Your students’ intellectual wellness goes beyond academics and tutoring—here’s how to bolster it

Reading Time: 3 minutes Does your school reap the rewards of supporting students’ intellectual wellness beyond simply academic performance?

Does listening to music help you study?

Reading Time: 5 minutes Many students attest to the power of music to elevate their academic performance, but does listening to music really help you study?

What alcohol actually does to your sleep cycle

Reading Time: 6 minutes Thinking about having a nightcap to help you catch some extra zzz’s before the big exam? Read this article first.

Stay sharp: 3 ways to protect your memory

Reading Time: 5 minutes There’s a lot you can do to prevent memory loss down the road. Here are three things you shouldn’t do.

Think fast: 5 things you can do to improve your memory right now

Reading Time: 5 minutes Do you already forget what today’s lecture was about? Learn how to improve short-term memory and boost your test scores with five simple lifestyle habits.

Take a nap or push on through?

Reading Time: 7 minutes

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What’s in a nap? If you’re doing it right, napping brings a bunch of benefits: improved learning ability, memory, alertness, physical and mental stamina, and relief from stress. To avoid grogginess and other possible side effects, however, you need to be strategic about napping. This flowchart helps you figure out whether a nap will work for you or against you.

What are you hoping a nap will do for you?

Napping can make you smarter and improve your performance and alertness on the job. It can help you learn more, remember what you’re studying, and feel better.

Napping improves learning and memory:
  • College students with GPAs of 3.5 and higher were much more likely to be nappers than were their peers with lower GPAs in a 2010 study in Sleep and Breathing.
  • A 10-minute nap significantly improved alertness and cognitive performance in young adults, according to a 2001 study in the Journal of Sleep Research.
  • Napping for 90 minutes improves young adults’ capacity to learn, a small 2010 study found.
  • Napping is generally more effective than caffeine, especially for memory improvement, according to a 2008 study in Behavioral Brain Research.

Other effects

Napping improves tolerance and decision-making

In a 2015 study, participants who napped for an hour in the afternoon were better able to tolerate frustration and less prone to impulsive decision-making compared to the non-nappers, according to the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Napping relieves stress

A 45- to 60-minute nap reduced the effects of stress in undergraduate students in a 2011 study in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine. The students recovered from a stressor more quickly than stressed students who didn’t nap.

Napping improves physical performance

Athletes had quicker reaction times and performed better after a one-hour nap, according to a 2013 study in the Journal of Shangqiu Normal University.

If you’re looking to make all your troubles go away, napping isn’t the answer.

“Sleep can be a great way to help yourself if you’re sick, but it’s not the best way to cope with tough times,” says Dr. Sharon Sevier, chair of the board of directors of the American School Counselor Association. “When you’re asleep, you’re avoiding your problems, but when you’re awake, you can get the support you need from yourself and others.”

Need to compensate for missed sleep?

Skimping on sleep seriously affects our performance—and makes us oblivious to just how poorly we’re doing. That’s according to a 2003 study in which researchers at the University of Pennsylvania restricted people’s sleep. Even as the participants became less able to sustain their attention and succeed at memory tasks, they insisted they had adjusted to the shorter sleep hours, according to the journal Sleep.

Expecting a late night?

If you’re expecting to be up later than usual that night, planned napping—taking a nap before you get sleepy—may help. Remember, though, that all-nighters are highly disruptive to your body and mind. Sleep-deprived cramming is unlikely to help you perform better on tests, research shows.

Don’t take a nap this time. SORRY.

Are you low on energy and planning to drive?

GO FOR IT. Take that nap.

If you’re sleepy and planning to drive, take an emergency nap.

This is critical. Sleep-deprived drivers are as dangerous as drunken drivers, according to a study in the journal Nature (1997). Napping improves our alertness and reaction times. Pilots who nap during flights are better at landing planes, according to a classic study in the Journal of Sleep Research.

If you feel sleepy while driving…

Pull into a safe, well-lit area, such as a rest stop or restaurant parking lot, and take a 15- to 20-minute nap minute nap, says the National Sleep Foundation.

If you can’t nap before driving long distances, and are not really tired, use caffeine.

Long-distance commercial drivers who used caffeinated substances were less likely to crash their vehicles than those who didn’t, a 2013 study in The BMJ found. But if you’re really tired, caffeine is not enough. Don’t drive.

What’s the time?

The best time to nap is in the early afternoon: 1–3 p.m.

Fortunately, this is probably when you most want to snooze. “This sleepiness comes from a true physiologic process, because we have a dip in the alerting signal of our circadian rhythm,” says Dr. Shelley Hershner, director of the Collegiate Sleep Disorder Clinic at the University of Michigan (quoted on the graduate school website).

Napping later than 3 p.m., however, could set you up for a wakeful night. Try another way to pick up your energy:

  • Snack on vegetables, fruit, beans, and nuts. The nutrients in these food groups are natural energy boosters, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
  • Drink water or herbal tea. Dehydration can cause fatigue, according to dietitians at the University of Michigan. From midafternoon onward, avoid caffeine; that will keep you up at night, too.
  • Don’t just sit there. A few jumping jacks or yoga moves, or a quick walk, will help you feel more alive. Even a 15-minute walk can give you an energy boost, says the National Health Service in the UK.

Nap wheel: What’s your ideal nap time? 

Don’t take a nap this time. SORRY.

How much time do you have for a nap?

You need at least 10 minutes, and sometimes that’s enough. Even brief naps can result in measurable performance improvements, research shows. “Did you know that a six-minute nap increased subjects’ memorization of a list of words by 11 percent? Hey, most of us would be happy to take a letter grade higher, especially for a 10-minute investment in time,” writes Dr. Shelley Hershner of the University of Michigan (on the graduate school website, referencing the Journal of Sleep Research, 2008). Allow a few extra minutes for falling asleep.

If you don’t have time to nap, caffeine might help. Caffeine does not have the same brain benefits as napping, but it makes us feel more physically awake (because napping can induce grogginess), according to a 2008 study in Behavioral Brain Research. 

But the same time limit applies: Don’t consume caffeine after 3 p.m., or you risk your nighttime sleep.

Do you have more than 10 minutes?
The optimal length of a nap is disputed. Check out these options, then see what works for you.

Up to half an hour

Napping for 10–30 minutes gets you some brain benefits without inducing grogginess, so how do you wake up on time? Some studies have found benefits in “coffee naps.” If you’re confident you can fall asleep quickly, try drinking a cup of coffee and taking your nap; around 25 minutes in, the caffeine will kick in and wake you. A small study in the journal Ergonomics suggested coffee naps may be more effective for alertness and performance than napping alone.

Up to an hour

Some evidence suggests we can nap for up to an hour without feeling that grogginess and inertia. In a 2012 study, naps of 40 and 60 minutes allowed for more slow-wave (deep) sleep and led to bigger performance improvements than 20-minute naps did, according to Chronobiology International.

Up to 90 minutes

A typical sleep cycle (incorporating deep sleep and REM sleep) takes about 90 minutes. In studies, naps of 60 or 90 minutes have resulted in greater benefits for visual and memory tasks, compared with shorter naps.

Be wary of napping beyond 90 minutes. If you nap longer, “it’s harder to wake up and leaves you groggy because you’ve interrupted a sleep cycle,” says Nancy H. Rothstein, director of corporate sleep programs at Circadian, a workplace performance and safety consultancy based in Massachusetts.

Don’t take a nap this time. SORRY.

Are you having trouble sleeping at night?

If you’re having difficulty falling asleep at night, a nap will likely make that worse.

Do you have insomnia?

Insomnia is difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep at night, accompanied by daytime exhaustion, that is not explained by lifestyle and behavioral factors. It can be related to stress, transitions, psychiatric conditions, medications, or substance use. Most adults experience insomnia at some point in their lives, according to the Mayo Clinic.

If you are having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, behavioral changes can help, such as being physically active during the day and avoiding stimulating activities (including screen use) close to bedtime.

Insomnia treatment

If you think you are experiencing insomnia, talk with your health care provider or go to your counseling center. Medication may help in the short term. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a proven treatment for insomnia, and can be effectively delivered in the traditional therapeutic setting or online, according to the Journal of Psychology Research and Behavioral Management (2011).

More about insomnia

Don’t take a nap this time. SORRY.


Do you have access to a quiet, comfortable location?

GO FOR IT. Take that nap.

A promising nap environment looks like this:

  • You can lie down; it’s harder to fall asleep when you’re sitting up.
  • You have a blanket nearby in case you get cold, but you won’t get so warm and comfy that it’s a struggle to get up.
  • You can darken the room or use an eye mask.
  • You won’t be disturbed by noise; if necessary, use headphones or a noise machine.

Bonus! Some colleges provide napping stations for students.

Don’t take a nap this time. SORRY.

[survey_plugin] Article sources

Shelley Hershner, MD, director, Collegiate Sleep Disorder Clinic, University of Michigan.

Nancy H. Rothstein, director, corporate sleep programs, Circadian, Massachusetts.

Sharon Sevier, PhD, chair, board of directors, American School Counselor Association.

Ackerman, J., & Zarracina, J. (n.d.). How to nap. [Infographic]. Boston Globe. Retrieved from:

American College Health Association. (Spring 2014). National College Health Assessment. Retrieved from

Anwar, Y. (2010). An afternoon nap markedly boosts the brain’s learning capacity. Berkeley News. Retrieved from

Bonnet, M. H., & Arand, D. L. (1994). The use of prophylactic naps and caffeine to maintain performance during a continuous operation. Ergonomics, 37(6), 1009–1020.

Borbély, A. (1982). A two-process model of sleep regulation. Human Neurobiology, 1(3), 195–204.

Brindle, R. C., & Conklin, S. (2012). Daytime sleep accelerates cardiovascular recovery after psychological stress. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 19(1), 111–114.

Dawson, D., & Reid, K. (1997). Fatigue, alcohol, and performance impairment. Nature, 388, 235.

Eliasson, A. H., Lettieri, C. J., & Eliasson, A. H. (2010). Early to bed, early to rise! Sleep habits and academic performance in college students. Sleep and Breathing, 14(1), 71–75.

Fenn, K. M., Nusbaum, H. C., & Margoliash, D. (2003). Consolidation during sleep of perceptual learning of spoken language. Nature, 425(6958), 614–616.

Goldschmied, J. R., Cheng, P., Kemp, K., Caccamo, L., et al. (2015). Napping to modulate frustration and impulsivity: A pilot study. Personality and Individual Differences, 86, 164–167.

Hershner, S. (2014). How to nap. University of Michigan. Retrieved from

Hershner, S. (2014). Why you should nap. University of Michigan. Retrieved from

Jamieson-Petonic, A. (2013). 5 ways to fight fatigue with food. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved from

Lahl, O., Wispel, C., Willigens, B., & Pietrowsky, R. (2008). An ultra-short episode of sleep is sufficient to promote declarative memory performance. Journal of Sleep Research, 17(1), 3–10.

Lo, J. C., Dijk, D. J., & Groeger, J. A. (2014). Comparing the effects of nocturnal sleep and daytime napping on declarative memory consolidation. PLoS ONE, 9(9).

Mayo Clinic. (November 21, 2012). Napping: Do’s and don’ts for healthy adults. Retrieved from:

Mayo Clinic. (2014). Insomnia. Retrieved from

Mednick, S. C., Cai, D. J., Kanady, J., & Drummond, S. (2008). Comparing the benefits of caffeine, naps, and placebo on verbal, motor, and perceptual memory. Behavioral Brain Research, 193(1), 79–86.

Mulrine, H. M., Signal, T. L., van den Berg, M. J., & Gander, P. H. (2012). Post-sleep inertia performance benefits of longer naps in simulated nightwork and extended operations. Chronobiology International, 29(9), 1249–1257.

National Health Service. (2015). Self-help tips to fight fatigue. Retrieved from:

National Sleep Foundation. (n.d.). Napping. Retrieved from

National Sleep Foundation. (2015). How much sleep do we really need? Retrieved from

Rosekind, M. R., Smith, R. M., Miller, D. L., Co, E. L., et al. (1995). Alertness management: Strategic naps in operational settings. Journal of Sleep Research, 4(S2), 62–66.

Sharwood, L., Elkington, J., Meuleners, L., Ivers, R., et al. (2013). Use of caffeinated substances and risk of crashes in long-distance drivers of commercial vehicles: Case-control study. British Medical Journal, 346.

Siebern, A. T., & Manber, R. (2011). New developments in cognitive behavioral therapy as the first-line treatment of insomnia. Journal of Psychology Research and Behavioral Management, 4, 21–28.

Tietzel, A. J., & Lack, L. C. (2002). The recuperative value of brief and ultra-brief naps on alertness and cognitive performance. Journal of Sleep Research, 11(3), 213–218.

Twery, M. (2014, December 29). Why is sleep important? US Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from

University of Michigan. (2011). Fight fatigue with food and exercise. Comprehensive Cancer Center. Retrieved from

Van Dongen, H. P., Maislin, G., Mullington, J. M., & Dinges, D. F. (2003). The cumulative cost of additional wakefulness: Dose-response effects on neurobehavioral functions and sleep physiology from chronic sleep restriction and total sleep deprivation. Sleep, 26(2), 117–26.

Walker, M. P., & Stickgold, R. (2004). Sleep-dependent learning and memory consolidation. Neuron, 44(1), 121–133.

Yan, L., & Zhou, Y. (2013). Effect of nap on physical function after sport training for athletes. Journal of Shangqiu Normal University, 2013(3).

10 test tips: How to remember that stuff you forget

Reading Time: 3 minutes Do you study your brains out, only to forget everything when the test rolls around? Try these effective studying strategies, proven by science to help you remember stuff.

Ultimate life hack: How to make time work for you

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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We could all use a little help in the get-stuff-done department. What if you had a tool to efficiently manage your workflow—one that’s easy to make and use? It’s called a Kanban board, and it’s going to change the way you get your assignments (and everything else) done from now until June. Also available as apps.

Each term or semester has goals. Not just in class, but in everything you’re doing. Make the board about doing all the things you want to do—responsibly. Get the work done quickly, meet your goals, and make sure there’s time for friends and everything else.
—Jim Benson, Kanban expert, founder of Modus Cooperandi, and author of Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life (CreateSpace, 2011)

“Personal Kanban is based on years of observation and organizational and cognitive psychology,” says Jim Benson, an expert on adapting Kanban for personal use and author of Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life (CreateSpace, 2011).

One of the main benefits of using Kanban is seeing the workload, says Benson. “We can better manage what we can see. Visualization calms a natural tendency to overanalyze the work before us.” He adds that when we write our work down on sticky notes or cards, it gives our tasks substance and context.

“It’s a simple thing, right?” asks Benson. “Sticky notes on a wall or a whiteboard. But it immediately puts [our] stressful demands into context. There might be a lot of notes there, but it’s a finite number. We look at that and say to ourselves, ‘I can do that.’ As we start to do work, we see the movement; we see the tickets physically move through the board. It’s like our work is running down a field toward the goal or like we’re eating that elephant one bite at a time. Each ticket becomes a mini-goal that is super obtainable—and before we know it, we’re almost done.”

A simple, powerful time-management tool

Kanban originated from the Japanese word for “sign” or “signboard.” It was initially designed by Japanese car manufacturers in the late 1950s to help move products efficiently through the production line. Studies show that the Kanban method works, and US manufacturers, software developers, businesses, and students now use it to manage their workload. The power of Kanban is in its straightforward, visual layout.

Visual structure for one-off and ongoing tasks

The old-school to-do lists works well for tasks you can complete quickly. But studying for a biology exam, for example, is something you might be working on all week. The visual nature of a Kanban board allows you to keep track of ongoing projects (e.g., your biology labs) and observe the flow of work. This makes sense; most people recall visuals better than they do audio, according to a 2014 University of Iowa study.

A board and a bunch of sticky notes

Kanban board

A Kanban board uses sticky notes, cards, or tickets to keep track of assignments. You separate the board into vertical sections based on what you need to do, what you’re currently working on, and what you’ve completed. Then you write down all of your tasks on the notes or cards and place them in the appropriate sections. As you work on a task, you move it through each section until it ends up in the “done” column.

1. Separate a whiteboard, corkboard, or poster board into (at least) three sections.

You can name the sections anything you want. The point is to make sure you have a section for tasks you haven’t started yet, at least one section for tasks you’re working on, and one for tasks you’ve accomplished.

You may find it helpful to separate the middle section (“Doing”) into two: “Started” and “Ongoing.” That makes more space for long-term projects. In addition, your tasks seem to move through the system more quickly, which you may find more motivating.

2. Grab a pack of sticky notes or 3 x 5 cards, and write down all of your assignments, tasks, projects, and to-dos.

For example, you might include tasks like these:

Full kanban board "To do", "Doing", "Done"

Break larger projects into smaller component tasks, and give each smaller task its own note. Stick your notes or cards onto your board, depending on whether the task has been started, is ongoing, or is complete.

As you work on projects or add new ones, move them through each section on your Kanban board.

Don’t forgo the “Done” column—it’s just as important as the rest. Marking a task as finished could initiate a positive chain reaction to help you get other assignments done, according to research. When participants couldn’t cross a task off their mental to-do list, it hampered their ability to efficiently complete a second task, according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

3. Identify bottlenecks and limit work in progress.

Look for crunch points

Now that you’ve laid out all of your tasks and assignments, take a look at your board. Where are your tasks backing up? Is catching up on your class readings preventing you from moving on to the homework questions? Kanban systems are known for helping users identify inefficient areas and challenging people to think of creative ways to resolve them, writes David J. Anderson in Kanban: Successful Evolutionary Change for Your Technology Business (Blue Hole Press, 2010).

Remember that you can only do so much in a day

Focus on completing small tasks or manageable portions of larger tasks and moving them through the board. As you identify the slow-downs in your schedule, think strategically about how you can set aside some extra time to focus on those areas. That way, you can reduce the amount of work in progress and improve your ability to hit your due dates.

Figure out how you should reallocate time

“Academics isn’t always crunch times and cramming,” says Benson. “Set up a board with the classes and activities for the term. Use either colors or horizontal lanes to know what work is going well and what might need some attention. If you are crushing it in one class and searching in another, use the board to prompt you to spend more time or develop strategies to help out in the [classes you’re struggling in].”


Article sources

Jim Benson, personal Kanban expert, founder of Modus Cooperandi, and author of Personal Kanban: Mapping Work | Navigating Life (CreateSpace, 2011).

Anderson, D. J. (2010). Kanban: Successful evolutionary change for your technology business. Sequim, WA: Blue Hole Press.

Bigelow, J., & Poremba, A. (2014, February 26). Achilles’ ear? Inferior human short-term and recognition memory in the auditory modality. PLoS One, 9(2), e89914. Retrieved from

Heikkilä, V. T., Paasivaara, M., & Lassenius, C. (2016, May). Teaching university students Kanban with a collaborative board game. In Proceedings of the 38th International Conference on Software Engineering Companion (pp. 471–480). ACM.

Joosten, T., Bongers, I., & Janssen, R. (2009, August 19). Application of lean thinking to health care: Issues and observations. International Journal for Quality in Health Care, 21(5).
Retrieved from

LeanKit Inc. (n.d.). What is Kanban? Retrieved from

Masicampo, E. J., & Baumeister, R. F. (2011, June 20). Consider it done! Plan making can eliminate the cognitive effects of unfulfilled goals. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Retrieved from

Nakamura, M., Sakakibara, S., & Schroeder, R. (2002, August 6). Adoption of just-in-time manufacturing methods at US- and Japanese-owned plants: Some empirical evidence. IEEE Transactions on Engineer, 45(3). Retrieved from

Peterson, D. (n.d.). What is Kanban? Retrieved from

Student Health 101 survey, June 2016.

Vista Success. (2015, December 17). How to stay organized in college with Kanban. Retrieved from

How to remember what you learn

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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Anyone who has taken an exam has likely reached into their memory for that moment when the professor explained a crucial point, and found…nothing. That stuff isn’t necessarily there when we need it. But a recent study offers a simple way to avoid this. Briefly replaying a memory in our heads or describing it out loud can fix it in our minds and enable us to recall it later, researchers showed.

Memories can be lost unless they are consolidated, or “fixed,” in the mind. In the study, participants watched 26 video clips, each lasting 40 seconds. For 20 of the clips, participants replayed it in their minds or put it into their own words (again, for 40 seconds). Two weeks later, their ability to recall details in those clips was impressive. But the six videos they did not “rehearse” were largely forgotten, according to the Journal of Neuroscience (2015).

Light Bulb

What this means for students

The technique is a valuable learning strategy for students, say the researchers. “The bottom line is that you can’t just assume that you will remember something because you were attending to it,” says Dr. Chris Bird, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Sussex, who led the study. “A period of quiet rehearsal by yourself, or alternatively talking through the content with another person, will help ‘fix’ the memory.” Writing it down is also effective. This strategy can be useful in any situation that requires accurate recall; for example, after witnessing an accident or crime.

Exclaimation Point


Don’t expect 40 seconds of mental review to consolidate your memory of a full lecture. “There was nothing special about 40 seconds of rehearsal. This was simply how long the clips we showed lasted, so we wanted people to have long enough to ‘replay’ the clips to themselves,” says Dr. Bird. “If your lecture lasted an hour, you are going to need a lot longer to rehearse the content.” Or pick out the most salient points and review them as you walk to the dining hall or take a shower.

This type of rehearsing has additional benefits. “In the context of a lecture, it will also help you identify the things you didn’t quite understand first time around, so that you can look them up,” says Dr. Bird.


What’s going on in the brain

When our brain lays down a new memory, a region called the posterior cingulate is active. When we revisit that memory, the same brain region activates again. In this study, researchers scanned the participants’ brains. The more their brain activity synced when watching the videos and rehearsing the memories, the more they were able to recall later.

The study was a collaboration between the University of Sussex and University College London, UK.