Three Ways to Stay Sharp for the NCLEX

  • 11 March, 2022

Despite learning all about the importance of taking care of our bodies in nursing school, it can still be challenging to apply it to our own lives when more pressing matters stand between where we are and where we want to be. It is easy to put our needs last when we have time sensitive priorities accumulating the majority of our attention. I am here to remind you that nothing, not even studying for the NCLEX, trumps your own health. With that being said, before you venture off and hit the books, let's go over a few different ways to keep yourself sharp in order to have the mental capacity to study effectively.

Stay sharp for the NCLEX with these tips

Three Ways to Stay Sharp for the NCLEX

  1. Get enough sleep

    First, but often overlooked, is making sure that we get enough sleep each night. If you have ever pulled an all-nighter before an exam, chances are you ended up regretting that decision while trying to play catch up the following few days. It may feel productive in the short term, given that you are allotted more hours dedicated to your studies, but the later effects will have you wishing you had just gone to bed in the first place. Sleep is a time when your brain recharges its batteries, so without allowing it to do so, you will be running on empty. This is not a state of mind you want to be in when studying nor when attempting to gear up for one of the most impactful tests of your life.

    Studies indicate that getting enough sleep is what promotes cognitive thinking, problem solving, judgement and overall attention levels. These are all fundamentals for processing new information and essential when attempting to take in foreign material, thus impacting performance. Treat this temporary timeframe of studying as your full-time job. You would not show up to work run down and unable to complete your tasks, so do not show up to study without coming prepared to put your best foot forward. If you are someone who has depended on all-nighters in the past or just need a few pointers on how to gain a better night of sleep, let us go over some helpful hints:

    1. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time each day in order to establish a routine.
    2. Develop a simple bedtime schedule and do your best to stick to it most nights. This could look something like winding down every evening at a certain time, drinking tea, taking a relaxing bath or shower, listening to a podcast, or reading a book, etc. Find some sort of repetition that aligns with your lifestyle and see how it can positively affect the quality of your sleep.
    3. Put your phone away at least 30 minutes before you go to bed. The blue light omitted from screens can cause difficulties falling asleep and can provide you with a more restful night.
    4. Try to avoid caffeine and any other stimulants in the evening.
    5. Make sure your sleeping environment is tailored to your needs-whether that's complete darkness, set at a certain temperature, noise machine, complete silence, etc.

    For the sake of your studies, brain function, and overall health-do not skimp on your precious sleep!

  2. Hydration! Hydration! Hydration!

    Similar to sleep, hydrating our bodies is another one of those important habits that is often underrated. Making sure you are properly hydrated enables you to think clearer, an essential factor in being able to retain information. A dehydrated body can interfere with your studies more dramatically than you would think. Research indicates that dehydrated individuals presented with levels of increased neuronal activity when engaged in cognitive-related tasks, signifying that a dehydrated brain has to exert more effort in order to complete the said task. With that being said, even slight dehydration forces your brain to work harder in comparison to being well hydrated.

    When studying for the NCLEX, working smarter instead of harder is the name of the game. Depending on your own level of daily activity, you should aim to consume at least half of your body weight in ounces per day. Although water is not always the most enticing drink of choice, it can do wonders for our cognitive abilities, thus improving the likelihood of passing the NCLEX the first time around. That alone sounds like a good incentive to me! Whenever you find difficulty keeping focus, try drinking a glass of water or two to recharge and get your wheels turning again. Furthermore, if you find it challenging to consume water throughout the day, take note of a few of the following tricks to make it a little easier:

    1. Pick your favorite water bottle, fill it up, and keep it with you at all times! If it is in sight, the probability of you consistently drinking from it throughout the day is much greater. Depending on the number of ounces, make a goal to re-fill it however many times throughout the day that will get you to your goal.
    2. If you are not a fan of plain water, try infusing it with something like fruit to add additional flavor.
    3. Attempt to drink water right when you wake up in the morning. Make it a nonnegotiable action to help clear your mind and set the tone for the rest of your day.
    4. If having a water bottle in sight is not enough of a motivator to get the desired ounces in, set timers on your phone as reminders to take sips during the day.

    Studying for the NCLEX already takes enough mental willpower, do not make it harder than it needs to be-drink your water!

  3. Movement

    Last, but certainly not least on our list of techniques to keeping you sharp, is making sure you incorporate some activity into your day. The last thing we want is for you to be sitting down for twelve straight hours attempting to study, with no movement in between. Whether it is a 15-minute stroll around the block or a 30-minute weight bearing workout, getting your blood pumping has been shown to improve the brain's capability of retaining added information. In fact, studies have indicated that exercising releases a protein in the brain that is responsible for helping to improve memory due to the receptiveness of the hippocampus to these proteins. As you may recall, the hippocampus is accountable for retaining information. So, moving your body before you attempt to study can ease your ability to process and acquire important knowledge.

    Make it a priority to get some form of activity in each time you plan to study and before you go to take your NCLEX! If you are not someone who looks forward to exercise or find it hard to make time, here are a few different tricks to incorporate it into your daily routine, if you're not already:

    1. Find something you enjoy and focus on that. If you despise the thought of running, don't force that to be your go-to choice for exercise. Instead, find an activity that aligns with your interests rather than forcing something that feels more like punishment. This will provide you with the motivation and enjoyment to incorporate it as a part of your daily schedule.
    2. Make it a nonnegotiable task to be active for at least 30 minutes a day. Whether that be a yoga session, a walk around the block with your dog, or a bike ride in the park, create a time and place to unplug and rejuvenate. Remember that exercise does not need to be something you dread; it should be something you look forward to!
    3. If finding time seems to be an issue, locate pockets of your day that are deemed unoccupied and plug them into your calendar as a way of reminding yourself to stay accountable. It's hard to ignore if you can visualize how it will be entwined within your day.
    4. Find a friend, neighbor, or family member to join you on whatever activity that you have deemed pleasant to you, and it is always more enticing to embark in different activities when in good company.

    If you want to set yourself up for a productive study session, try exercising beforehand and watch as you reap the benefits. Even better, move your body AND drink some water before you attempt to sit down to review and see how much more attentive you are!

    Although there is a plethora of options that exist that can help lunge you forward toward successfully passing your NCLEX, remember that the majority of the guidelines you will stumble across involve your own health and self-care to a large extent. Getting a decent amount of sleep, making sure to stay well hydrated, and moving your body are just a few of the various forms of necessities that will assist in achieving your end goal. Treat yourself as you would a future patient-advocate for your own health and wellbeing so that you can eventually do the same for others. This in turn will allow you to stay mentally, physically, and emotionally sharp enough to overcome that obstacle that is the NCLEX.

About the Author: Kelsey Mangan

Kelsey Mangan is a registered nurse, who graduated from Linfield College in 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and minor in education. She is a health and wellness advocate, writer, wife, and a new mama to baby Paisley. In her spare time, she enjoys working out, spending time with friends and family, finding binge-worthy shows on Netflix, and snuggling with her sweet daughter.

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