This Med Student Maintains Her Sanity despite an Insane Schedule

By , SparkPeople Blogger
By Katherine Ragland, aka VEGGIELADY4LIFE

If you struggle with an insane work or home routine, I can certainly relate. As a married fourth-year medical student with two very demanding dogs and a food and nutrition blog, I often struggle with fitting everything into my schedule. After ten plus years of juggling intense academic work with outside jobs, relationships, and hobbies, I have honed in on three areas crucial to maintaining my sanity in a “mad, mad world.” If your to-do list seems to be ever-expanding and your energy level is constantly crashing, my advice to you is to focus on these three things: sleep, nutrition and exercise (in that order!) Maintaining healthy habits in these key areas will provide you with the energy and enthusiasm to tackle nearly any life challenge.

  1. Sleep – Often an overlooked area in many people’s lives, good sleep hygiene is perhaps the most important component to a healthy lifestyle. While we sleep, our body repairs muscles, reformats memories, and essentially restocks our energy reserve. Sleep is crucial to optimal daily function!

    • Decide today you will get AT LEAST 7 hours of sleep every night. Many people require 8, but 7 should be your bare minimum. This is not going to happen immediately if you have been depriving yourself of regular, adequate sleep for a long time. Plan to turn the lights out, turn the television off, and snuggle down for a good night’s rest at whatever time allows you 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep. If you struggle at first to nod off, be patient and calm. Relax, breathe deeply, and realize you are already letting your body rest.

    • If you are finding difficulty falling or staying asleep, my first advice is to analyze your exercise routine (see item #3). Are you primarily sedentary all day? If so, increasing your daily activity to at least 30 minutes/day will significantly improve your sleep. Moderate daily exercise has been shown to decrease time to fall asleep as well as increase overall sleep duration. Get moving!

  2. Nutrition – Once we are properly rested, we must then properly fuel ourselves for the day ahead. Nutrition is perhaps one of the more popular means of handling a long, difficult work schedule. However, we can choose one of two routes for this fueling process: 1. packaged, high-sugar carbohydrates or 2. nutritious whole foods that pack a much greater energy-boost. As you might guess, choice 2 is the smart option.

    • Make your morning easy, and pack (or at least partially assemble) your lunch the night before. In the AM, you should only have to grab a few items and toss them into a lunch tote with an ice pack. If you pack your meals in a Bento box or similar container, go ahead and portion them into the different compartments. Reheat them in the AM if necessary.

    • If you are still losing weight, roughly plan out not only lunch but breakfast, snacks and dinner for the next day using the Nutrition Tracker. This little step will really help you stay on track with your calorie intake. Otherwise, you might be tempted at or between meals to eat larger portions of less-than nutritious food.

    • Invest in sturdy, BPA-free containers to store homemade veggie burgers, leftover stir-fry, precooked brown rice, etc. Having healthy, already prepared food in the refrigerator is a huge step in making better nutrition choices.

    • If your schedule allows, learn to grocery shop multiple times/week without breaking the bank or wasting precious time. I prefer this method of shopping because it lets me take advantage of multiple produce sales, and I am able to buy fresh ingredients more frequently. Your grocery bill does not have to double if you do this, and you do not have to spend hours in the store! Make a list and stick to it! Focus on the perimeter of the store, avoiding the processed center aisles except for necessary items, and make it a marathon! Walk quickly and stay focused. Your wallet, waistline, and packed schedule will thank you!

  3. Exercise This is often the easiest of the three areas to neglect. Our bodies literally require sleep and food, but they can function without forced daily activity. We do not have to walk thirty minutes each day, take an aerobics class, or download a workout from Netflix in the same way that we must eat or sleep. However, including exercise into our three-point plan makes a tremendous difference in our overall energy level. As I mentioned in #1, exercise improves sleep. This has been shown in numerous studies.

    It also curbs our appetite post-workout and releases feel good endorphins that particularly help during the premenstrual period or on especially stressful days. So… how can we squeeze in that morning or evening workout, and what steps can we take to make it more enjoyable?

    • Pencil workout time into your schedule like you would an important business meeting. If possible, exercise in the AM before daily activities weigh you down. Waking up thirty minutes early is often much easier than finding motivation after a long day at work. I promise!

    • Lay out clothes the night before (or even sleep in workout clothes). This includes work/school clothes and also gym clothes/shoes/bag if you plan to stop by the gym on the way to or from your day’s destination. Even if you plan to work out in the AM before you leave home, I still suggest laying out your clothes. It is great motivation to know your gear is waiting for you!

    • Forget calories counts or structured plans when it comes to working out. Do what feels good for your body! If you love to run, thank the good Lord above and run! If you would rather die than run a mile, try walking briskly or using the elliptical trainer. Both activities are often preferred by people who dislike running. If you live in a beautiful area with hiking trails, take advantage of that opportunity! Research outdoor activities in your area online, and vary your workouts seasonally! Change is good, especially in regard to work outs.
Closing thoughts: Invest in a good planner. I believe this is a vital step to maintaining sanity in an insane world. If you’re a high-tech gal, play around with your smart phone and figure out how to sync your phone calendar with your Microsoft Outlook or Google calendar. There are tons of online tutorials, and this simple step makes life so much easier! You only need to update one calendar for your planned activity to show up on all three!

If you’re a paper and pen fan (like me!), invest in a nice, large, old-fashioned planner. I personally prefer one with a month page as well as weekly pages. I like to see the whole month in one glance but write details on the weekly pages. Most importantly, remember, if the absolute worst happens, and you do not manage to fit everything in today, the world will not stop turning. It’s a humbling, but liberating, thought.

Katherine Ragland is a 26-year-old fourth year medical student currently interviewing for residency positions. She has a passion for healthy living and physical fitness, and she maintains a blog at dedicated to those topics. Her other hobbies include web design, photography, cooking, running, traveling and spending time with her husband and two wonderful dogs.

What tips help you keep your schedule and your healthy habits in check?

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CECELW 3/18/2019
Those are some really great ideas. What a journey you were on Report
KHALIA2 11/12/2018
Great blog! Report
Nice article and good advice. Report
Good advice! Report
Great! Report
thank you so many good points I need to take Report
I'm glad you are going to continue your informative blog right here on SparkPeople!

As for the "big three" things to do to get on the road to health and fitness...yes, yes and yes! Unfortunately for many these three things are difficult to balance but are a worthy ideal to try to accomplish.
Looking forward to more of your knowledgeable and thoughtful blogs.
Barbara Report
YES, Sleep, nutrition and exercise are your top three activities on your to-do list. I have been using a Day Timer for decades. That little notebook goes with me EVERYWHERE. Having a PLAN sure took a lot of the distress out of my families's hectic lives. Because I had a Plan, when things went wrong, that preparation helped Plans B and C evolve much faster. Keeping those three priorities on the top really helped keep me and my family well and healthy. I was so glad to read this blog and know there are others out there who have realized the same things that made my life work. Our boys are grown now so I can look back and see how well it did work out! Report
I really liked this article. I'm making progress with nutrition and exercise, but cannot seem to get to bed on time!!!! I've been trying for about six weeks now, and have only actually gone to bed on time about 3 times! No matter how much I promise myself in the morning that I will go to bed early enough to get 7 hours of sleep, I stay on the computer checking email or on SP (or reading) until way too late. I'm not giving up!!! But neither am I making progress in this area! Report
A planner is a must! Report
Great advice and very well written! It's just another reminder to those who say they do not have time to exercise, sleep, eat well. If it's important enough to you, you will find a way to make it work. It's great to see how busy people (like yourself) get it done. Report
I am so glad you emphasized the need for sleep. Most busy people like yourself try to burn the candle at both ends and end up burning out. I've been struggling to stay consistent with my sleep routine and it really works great - when I stick with it. Report
Great tips. I am curious to know more about the research behind the idea that exercise decreases appetite. None of the studies I've seen have focused on people actively trying to lose weight. My experience has been that since I spend most of the day at a calorie deficit, exercise is just as likely to leave me ravenous as it is to make me less hungry. It seems related to the intensity level of the exercise. Walking/yoga=not hungry; running/strength training=ready to eat a cow, hooves and all. Report
Excellent advice. Report
I have one convoluted commute to and from work every single work day, but no banker's hours to round it out.

Consider that at age 56, I should NOT be living in a "college dormitory", but that's the price for my living in an upscale neighborhood where people let me go about my business ... and close enough and/or reachable by fast regional public transportation
to family members that I help caretake.

I have the utmost motivation to practice yoga, which is built into a less-than-ideal living situation. A noisy neighbor upstairs who moves furniture (or I allege he possibly manages a crash pad for airline personnel or third shift workers) in the middle of the night, five nights out of seven ... and makes noise throughout the day and in the late evening hours, every day ...

Yoga (plus a sound conditioner at top volume plus earplugs) helps me to get a modicum quality of sleep.

My time management problem is this: I still have the problem of procrastination; whereby, I will commit to doing my yoga practice on a given day, but things "accidentally on purpose" get in the way of its starting when it should start. Report
Sleep is so important. When I was in school, I never pulled all-nighters. I always got in a good hard workout the day before, studied for a few hours that night, and went to bed early. Report
These are wonderful reminders, that I wish I would have had earlier this year. Now that I have them I am printing them out and I WILL use them. Thank you. Report
Great tips!! Some of them I already use as I work full-time and am a full-time student working on my Ph.D! I lay out my workout clothes at night as I exercise first thing in the mornings as well as plan out my breakfast and lunch for the next day! All these tips are useful and one I need to work on is the sleep!! Report
Admirable! I'm a working single Mom, returning to school, one daughter a cheerleader, one son high functioning autism...a very active life for all of us. Great written instructions and tips. I also utilize to help keep my home somewhat presentable. Thanks for sharing. Report
I really like this blog. Very useful info presented in a clear way. BTW, I clicked through to your veggielady4life blog. Geez. I am so sorry your site was hacked. What frustration. I also can understand why you are considering not continuing with it. It would be a hard thing to take. I also know you are having an incredibly busy, focused week on your residency interviews etc. Whatever you decide will be the right decision for you. And, I must say, when I clicked around your site and checked out some of the recipes, etc., it really seems like you have a lot of good recipes, fun photos, useful insights. Good luck in whatever you do. Report
Great information! Report
Great tips ... I've started most of these. Going to bed at a reasonable time so that I get 7 hours. So far so good! Report
Excellent suggestions to help get you through the day. Thanks especially for the sync your calendars idea. Report
I really liked this article. I will try to do 30 minutes in the morning 60 at night so I can see if I sleep better. Preparation is the key. Report
I agree with everything- they're all lessons I've finally started applying consistently, instead of only when I'm not too stressed/busy, though I think one thing is missing- no matter HOW busy you are, taking 10, 20 minutes a day (at least) to relax, whether through meditation, a creative outlet, etc is so necessary. And taking a break every hour of focused work (writing papers, studying, whatever it is people do when they're paid for work...) helps maintain focus, energy, and quality of output. Too bad convincing college kids that sleep is a priority is next to impossible. Report
Good blog.

I use a Day-Timer, I work out in the afternoons to beat the 4:00 slump, and I pack my lunch and snacks for the day before I leave the house. I started sleeping and exercising and studying so much better when I stopped trying to be up at 5:00 to be at the gym by 7:00 (I commute to university, and used to use the gym there).

Life can get crazy, but putting in the time to sleep and eat well, at the minimum, makes all the rest of the stresses easier to handle. Report
Thanks! Your blog is awesome and it is a great reminder to me that sleep is essential. It is quite challenging because I am married, a grad student with 3 kids but I am trying. I get mostly 5 hours so I am still working on that.
Good luck on ur studies and hope you find great residency positions. Report
Thanks for the ideas. Report
Thank you for sharing all the good reminders. Report
Good reminders. I like the idea of sleeping in my workout clothes. Never thought of that before! Report
Your post was great but it still does not convince me that I can do all things and still pass my exams. For instance, I am currently going to evening classes and if I do not stay up and do all nighters I really do not pass my exams. If I try to have 7 to 8 hours of sleep - I usually fail because overnights are my study time.
Right now I am sleepy but if I stop I would not be able to study for my exams on Friday and Monday..... If you can please give some additional advice. I exercise for 20 to 40 minutes daily just by walking to and from classes & work so that is no problem!! Thanks Report
Nicely done! Good luck finding a great position! Report
Well planned and written. Very good adivice. Report
Well done to you! I know how hard it can be to balance work, study and life having done it for about the last 10 years. I neglected exercise and managed to put on about 60 pounds when I was working full time and studying part time (after being a little better at it when studying full time and working part time). Since I finished studying I have used the extra time to exercise and focus on nutrition and have lost 30 pounds in 6 months. Knowing what I do now, I wonder why I couldn't do all of this while I had my busier schedule. Everything's clear in hindsight!

Using Spark is great for nutrition tracking and I keep up to date on my iPhone while out and about, so it doesn't take extra time. I run in the mornings before work and fit in extra exercise at weekends. This works on most schedules. I think what was missing when I convinced myself I didn't have time was the determination to make it work. Sometimes all your determination is used up on the other things in life and health falls down the list of priorities. Once you can assign a little determination to your health and well-being, the excuses shrink and you can do it even with a full schedule. You just have to make it happen!

Well done for writing this blog - I wish I had read it a few years ago! Report
Great advice! My only problem is that some nights I don't get home from school until 10:30pm (I have a class that gets out at 10:00pm) and I have to be up at 6:00am to get to work on time. Trying to fit exercise into a day like that is nearly impossible, but I can work around it on MWF. I'm hoping to change my work schedule next semester so I can sleep in MWF. Trying to make it work is tough, but sometimes you need to rearrange your life to fit in exercises! Report
Wonderful reminders and good tips! This sedentary person is going to get more exercise in to improve her sleep. Report