No one wants to put on the Freshman Fifteen and or pull all-nighters studying. But unfortunately, these two things seem to go hand-in-hand in college.
Late-night studying lends itself to unhealthy options from vending machines, pizza delivery, and the buffet at the dining hall. This unhealthy eating can impact studying negatively, resulting in fatigue, lack of concentration, and a weak memory. Not a good result for studying!
Even worse, the unhealthy temptations that come with late-night cramming sessions may even continue into the next day. And when you’re exhausted from staying up, your tired body will crave carbohydrates to help you sleep.
OK, you didn't click on this article for a lecture, so we'll make this quick: The best way to improve your late-night studying diet is to not find yourself in a late-night studying situation in the first place.
If you're having trouble staying on track during the rest of the semester, you may want to check out these two other articles that many students have found life-changing:
And even after reading those articles, if you DO still find yourself sometimes waiting until the last minute, then check out our other article on how to cram for a test (if you must), and read on for the best late-night eating tips . . . .
10 Late-night studying and eating tips
- Don’t keep “junk food” around. Chips, dips and candy don’t just “appear” magically in your food cupboard. One reason you snack on junk is because you made the choice to buy it and bring it home! Change your environment, change what you eat. Or at least set some rules where the bad stuff is out of sight until you've earned it.
- Choose smart snacks. If you’re hungry, eat. But especially if it’s late at night, avoid refined sugar or you'll weaken your memory and experience more fatigue. Keep plenty of healthier, lower calorie foods around for when you’re a little hungry (fruit, beef jerky, tuna, cheese, sugar-free yogurt, nuts, etc.)
- Get physical during study breaks. Physical activity, even a short 5 minute walk, can increase oxygen to your brain, get your blood flowing again, and help you refocus on studying. Don’t eat food to stay awake—exercise instead. (See our tips on how to get exercise while studying.)
- Take snack breaks rather than eat continuously. Everyone is different, but for grazers, it’s easy to eat a lot more calories than you’re aware of because you’re focusing more on the mental challenge and the words on the page, rather than sensing if you’re still hungry or tasting the food. Eating mindfully without distraction may make you feel more satisfied.
- Portion snacks and meals. If you grab from the bag, the bag may be empty before you realize it. Serve snacks in a bowl or on a plate and put them away. A very large meal, more than 400 or 500 calories, will likely interfere with your studying by pulling blood to your stomach rather than your brain.
- High-protein foods may help you stay alert. Eating a meal high in protein may help you feel more alert and motivated. Examples of high protein foods: lean meat, beans, lentils, low fat dairy, soy foods, high-protein snack bars, nuts (~2-4 Tbs). Excess carbohydrates may make us relaxed and feel sleepy.
- Include fluid, and be aware of the calories. Not only will you stay hydrated, you’ll get a movement break by visiting the restroom. Sometimes we reach for food when we’re thirsty. If you’re dehydrated, you may find yourself prone to crave grapes or other watery foods. Make sure you get a minimum of 2 quarts a day, more if you’re active or in hot weather. Avoid excess caffeine (>2 cups) as it may affect the quality of your sleep.
- Avoid eating right before bedtime. Try to have your last snack at least 2 hours before going to bed. A large snack or meal right before sleep means your body is working on digesting that meal during the night, rather than resting and repairing other tissues. This interferes with the quality of your sleep and you may wake feeling tired. It’s also unlikely you need that energy at that time of the night, and usually our choices are sloppier when we’re tired, both of which may contribute to weight gain.
- Hot foods, hot liquids. Hot foods tend to make us feel more satisfied, and steaming hot foods are hard to eat quickly. Try bringing instant soup or instant oatmeal with you. Know where the microwaves are on campus to heat up a quick snack or meal.
- Limit sedentary time. Any form of exercise while you watch tv can help add activity to your day when you’re short on time, but may also keep you from snacking, as the TV easily lures us to eat with constant food commercials. If you watch TV for several hours a day because you’re bored, consider adding some other activities to your life.
If you're looking for more information about nutrition, Brainscape has created a great guide on the best brain foods to eat before a test, so you can grab healthier options during studying.
And if you need a tool that optimizes studying before bed, Brainscape is your best option. It's a smart, mobile flashcards app that can be used to commit bite-sized information to your short term memory right before you sleep. This helps ensure that these items are converted into long-term memories during sleep.
Feel free to read more about the best times of day to study, and best of luck on getting your late nights back in check!