sep 19, 2013 #17
    You were good and lucky, I have not been able to find what actually interests me most. I like everything and none really attracts me long. It happens to me like this, e.g I want to build a house, a big one, but after the house is built, I become interested in building a ship. And after the ship is done, I become in love with literature.
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