How To Study When You Are Sick – A Guide


Welcome to the cold and flu season! Yup, it’s that time of year again, and all your friends are sick, will get sick, or are recovering from being sick. Let me help you keep your head in the game even though it feels like your head is going to explode.

We have all been there; one minute, you are scheduling in all of your end of semester tests and holiday social events, and the next minute you have a pounding headache, stuffy nose, and feel like you could sleep for a week. Congratulations, you have joined the cold and sinus party; now what?

Here is my 6-step plan to help you study effectively while you are sick:

  1. Assess yourself and administer care
  2. Clear your schedule
  3. Take a shower, get comfy and re-administer first aid
  4. Collect all of your supplies
  5. Work in small increments on the easiest stuff first
  6. Re-administer first aid

Once you finish reading this article, if you are looking for some study tips and tricks to make your studying more effective, you are in luck. We have an article on the twenty-five best study tips to jumpstart your academic performance at the link below:

25 Study Tips to Improve Your Academic Performance

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Let’s Dig In

Getting sick sucks! There is not much anyone can but try to manage the symptoms and not get too behind. So next, I will go into detail on what you should do, step by step, when you discover you have woken up sick.

Step #1: Assess Yourself and Administer Care

Remember that no matter what you have going on right now, your health is the most important! So, the first thing you need to do is assess how sick you actually are. Chances are, you have a common cold or a minor sinus infection, but if you feel like you have something more serious, you should consult your doctor before pressing on.

Hint: If you have a fever, call the doctor and then go back to bed.

The number one thing your body needs while it is trying to heal is sleep. So, feel free, no, feel obligated to take a nap when your body is telling you it needs rest. In fact, if you feel like you could catch a few Zs right now, I encourage you to do that. Secondly, your body needs water. In a world filled with sugary drinks, chances are, you are already semi-dehydrated. Take the next few days to drink only water, hot tea (skip the sugar and use honey as a sweetener for its antibacterial properties) and orange juice (yay vitamin C!). Lastly, you need to take some medicine. If you have a sore throat or a cough, get some cough drops; if you have a headache and stuffy nose, get some cold/sinus medicine; if your stomach is the problem, get some Pepto; whatever is bothering you, take something to help soothe it. Hopefully, you already have some medicine, but if not, get some, and if at all possible, use Postmates or call a friend to deliver it; you really just need to stay at home.

Step #2: Clear your schedule

If you have made it past step one, then you should be as well-rested as possible on your way to full hydration, and your medicine should be taking the edge off of your ailments already. Now, let’s be honest, as much as you don’t feel like stepping out of the house today is as much as people don’t want you to get them sick. So, if you have a class today or tomorrow or the next day, don’t go! I hereby formally request you to stay nice and secluded in your own house, apartment or dorm room.

Ok, let’s clear your schedule for the next 3 to 4 days. Go ahead and grab your to-do list and your planner and get rid of anything that is not absolutely necessary for survival. This includes all the things you were supposed to do that require you to put on real clothes, leave the house, or sustain focus for more than 30 consecutive minutes. Have a lunch date? Cancel it. Need groceries? Order Post Mates. Literally, clear everything possible for the next three days at least; trust me, you’ll thank me later when all you have to worry about is sleeping, eating, and studying.

Step #3: Take a Shower, Get Comfy and Re-Administer Care

Whew! If you are anything like me, clearing your schedule probably took a whole lot of effort, and you are ready for a break. Now is a great time to take a long hot shower. There is nothing better to open up all your clogged sinuses than all that steam. Plus, getting clean just makes you feel better regardless of the situation. Don’t take a lazy shower. I know you don’t feel like it, but make sure you wash your hair, face, and body; and make sure you take a moment to just relax under the hot water and breath in the steam. Once you’re finished, get out, brush your teeth, and indulge in an extended skincare routine or at least moisturize your face (your nose will thank you).

Now that you are so clean and so fresh get dressed in your comfiest clothes. Whether you prefer some flannel pajamas and fuzzy slippers, or a fleece sweatsuit with bare feet just make yourself comfy. By this time, you might need to take some more medicine, so check on that, but either way, go ahead and drink another cup of water and if you can, eat something. Your body is working extra hard to fight your sickness and thus expending more energy than normal; therefore, it is important to keep getting some calories for your body to turn into energy so that it can keep fighting. 

At this point, you have already accomplished a good bit. In fact, you have done all of the most important things to help your body recover. You may already start to feel sluggish again, but try to get through one more step before you take a rest.

Step #4: Collect All of Your Supplies

As always, in order to have the most productive study time, you need to gather all of your supplies. Obviously, you are already drained and unable to focus very well for very long, so the last thing you want to do is have to stop studying to get up and find a cough drop. Hopefully, you already have a favorite nook or corner in which you do your homework. Now you just need to set it up like the world’s best infirmary. 

You already know, you need your book, notebook, water, snack, highlighters, pens, etc. For the next few days, you also need things like Vaseline (to protect your nose from all of the tissues), vapor rub, tissues, cough drops, and a trashcan (for all your tissues and cough drop wrappers). Try to think of all the things that help you feel better and have it set out before you sit down to study. If you do end up having to stop for something, just make sure you bring it back to your study spot for next time. By the end of the first day, you should have all of your necessities close at hand. 

The first day of being sick is usually pretty rough. If you need to take a nap at this point, definitely do that, and when you are ready to study, all you have to do is take a seat and get to work.

Step #5: Work in Small Increments on the Easiest Stuff First

Now that your workstation is all set up for some serious study time let the good times roll! My last suggestion for studying while sick is to work in small increments starting on the easiest task first. I actually use this method anytime I am having a hard time staying focused. Usually, I set a timer for 25 minutes and then take a 5-minute break before starting the timer again. This is actually called the Pomodoro Technique. For more information on how to use the Pomodoro Technique to be more productive, please read this blog post. I modify this method when I am sick; let me explain.

First, you need to prioritize your study subjects. You should have gotten rid of anything that doesn’t absolutely need to be done within the next 3 to 4 days, so you should already have a list of priorities. Next, order them from easiest to hardest and start at the top of your list (easiest thing first). The thought behind this tip is that if you are able to get the ball rolling by crossing something off your list of to-dos, you will feel more successful and have more motivation to keep going. Lastly, set a timer for 25 or 30 minutes and work until it goes off. After your 25/30 minutes, take an extended break. Even if you don’t feel like you need to take a break at all when the timer rings, at most, finish the singular task you are working on and take a break. The thought behind this is that you don’t want to burn yourself out. You might be used to doing marathon studying where you hit the books hard for an hour or more at a time, but when you are sick, you just can’t keep that pace very long. The last thing you want to do is overexert yourself and cause your body to take longer to heal.  

If you are having a hard time sticking to only 30 minutes of study time, try to break down your studying into smaller, bite-sized chunks. For example, if you have vocab to learn, pull out your flashcards and study them for the 30 minutes or read one chapter without taking notes and then go back and take notes on your next 30-minute round. Remember that you will probably be moving slower than normal, so don’t be discouraged if you are unable to read a full 100 pages before your time is up. Just take your break, refresh, and go at it again.

Step #6: Re-administer Care

I said this repeatedly because I always forget to stay medicated. I used to never take medicine; I was raised just to tough it out, and I guess it just stuck with me. Until I moved into my first apartment with my best friend. Shortly after that, I had to find a way to function through a hangover and became extremely close with Tylenol and Gatorade. But even then, I’d take a few pills only once; when I first woke up. But just trust me, if you take your medicine every 2-4 hours (whatever it says on the bottle), you will begin to feel exponentially better as the day goes on, and that will help you study longer, and later, it will help you sleep better.

Being sick really puts a damper on our lives and there is no doubt you are going to feel pretty crappy until you are all healed up but hopefully I’veI’ve given you a game plan that you will be able to follow and will help you make it through these dark days of cold and flu season.

Remember to Take Care of Yourself First

My last thought here is the most important. I have already mentioned a few times how essential it is to take care of yourself first, but I just want to reiterate for a second. If you have an illness, your body is already in overdrive, and if you are like most young adults, your body is already in a deficit of sleep, hydration, and proper nutrition. You should be making your basic recovery needs a priority every single day; that is the best way to prevent getting sick and the best way to overcome a sickness when you do inevitably get it. That being said, if it’s already too late for preventative measures, you really need to take self-care seriously, at least until you make a full recovery.

My hope is that after this bout with whatever sickness it is that you have, you will choose to prepare yourself better for next time. What I mean by that is, if you aren’taren’t already taking care of yourself, you should start now.

FoodHow it Helps You Recover
Chicken SoupContains electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals
that can aid in recovery
YogurtYogurt contains probiotics which help
with gut health and can reduce cold/flu
symptoms.
GarlicGarlic can help trigger the immune system to
fight your cold/flu
EggsEggs contain zinc, which can help reduce how
long a cold lasts.
TeaHot tea can act as a natural decongestant.

Preventative measures

Here are some easy ways to help protect yourself from and prepare your body for cold and flu season and to improve your overall health.

1. Get a minimum of 7 hours of sleep every night.

Yes, I know; it’s impossible to get 7 hours of sleep every single night when you are in school, have a job, care about your family, and want a social life, but you really need to make it happen. Studies show that not getting proper sleep is one of the most detrimental things you can do to your brain, heart, and body health overall.

  • Drink about a gallon of water a day.
    • Yes, I know; that’s impossible. Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to drink a whole gallon of plain water every day either; I cheat, sort of. I use Mio; it’s a “water enhancer”/water flavoring. And I drink a lot of tea (without sugar), which I consider to be close enough to water to count towards my daily gallon.
  • Pay attention to nutrition.
    • Lots of fruit and veggies! Not only do they hold a lot of water, which helps with hydration, but they are also packed with vitamins and minerals and that your body needs. I know it’s not as convenient and time-saving as a hot pocket on the way to class, but it will greatly improve your immune system, skin completion, and functionality of your organs as a whole.

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