By Mina Todosijevic

After listening to Dr. Greg Wells’ talk at New College a few weeks ago, I was really inspired to try out some of these “wonder methods” for boosting my health and grades. Last week I embarked on a mission to test out some of the methods he outlined to see how they would affect my mood, concentration and health.

A cluttered desk

Photo by yum9me

Exercise and sleep:

After hearing that exercise helps you get a better quality of sleep, and thus makes you need to sleep less, I excitedly hurried off to the gym. That first night, I went from sleeping nine to 10 hours and waking up groggy to sleeping for seven hours. I woke up, for the first time, fresh and full of energy. I was completely amazed by the effects of the exercise—until I promptly fell asleep in the third row of my lecture.

After that slightly demoralizing first try, I continued trying to frequent the gym; however, when I had to choose between an extra hour of studying or something that was supposed to make my body function better, I almost always chose studying.

While working out didn’t affect my sleep in the positive way I had hoped for, it made me feel healthier and more accomplished.

Walking/being active before a midterm:

This was one of the simplest suggestions, and one of the ones I was most curious to try out. I had two opportunities to try this one out. The first turned out to be non-voluntarily; waking up 15 minutes before the start of my midterm meant I had to half-run to my class to make it on time. At least it got my heart rate up!

At the second midterm, arriving early meant I found myself in a really crowded room full of stressed-out students. While I did eye the staircases, following Dr. Wells’ suggestion to run up and down them suddenly seemed like a waste of 10 minutes I could spend revising the material one last time. I ended up sticking to my regular method of blasting music to avoid listening to stressed-out conversations and flipping through my notes at top speed to assure myself that I did, in fact, know enough to pass the exam. While I did not technically follow the exercise advice, Dr. Wells did go on at great length about how stress negatively impacts the body, so I don’t believe that following my re-assuring routine did great harm to my academic success.

Getting 7.5 hours of sleep:

The idea behind this is that one REM cycle is 90 minutes, so sleeping in 90-minute increments is the most efficient way to recharge. Despite setting my alarm almost every day to give myself seven-and-a-half hours of sleep, I would open my eyes only long enough to set another, later alarm; this pattern would continue until I had just enough time to pull on real clothes instead of pajamas and bolt out of the house. I ended up sleeping an average of nine to 10 hours each day, with a couple of days where I ran on six to seven hours of sleep.

Drinking water:

Confession: I do not drink water unless I have to. Ever. If I’m dying of thirst, I’ll make myself some tea or just ignore it until it goes away. However, for the sake of working out and trying to be healthy, I filled up a pitcher of water and forced myself to drink four to six cups a day.

While this may be just because I was ignoring the feeling of thirst for the last few years, drinking a generous amount of water every day made me feel much better.

Food/Nutrition:

I was very interested in Dr. Wells’ vehement support of green tea over coffee. I did try to drink more green tea throughout the day when I needed to study, and found myself being more focused. Coffee normally affects me very dramatically, to the point where I often can’t sleep if I drink more than one coffee in the morning. However, downing several cups of green tea during late-night study sessions did not stop me from crashing as soon as my head hit my pillow. This is probably one of the ‘hacks’ that I’m most likely to continue using in my day-to-day life.

While Dr. Wells also recommended resisting stress-eating and only eating until you’re 80% full, I reassured myself with the pop-psychology idea that willpower is a limited resource, and happily stuffed my face with Fruit Loops and pizza pockets as usual.

All in all, I generally found it very difficult to convince myself to change my tried-and-true nightly/exam rituals in order to experiment with something that may or may not work on me. When it came closer to my midterms, I’d find myself forgetting that I was supposed to be doing this experiment. Instead of being helpful, it was more of an extra obligation; one more thing to think about. Even though I knew Dr. Wells’ suggested actions would be a more efficient way of functioning, it was easier to do less-efficient things that were already habits.

I’m sure a more rigorous and longer application of the tips would find different results; one week is not long enough to see huge changes in performance. But because Dr. Wells was aiming his talk at exam-week behaviours, I was curious to see how easy they’d be to implement in such an environment. While I felt generally more accomplished with the rituals, I did not feel any significant change in my concentration levels or ability to do schoolwork. However, my general sense of well-being definitely improved, despite the relatively small changes I was making in my daily routine.

If you try out Dr. Wells’ bio-hacking methods, let us know whether any of them worked for you!