As a research student, I spend most of my time working on my research career, even when I am at home, I am awake until 3 or 4 A.M just doing my research-chores.

As a matter of fact, long-term having not enough sleep, putting myself under huge amount of stress and hard work and more important, not getting enough exercise will directly put the person's health in to danger.

Q: How should a researcher balance their life to both maintain their health and do their academic job?

I am wondering whether professionals and scientists really hardly worked this much and how their healthy and balanced academic/work life-style is.

  • 12
    @enthusiasticstudent I highly recommend you to change your lifestyle. I've experienced the same for over 12 months. The consequences will appear later on. In my case it started with back pain, hemorrhoids and ended with disgust (psychological feeling) towards the work. I think the way to change it is to know that you dedicate a fixed amount of time per week on your research, and use this time as good as possible. Use tools tools/addons to avoid distractions and make sure to keep the promise you give to yourself. "This amount of hours per week" Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 11:55
  • 12
    That being said, if you actually work until 3AM every day, you need to stop this pattern now or you will be burned out in (at most) a few months.
    – xLeitix
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 13:03
  • 5
    This doesn't seem specific to academia.
    – StrongBad
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 19:27
  • 3
    I'd say this is pretty much standard, whether in academia or business or the military or wherever. When I was a fresh-caught young naval officer there were times I was up for more than 48 hours straight, what with operational commitments, watch-standing, "normal" work stuff, multiple underway replenishments a day (I was stationed on a supply ship) - it was just Business As Usual. The more senior officers got a decent amount of sleep, but us "kids" were go-Go-GO! Today (at age 57) I wouldn't do that ever again - that's why there's "kids" to show us oldsters How It's Done. :-) Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 2:18
  • 2
    Leave the academic world. You'll thank yourself for it later. Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 9:00

7 Answers 7


First of all. Sleep. And sleep well. Increasing sleep hours increases productivity and not the other way around. Sleep early (people are not supposed to work too late at night) and wake up after good-solid 8 hours of sleep. Then when you wake up, you will realize that you have amazing clarity and excellent productivity. Also, two hours before sleep abandon work and do something relaxing, such as listening to music or spending time with your significant other. Work or stressful activities before bedtime, disrupt your sleep and its quality. So, that leaves you about 24-(8+2) = 14 hours to work which are more than enough.

Devote at least one hour per day on average for exercise. Any sport, workout is better than nothing. Also, try walking. One hour of walking per day does wonders for your heart, lowers stress and you can still think about research while doing it (I do not advice this though). It also alleviates headaches (stress or work related). Also, mind what you eat. Keep your weight steady and do not eat too salty or fatty foods, that inhibit body and mind performance. Use a multivitamin every two days (after consulting your doctor). Also remember that a healthy body always performs better, including mind activities. Also maintaining a good, healthy appearance increases your chances for a fruitful social life, which will prevent you from overworking and overstressing yourself.

And just a reminder. You should not spend too much time on Stack Academia as well :-)

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    Why did you say this: And just a reminder. You should not spend too much time on Stack Academia as well :-)?
    – enthu
    Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 19:44
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    It was a joke. But spending time on any website when you are missing sleep should be avoided.
    – Alexandros
    Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 19:59
  • I am not missing sleep because of spending time on any website (as stated in my question). :) Thanks for your answer.
    – enthu
    Commented Aug 5, 2014 at 20:03
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    As hard as I try I can't seem to convince myself to do the "8 hours sleep" routine. If i get 6 solid hours I'm quite happy though Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 15:51

I put my health first by committing to healthy activities that involve other people, so I will have to stick to them.

For example, I

  • Have a standing weekly running appointment with a faculty member at my school. I won't cancel this appointment because she will be disappointed.
  • Have a standing non-academic volunteer commitment one afternoon each week (giving back to my community is essential for my mental health). I won't cancel this because there's a classroom full of 12-year-old girls waiting for me to come help them with their homework.
  • Spend 25 hours each week, from Friday night to Saturday night, completely disconnected from the Internet and anything work related. (I do this as a religious observance, but it's definitely good for my physical health, too!)
  • Hold meetings with students and faculty in other buildings in their offices, not mine, so that I am forced to occasionally go outside during daylight hours (if only to walk from one building to the next).

All of these things are non-negotiable to me. That is, no matter what how busy I am or what deadlines are coming up, I will not compromise on any of these things. They're essential to my health and well-being, I arranged them so that other people are depending on me, and so I prioritize them.

  • 20
    Sounds cheesy, but having a hobby really helps. I played table tennis at a club during my PhD, which meant regular training, league games, and tournaments, all entirely non-negotiable (can't let down your team just because you are terrible at time management).
    – xLeitix
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 13:08
  • 4
    including other people is great, because it forces the person to stick to the plan Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 13:26
  • Agreed. Hobbies and friends are good. Some kind of stress management like meditiation or, in my case, powerlifting is also invaluable.
    – Shion
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 16:28

I know that for myself, regular running has helped a lot in the past.

The miraculous thing about regular physical exercise is that even though it takes time, you may find that it seems like you suddenly have more time overall.


You are only as busy as you want to be. How many hours you can put into work activities without affecting your mental well-being depends on how much you enjoy your work. Given that you describe your work as chores, you should be trying to adjust the cause, not mitigate the symptoms.

There is no way that you can realistically handle the kind of workload you describe long-term. Putting in that many hours to the point that you're basically pulling all-nighters might be justified at crunch time: when a project is due and external factors or bad planning prevented you from finishing in time. The first step to improving your situation is to give yourself a realistic workload, likely something between 40 and 60 hours a week. Then set up a plan for your research that takes into account the hours you have available and set your goals accordingly.

You can try this for a week to see if it helps with your mental fatigue and what the impact is on your research. There are any number of studies that prove the importance of work-life balance for productivity so while you might feel like you're working much less than you should, you should be accomplishing much more with your time.

In other words: Work smarter, not harder.


Prioritize you're health, happiness and relationships first. Nowhere is it written that a graduate student needs to work insane hours, answer every email the minute it comes in, etc. Frankly, if I worked for someone that had that expectation I'd leave. In fact, I did work for an advisor who was like that and I switched after a year. Life's too short. The stress, fatigue, unhealthy eating, lack of connection with other people outside of academia... it wears on your health.

Don't fall into the rat race. I don't know your field, but in mine it's common for grad students to work insane hours because they just work inefficiently, so just work smarter.

Also, under-promise over-deliver... always.

  • 1
    Under-promise. Over-deliver. Great, great advice. In the United States, we violate that constantly. In fact, we reverse it. Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 0:10
  • @IsaacWannabeeNewton Speak for yourself, please.
    – jakebeal
    Commented Jan 20, 2015 at 5:55

You should work less and take breaks, for the sake of the success of your research! Out of experience, most, if not all insights/breakthroughs came while taking breaks/ holidays etc…

These breaks allow you to take some distance and give you perspective w.r.t. to your current work. On top of all the good reasons given by the other answers.


On the issue of workaholism, I think it all boils down to why people feel they are more valuable if they work hard. What makes them believe this? Are they trying to impress people and gain acceptance to fill a void?

Does a person "work to live" or do they "live to work"? The latter seems a waste of life to me.

If working very hard makes a person happy then perhaps they should do it. But if they are doing it for another reason and are not very happy, then maybe they need to reconsider.

Maybe a lot of this comes from popular culture when media personalities talk about somebody's "amazing body of work". We've heard that phrase many times. Ironically, very, very few people are remembered for their "bodies of work". It takes an EXTREME amount of EXTREMELY high quality work to be remembered for it.

People remember Mozart, but they don't remember the very good violinist that played with the city symphony 10 years ago. People remember Isaac Newton, but they don't remember lesser mathematicians who still contributed somewhat significantly.

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