How to manage a healthy PhD life?

Though doing research as a PhD student is often fun, exciting and enjoyable, it can sometimes get very stressful. Especially when deadlines are on your neck. If you ask a PhD student how long does he/she work in a week, the answer may vary from about 40hrs to 60hrs. Most of their days will be spent either tied to their desks writing or in the lab performing some experiments. Maintaining a healthy life in such a busy scheduled and stressful life is a difficult task. However, having a good physical and mental health is essential to have a less bumpy PhD life. There are many ways to achieve such a healthy lifestyle, but often most of them are not very practical.

One can advise to do sport or to go to the gym, but doing this on regular basis may not be convenient for most PhDs given their busy schedule. However, the not so lazy people might still find some time for those activities. On the other hand, all the lazy PhDs out there, how many times have you promised yourself to go to the gym from next month? This may very well be that one thing on your to-do-list which may never happen in your PhD life.

This article is for all those (lazy) PhDs who want to have a healthier life with some simple adjustments in their daily routine. In this article, I made an effort to explain you the importance of sleep and diet with a minimum exercise in maintaining a good physical and mental health.



Sleep tight!

Getting enough sleep every day is very important to have a healthy life in general. A good night’s sleep will help you have a good mood, improve memory and cognitive performance. It also plays a very important role in maintaining immune and hormonal systems in balance [1]. The human body promotes the sleep through its internal circadian rhythm (aka internal body clock). Our internal body clock is a complex neurological system which tells us when to go to the sleep, and when to wake up and is greatly dependent on the outside light. Now you know why you have a hard time falling asleep when the lights are turned on.

When body’s natural circadian rhythm is disrupted even once, for example, by pulling an all-nighter, for starters you will be sleep deprived, moody as hell and experience a hard time concentrating the following day. If it is continued on regular basis, there will be severe consequences on the health. You may develop sleeping disorders such as insomnia, sleep apnea, snore, sleepwalk and other circadian rhythm sleep disorders. It may also increase stress levels, and decrease concentration, cognitive ability, and memory.

It’s time for the big question: how to sleep tight?

  • The first thing to do is to follow a natural sleep cycle. Sleep during the night, wake up in the morning and work during the day.
  • Turn off your computers, televisions, and mobile phones at least 30min before the time to bed. The blue light from these devices simulate the daylight and tricks your brain by making it think that it is still not night. Read a book (not from a Tablet) or listen to music instead. It will help you relax and keep you away from the blue light.
  • Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day. I mean even during weekends.
  • Cut down on coffee. Do you know that the half-life of the coffee is around 8 hours. The coffee you had in the morning at 8’O still has 25% its effect at 12’O clock in the midnight.
Source: 118895729@N03/Flickr

Source: 118895729@N03/Flickr

Eat healthily!

What we all need is various, healthy and enjoyable food. The three keywords for a healthy diet are freshness, wholeness, and variety. Try to make fresh foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, and meat as a major part of your food intakes. Cut back on processed foods and do not resort to packaged or canned food. Preparation of foods should mostly involve grilling and baking rather than frying. Try a different variety of food every day, because it is unhealthy to eat just oranges every day as it is like hamburgers every day. Eating small and frequent meals can boost your metabolism and keeps you less hungry. Stay hydrated!! I cannot emphasize more. Your body needs fluids to carry nutrients to cells and flush the waste. Ease up on stimulants such as coffee and tea, and alcohol.

Some healthy eating includes [2]:

  • More fresh fruit and vegetables as they are high in vitamins and minerals and low in fats
  • Fiber-rich foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and lentils
  • Fresh fish, poultry and leaner cuts of meats
  • Consume fewer dairy products and use low-fat versions of yogurt or milk
  • Keep pastries, cakes, biscuits, and chocolates for special occasions
  • Use less salt. This also means reduce intake of processed foods as they can often be high in salt

Enjoy the food you eat. There is a lot of pleasure to be gained from the taste and aroma of a varied diet.




Stay fit!

We spend most of our time sitting at the desk or commuting. Not to scare you, but do you know that the health risks associated with prolonged sitting are type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, metabolic syndrome [3]. However, doing a little to moderate exercise every day can prevent those diseases and also keep your body fit [4]. You can start by doing some little physical activities such as taking the stairs instead of using lifts or elevators, work standing up, walk, etc… to moderate physical activities such as taking a bike to work instead of using a public transport or a personal car, doing sports at least once every week, doing desk workouts, etc. You can find tons of desk workouts online and you can choose whichever is convenient for you. Hereunder, I included some which I found effective and makes me relax.


I already started doing the things which are convenient for me and I hope you will find some motivation to do the same after reading this article. =)


[1] “Sleep-wake cycle: its physiology and impact on health,” National Sleep Foundation, 2006.
[2] P. Das, Stress Management, pp. 23-97.
[3] H. MT, “Role of low energy expenditure and sitting in obesity, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease,” Diabetes, vol. 56, no. 11, pp. 2655-67, 2007.
[4] A. BE, “Compendium of physical activities: an update of activity codes and MET intensities,” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, vol. 32, no. 9, pp. 498-504, 2000.


About The Author

Samant Nagraj is a Research Engineer at Metallo Belgium and is currently pursuing a PhD at the KU Leuven Department of Materials Engineering. He is the ESR3 of the SOCRATES project. His main interest is in modelling of Pyro-metallurgical processes. Central to his research is the question of how plasma affects the thermodynamics and kinetics of slag fuming process (a selective metal extraction process from industrial waste).

If you are interested in his research, you can reach him at


Check Also

Publication by SOCRATES researchers applauded as a 2020 HOT Green Chemistry article

Collaborative research of the SOCRATES project members from Outotec Oy, Aalto University and University of ...