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The mental and physical importance of routine

At university, you will often hear how important maintaining some form of routine is. How true and important is it though? What may be part of your routine? What happens when you break your habits?

Humans are habitual creatures, make us repeat a pattern long enough and we can be broken into feeling like something radically different is normal. Not only has this been the core of nudging human behaviour over the last year and a half but is central to your daily routine and ‘sleep schedule’.

You have likely heard these terms and the phrase ‘human body clock’ before. This is our circadian clock, or circadian oscillator, which is synchronised with solar time. As in, your inner clock is intrinsically bound to your environment and the sun. It drives your circadian rhythm, or cycle. This is your internal and natural cycle regulating your sleep-wake cycle, synchronised to repeat roughly every 24 hours. This can be influenced by external cues and the local environment. If your circadian rhythm is abnormal, that can be clinically diagnosed as a circadian rhythm sleep disorder.

A good routine allows you more flexibility as it gives you a supporting structure

The rhythm is linked to the light-dark, day-night, cycle. Humans, and animals in general, when kept in pitch darkness for long enough can begin to function with a free-running rhythm, a sleep pattern not adjusted to the natural 24-hour cycle or any artificial one. This sleep disorder is said to affect over half of those who are fully blind and a smaller number of sighted people.

Beyond the science, simple experience shows the importance of routine. Maintaining a routine leads to a healthier life. A lack of routine and a messed up circadian clock can lead to everything from weight gain and lethargy to poor mental health and poor-quality sleep. This isn’t to doom-monger or say all are affected the same – but creating a personal routine, however basic, can better organise your life.

Creating a routine can be difficult, I know I find it hard overhauling mine, but it is often necessary. When at university, you shouldn’t let a rigid routine take away from your enjoyment, socially or academically. Pulling an all-nighter, or two, or three, is a rite of passage.  So is spending too long out socialising, only realising the time when you hear birds chirping and see the sun rising. As long as you don’t live your entire life like that, you’ll be fine.

Maintaining a routine leads to a healthier life

A vague routine where you wake up and sleep at generally the same time of day, and set aside time to cook and eat regularly will get you through university. This is especially important when you need energy for that inevitable all-nighter, that night out, or term three’s cocktail of fun and exams.

I have found I do my best work and writing in the morning and when it’s sunny. Unfortunately, I haven’t trained myself well enough to wake up on time. I also find the afternoon works much better for me with meetings and administrative tasks, and then I’m back in the academic and writing mindset come late afternoon and into the evening. It’s a weird and eclectic ideal routine, I know. Everyone has what works best for them, even if it cannot always be achieved. A routine doesn’t mean a lack of flexibility. If anything, a good routine allows you more flexibility as it gives you a supporting structure.

Everyone is different and experimenting with what works for you is crucial, especially for new freshers ready to throw yourselves into the social and academic life at Warwick. Routine is something that was shattered by online and blended learning – unfortunately we are set to suffer the same problems again with online lectures without a set time, and some online small group teaching. With this in mind, forging a workable routine for yourself will be mentally and physically vital to get you through university, this year especially.

My advice is to experiment, find what works, and do your best to stick to what works. But also recognise that there are things worth breaking your routine for – just don’t let yourself go too wild, in any sense, that you burn out. Try to enjoy your time, stay healthy, and don’t let blended learning get the best of you!

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