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Friday, August 5, 2016 at 2:08 pm

Simple Hacks To Improve Your Sleep

There's not a night that my phone does not stop buzzing. My girlfriend wants to know how I am, my fellow Cal students continue to send SnapChats that they'll soon regret, and the list goes on. These and other signals bug me to pick up my phone, and rarely do I stop until it's 3.30 or later. I'm no exception, and anyone who's been to Berkeley knows that we Cal Bears rule day in and out. Unlike our twilight selves, we are swamped during the day, getting from one class to tabling on Sproul and to all of our other commitments.

Our nighttime lives seem to provide an unstructuredness we all crave, a "me" time. Texting our friends at our whim, partying till we are knocked out, and other late night endeavors are more about regaining a sense of control and freedom that Berkeley's pressure cooker-like academics make so elusive. But these late night habits are counterproductive. One of our twilight pastimes—cell phones—affects the body in terrible ways.

Most people are by now familiar with how cell phones negatively affect one's circadian rhythm. The extent to which it does is ghastly. Compared to the typical fluorescent light bulb of desk lamps, cell phones emit much more blue light and can extend the circadian rhythm by twice as much, resetting it as far as six hours. A quick glance at that bugging screen disrupts melatonin production significantly enough to trick our minds into switching forward to daytime mode and to make falling asleep much more difficult.

This loss of sleep entails many difficulties, such as decreased concentration and reduced memory consolidation. Both may make studying a harder and more time-consuming effort. Not to mention, lack of sleep leaves us more irritable and moody. Even though cell phones and a nightlife have become staples of college life, there are certain changes that should be made to the benefit of one's overall well-being.

A half-hour before bed, I suggest, store your cellphone in a drawer to minimize exposure to its harmful blue light. A regular clock functions as a great alarm and is very inexpensive. This half-hour is a good time to meditate, read, and self-reflect, relaxing activities that are difficult in the rush-and-go environment of the campus. A relaxing nightly ritual prepares the body for sleep and serves as a shut-off signal to your mind.

After enacting these changes, your bed may surprisingly start to feel like a sanctuary, a place to return to with relief from all the stressors of being a Cal student. Not to mention, improving your sleep hygiene may sharpen your focus and thus, provide more time for other (more enjoyable) activities.

I've made these improvements to my sleep hygiene and couldn't be happier. I'm now in a better position to enjoy life and have a much greater sense of control. My hope is that other college students enact similar (and surprisingly easy!) adjustments to their sleep habits. Your daytime selves will never thank you enough!

Published on August 5, 2016 by Abhishek Dalal Read on »

Sunday, January 17, 2016 at 1:51 pm

Dieting: Healthy or Not?

Dieting. From the Atkins diet to the water diet to avoiding meals in general, there are plenty of methods that one can take to attain one's ideal body image. While some diets are inspired by getting more exercise and healthy foods into one's diet, others take a more drastic turn and involve skipping meals entirely. The motivation to go on a diet also differs among individuals, with some hoping to lose weight and others wanting to live a more healthy lifestyle ("Why Do People Go on a Diet?"). However, before you choose to go on a diet, it's important to know how to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy dieting.

Nowadays, dieting is focused on weight loss as an outcome. Michelle Wilkinson, author of the Living Healthy 360 article "Why do people go on Fad Diets," explains that people go on fad diets to lose weight quickly. In other words, the amount of weight you lose often indicates the effectiveness of your diet plan. However, a weight loss-focused diet can often have serious consequences, such as "food and body preoccupation, repeated cycles of weight loss and regain, distraction from other personal health goals and wider health determinants, reduced self-esteem, eating disorders, other health decrement, and weight stigmatization and discrimination" ("Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift"). Dieting to lose weight isn't always healthy. After all, one can lose weight by skipping meals altogether. US News Health further explains that a diet that induces weight loss can be unhealthy if "it locks out or severely restricts entire food groups, relies on supplements with little scientific backing or clamps down on calories to an extreme." But if weight loss shouldn't be our main motivation to diet, what should our motivation be?

The article "Weight Science: Evaluating Evidence for a Paradigm Shift" describes an alternate approach to dieting called Health at Every Size, or HAES. Instead of prioritizing weight loss, HAES promotes health behaviors for people regardless of their weight, and weight loss becomes a possible side effect rather than a goal. The three main components of HAES include 1) encouraging body acceptance rather than weight loss/maintenance, 2) relying on internal regulatory processes of diet such as hunger rather than imposing external dietary restrictions, and 3) promoting general activity instead of structured exercise. These components shift the focus of dieting to health maintenance, allowing individuals to feel healthy and confident about their bodies through natural methods instead of strict rules about when to eat and exercise.

How can college students adopt the HAES approach to dieting? The article, "The Non-Diet Approach for Health at Every Size" lists several ways one can use HAES to guide their dieting strategy.

  1. The most important thing is to make health promotion and maintenance your main motivation. Everyone has different body sizes, and it's more important to be healthy than to lose pounds through unhealthy methods.

  2. It is also important to include foods from all food groups in your diet instead of cutting certain food groups, such as carbs, out. Each food group contains nutrients your body needs to be healthy, and the key word is moderation. One should also try to limit the amount of saturated fats and sugars one consumes daily. The article "Eight Tips for Healthy Eating" goes more into detail about how much of each food group you should have in your diet.

  3. Lastly, one can also incorporate more activity into all parts of one's routine instead of making trips to the gym a daily chore. Examples include walking to class instead of taking the bus and taking the stairs up to your apartment or dorm instead of the elevator.

Remember that it's more important to feel healthy than to have an external "ideal" body image. Be healthy both inside and out!

Published on January 17, 2016 by Samantha Wong Read on »

Sunday, January 17, 2016 at 1:48 pm

Looking Out For Your Eyes

It is believed that eyes are windows to your soul, and yet taking good care of our eyes and vision is an easily forgotten part of maintaining health and wellness. As a student at Berkeley, it is likely that you are putting a lot of extra stress on your eyes just from studying, reading, and working on the computer. It's important to remember to take a break sometimes and let your eyes rest. They'll thank you in the end.

Reading nonstop for too long and working on the computer will strain your eyes and can lead to dreadful migraine headaches. During these activities, you tend to blink less, making your eyes dry and tired. A quick fix to this dilemma is to take a break every 30 to 45 minutes. Stand up, stretch, and look away from your textbook or computer screen. Consider splashing your face with cool water or pressing your palms against your eyelids to soothe them. Always make sure to study in good light. Natural light is best so try to keep your windows open when you study. In the evening, turn on the lights to reduce stress to your eyes.

Also make sure to turn off your electronic devices well before going to sleep. Artificial light decreases the secretion of melatonin which in turn interferes with the body's circadian rhythms and thus with your sleep.

Even though Berkeley may seem cloudy and dreary on some days, it's a good idea to invest in a good pair of sunglasses that provide UV protection. It's a commonly known fact that UV rays are harmful to your eyes and skin. This type of short wavelength light can cause long term damage to the eye, especially to the retina. So be sure to put on some shades and keep your eyes safe!

If you wear contact lenses or glasses, make sure to keep them clean and get regular checkups to make sure the prescription you are using is accurate. In case of an injury or problem in the eye, it is best to refrain from using contact lenses until the injury has completely healed. This will prevent any type of infection or permanent damage. Keeping your hands and face clean and avoiding touching your eyes will also prevent common eye infections like conjunctivitis. Also make sure not to share eye makeup with others to avoid spreading bacteria.

Eat a wholesome diet and don't forget to include plenty of leafy greens and vegetables. Foods that are high in antioxidants, such as broccoli and spinach, are good for your eyes and can reduce the risk of serious eye diseases like macular degeneration and cataracts.

Finally, make sure to always wear protective eyewear in a laboratory setting. Follow emergency protocol in case something does get into your eye. Always wash your eyes thoroughly with water if they have been contaminated. And make sure to follow up with an eye checkup to make sure everything is ok. There are many resources on campus at Berkeley to help you to take care of your eyes. As a student at Berkeley, you have the opportunity to visit the Berkeley Optometry Clinic should you require an appointment for an eye checkup. There are two Berkeley Optometry clinics conveniently located close to campus: the Meredith W. Morgan Eye Center, located near the Haas Business School, and the Optometry Clinic at the Tang Center. You can schedule an appointment online at http://www.caleyecare.org/schedule-appointment or over the phone. The clinic is also available for emergency care; call them at (510) 642-2020 for emergencies (or at (510) 642-0992 after hours).

Taking care of your eyes is easy and simple. Unfortunately, it's also easy to forget how important it is to do so. Taking the time to rest your eyes and protect them will preserve your precious vision for longer. Look out for your eyes and I guarantee they will look out for you too!

Published on January 17, 2016 by Priya Bhattacharjee Read on »

Sunday, January 17, 2016 at 1:48 pm

Heel to Heal

Females love wearing high heels - at least, I definitely do. Those extra inches not only provide us with a height advantage, but they also give us extra confidence, perhaps even making us feel more feminine and attractive. The extra height also seems to garner us more attention. But is enduring the pain worth the extra psychological boost?

For some people, the obvious answer is, "No, absolutely not." Xiaofan Liang, a freshman at UC Berkeley studying Sociology, believes that enduring the discomfort of heels is not worth it: "I prefer sneakers because they are softer and more comfortable, and I don't need to worry about spraining my ankle." Her opinion is contrasted with April Li, another freshman at Cal studying Statistics, who says, "I think wearing high heels tend to prevent you from slouching. That makes you feel more confident and self-assured."

Through an evolutionary standpoint, these high heels have their pros and cons. Technically speaking, high heels prevent women from catching prey and running away from predators. Translating this into our modern society, high heels don't make much of a difference since cars and public transportation have made traveling much more efficient and less time consuming while hunting for food doesn't exactly concern our daily lives. Instead, the extra inches lend an evolutionary benefit in that women appear more attractive and can therefore be more selective in finding a mate, and this still seems to hold true for our society today.

According to a study done on eleven women who regularly wore high heels and nine women who acted as controls, it was found that the gastrocnemius medialis muscle was shortened in the women who regularly wore heels. This is the muscle that runs from just above the back of our knee to our heel. In addition, there was an increase in the Achilles' tendon stiffness, which led to a decrease in the range of motion for the ankle. This might explain why women who regularly wear heels find it difficult and painful to go back to wearing flat shoes.

Not only are heels painful, but they have been shown to cause chronic foot problems. What's the solution? I, along with other women, aren't exactly willing to sacrifice those extra inches. Well, luckily, there is a way to alleviate the pain if forgoing the heels isn't one of your options. Stretching the calves and rotating the ankles provide relief for the tightening Achilles' Tendon and calf muscle. Obviously, the best solution is to avoid heels at all costs, but if you do wear them, don't forget to stretch to help your muscles heal.

Published on January 17, 2016 by Leah Huang Read on »

Sunday, January 17, 2016 at 1:48 pm

Making Your Breaks Count

What goes through your mind as you walk out of your last final exam of the semester? Is it relief over the fact that you've survived another semester at Berkeley? Excitement about your amazing Winter Break plans? Or perhaps it's dread over the thought of opening up BearFacts in a couple weeks to check your semester grades?

Whatever your initial feeling is, there seems to be unanimous agreement upon one thing: everyone looks forward to four weeks of no class (this feeling is usually compounded by the fact that the material you've crammed into your brain space in preparation for that last final is leaving your mind at an exponential rate).

With that in mind, many of us look forward to four weeks of sleeping in, vegetating on the couch in front of the TV and hours on hours of computer time surfing through Pinterest, Tumblr, BuzzFeed and Facebook. We consciously sweep our critical thinking skills under the metaphorical brain rug to finally give our minds some "me" time. There's no doubt that it's good to give yourself a long, well-deserved break after a particularly stressful finals week, but how long is considered too long? Should you really be allowing your brain (read: critical thinking skills) hibernate for the entirety of winter break under the pretense of giving yourself a break?

According to a study published in the Review of Educational Research, critical thinking skills that are required to succeed in a competitive setting like a college classroom or workplace are ones that need to be practiced and applied consistently in order to mature. Analytical skills necessary to comprehend math, physics and sciences have been shown to decline at a faster rate when they aren't continually being learnt and applied. Researchers from the study showed a startling disparity in standardized test scores collected at the end of summer vacation between students who had participated in intellectually stimulating summer activities and students who had not critically engaged their minds. The difference amounted to an equivalent of one month learning between the two groups of students. "Summer learning loss" is the phrase used to formally describe the phenomenon of decreases in standardized test scores among students following an intellectually bereft break from school. As college students, we get TWO opportunities to potentially suffer from "summer learning loss" because of our month long break following Fall semester and our three month break following Spring semester.

So are we doomed? Should we feel guilty that we are knowingly frying our brains when we sit and watch six hours of Friends reruns? Worry not my fellow Bears, you can keep your critical thinking skills remarkably agile by engaging in any of the following activities:

For the kid who'd rather be playing video games than thinking critically: Download QuizUp, Moxie or Zed's Alchemy onto your smart phone to simulate a gaming environment while simultaneously keeping your brain engaged.

For the kid who'd rather be on the computer than thinking critically: Try your hand at a few Sporcle trivia puzzles each day or perhaps start writing a blog (shameless plug to encourage you to apply to write for Sather Health).

For the kid who actually wants to think critically over break… Well, I'm positive that your highly functioning brain can come up with a few activities that will keep your mind functioning higher than the rest of ours.

Personally, I applaud anyone who actively creates time during their breaks to improve their reading, reasoning, or writing skills after completing a stressful semester in college, but I also know that I'm not one of those people. When I'm on break, I want it to feel like a break. I want to spend my time catching up with friends and family and enjoying not having to constantly worry about an upcoming problem set or midterm, but I also don't want to be ignorant of the scientific evidence that shows a clear correlation between idle brains and declining achievement. Researchers suggest that engaging in activities that force you to use reason and logic for as a few hours per week when on extended break helps to reinforce and retain the neural pathways needed for problem-solving and critical reading in our brains. So whether it be getting a head start on next semester's reading, working on applications for internships and research positions, or playing QuizUp on your iPhone with friends (on topics that actually get you to think…Grey's Anatomy trivia won't cut it), make your breaks count.

Published on January 17, 2016 by Madhu Joshi Read on »

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