We’ve all done it – put off studying for months and then pulled consecutive all-nighters right before the exam. Here are some of the unhealthy things we do to stay awake, and some healthier alternatives.
1. Drink copious amounts of coffee.
We tend to drink one cup of coffee after another, hoping that the caffeine will keep us awake and alert.
Why it’s unhealthy: While a cup or two of coffee is fine, too much caffeine can speed up heart rate, trigger acid reflux and give you the jitters, making you extremely restless. You probably won’t be able to study very well, since it also cranks up your anxiety levels and makes it hard for you to focus on a train of thought. Coffee also happens to be a diuretic, which means it dehydrates you, so if you drink a lot of coffee without drinking any water you will get that gnawing headache at the back of your skull. Looking back, how many times have you mistaken that headache for sleepiness and then drunk more coffee till it became unbearable?
What to do instead: After your second cup, switch to water. Most people don’t realise this, but drinking water actually helps keep you awake. This is because the brain consists of roughly 80% water, and drinking plenty of water helps it function properly. Insufficient water triggers headaches, which make it harder to study.
2. Chug energy drinks.
When nothing works, we all turn to energy drinks in a desperate attempt to keep our eyes open.
Why it’s unhealthy: These drinks are loaded with caffeine and sugar, giving your system a terrible jolt. Some of the side effects linked to these drinks include rapid heartbeat, increased blood pressure, gastrointestinal problems, nausea, panic attacks, anxiety, insomnia and tooth decay. These drinks have also been shown to cause cardiac arrhythmias and cardiac arrests in people who have heart conditions. The combination of sugar and caffeine gives you a boost for some time, but it is soon followed by a major crash, leaving you weak and exhausted, with barely any immunity.
What to do instead: Avoid energy drinks at all cost. If you need help staying awake, drink fresh fruit juice, coconut water or sweet and salty lemonade. These drinks are balanced and will give your body the sugar it needs without all the side effects.
3. Skip meals or not eat properly.
We all know that eating a heavy meal can put us to sleep, so we tend to avoid eating properly in order to stay awake. Stress is another factor that makes us skip meals.
Why it’s unhealthy: Your body is already under a lot of physical and mental stress, so denying it the right kind of nutrition just makes it worse. Proper nutrition can fuel your brain and your body, to keep them functioning and efficient.
What to do instead: Eat small but regular meals every 2-3 hours. Fish, nuts, whole grains, legumes (daals), apples, bananas, berries, onions, spinach and cauliflower are some of the foods you should include in your diet during exam time to boost your brain power and raise your energy levels.
4. Eat lots of chocolate.
Do you binge on chocolate, cookies, pastries or brownies when you’re studying?
Why it’s unhealthy: Small amounts of sugar are necessary to keep the brain functioning, because glucose powers the brain. Eating too much sugar however causes an acidic environment in your body and promotes inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to pain or illness, and helps keep your body safe, but the type of inflammation that sugar causes is an unhealthy inflammation that can lead to various diseases, including cancer. Sugar also raises your energy levels for a short time and then causes them to crash, leaving you with no energy and no ability to concentrate.
What to do instead: Eat nuts. They are loaded with healthy omega-3 fats that will give you energy and boost your brain power without harming you. Studies have shown that people who eat nuts before their exams do better than those who don’t!
5. Tie hair to something.
Some people have actually tied their hair to stay awake – we hope you’re not one of them! A few Chinese students recently reported doing this, but it has been used traditionally by Indian students as well! The idea is to tie your hair to something – a beam, or a wall, so that if you fall asleep and your head droops, it will tug on your hair and that will wake you up.
Why it’s unhealthy: Hair fall, scalp injuries and other mishaps are some of the obvious dangers of this practice!
What to do instead: Stay active to stay awake. Walk around while you’re learning things, or take quick breaks every 20 minutes. Jog in place, do jumping jacks or do any other exercise that you like. It will get your heart pumping and keep you awake.