In the next few weeks, students will be pouring into Oxford and settling into their colleges in anticipation of a busy term ahead.
But before term starts, there’s all the excitement of Freshers’ week to enjoy – exploring a new city, meeting other people, and embracing Oxford’s social scene. Staying out late into the night at pubs and clubs, can be fun but also fatiguing, causing some of us to start term drained. Exhaustion can make the transition from Freshers’ fun to academic assignments particularly tricky, and can affect your academic performance – so it’s important to respect your own limits and enjoy yourself responsibly, so you’re ready to hit the ground running at the end of the week.
I’ll be a veteran when I return to Oxford to start my Master’s course, having survived Freshers’ as an undergraduate here too. This should mean that I know exactly how to handle the week like a pro, having reached the end of my last Freshers’ resembling something from The Walking Dead and with about as much brain capacity. It wasn’t the alcohol or the partying; my main issue was my arrogance in thinking I could get away by surviving on virtually no sleep, and I found out the hard way that this just wasn’t true. I hadn’t appreciated that Freshers’ week is not only about late nights socialising, but also some early morning academic orientations which are vital to attend. I was attending these inductions on about three hours sleep, and so by the end of the week still had no idea how to use the library systems because my brain simply wasn’t functioning.
This had a knock-on effect, as I couldn’t work out how to access the books I needed when my friends were sailing through, which slowed down my working and impacted my ability to engage in class. In addition, I underestimated the impact tiredness had on my work: looking back I can see that when I thought I was writing Keats I was barely writing sentences, because fatigue was impairing my self-awareness. I grew frustrated with myself because I was underperforming in my essays, wondering whether I really deserved my place at Oxford, and was staying up even later trying to cram, trying to improve. It seems obvious now that this was counterproductive, and the best thing I could have done was to get a good night’s sleep, refresh my brain and try again. But instead, I continued to believe that getting so little rest and surviving on strong coffee was simply part of being a university student – rather than a product of an particularly tiring Freshers’ week.
I wasn’t alone though in ignoring the needs of my body – some of my friends took pride in staying out the latest and made it into a kind of competition. This made it really hard for me to stick to my guns when I’d had enough, so instead of turning in I was always willing to stay up for that extra hour. Coming to university, making new friends and having so much freedom for the first time was incredibly exciting, and I didn’t want to let the experience pass me by while I was tucked up in bed. But now I wish I’d managed my time better and not pushed myself so far every night until I was too exhausted even to enjoy the fun. Establishing a balance is really important, and recognising this could really have made my first Michaelmas that much easier.
My grades improved enormously when I made a conscious effort in Hilary term to get more sleep each night.
Whilst seriously undervalued, getting enough sleep is key to physical and mental wellbeing and strong academic performance. My grades improved enormously when I made a conscious effort in Hilary term to get more sleep each night. Being well-rested doesn’t have to mean being a party-pooper though; it just means being aware of your own limits. Getting stuck in a cycle of caffeine-fuelled exhaustion will make it hard to struggle through Freshers’, let alone an eight-week term. So strike a balance: play hard, work hard, and rest well to make your Oxford experience memorable for the right reasons.