The World Health Organisation (WHO) has lowered the “target” level of sugar that should be in our diet, in new recommendations launched this year.
In a break from their 2002 Guidelines, which laid out a figure of 10%, the WHO has set the new target at 5% of our daily calorific intake. This news comes among recent concern that sugar is harming us, as its presence in our food and drink increases, heightening our risk of obesity and therefore developing such diseases as diabetes and heart disease.
As a law student – particularly when doing my master’s dissertation over the summer – I was guilty of over-indulging once too often on sugar- (and caffeine-) laden foods like chocolate, energy drinks and strong coffees. We live in the misguided hope that these stimulants are more effective at banishing our perpetual tiredness, compared with an invigorating walk or power nap. The numerous times I fell asleep in my books while working paints a different picture. Having consumed them, I often felt worse off than before.
These seemingly “tried and tested” methods of foregoing tiredness are not in fact conducive to remaining active and alert.
So what methods should we actually adopt?
Experience taught me to look for an alternative way of staying active (and therefore alert) at times when tiredness overcame me, particularly during assignment and essay periods. After all, it is important that those studying toward their undergraduate and postgraduate degrees understand that there are healthy ways of boosting their energy, and thus mental activity, without resorting to the usual student fall-back of caffeine and sugar, as a “quick fix”. Long term, this involves eating a healthy, balanced diet as well as ensuring you receive a consistent number of hours of sleep per night.
When faced with tiredness at an inconvenient time, focus should be placed on boosting your mental and physical well-being. Gentle exercise is the way to achieve this. Going for a swim or jog encourages your body to release endorphins, responsible for the euphoric sensation known as runner’s high. This is equally achieved if you go to the gym a few times a week, practise yoga or take a long walk. Basically, engage in any form of exercise that you enjoy.
In the end, what does this all mean?
I’m not advocating that all forms of sugar- and caffeine-rich food and drink must be avoided when in need of a pick-me-up. Rather, it’s all about moderation.
Clearly it is healthier for your brain and body if you undertake regular exercise and sleep well, complemented by a well-balanced diet. Energy levels will be more stable, without the dips associated with short-term stimulants, and ultimately tiredness should be less of an issue.