We all have those little things we know we shouldn’t do, but can’t seem to give up or quit. Lucky for those of us who have adopted bad habits during our time in college, we’re certainly not alone. Check out some of the most common unhealthy habits you could develop as a collegiette, along with HC’s tips on how to break them!
1. The bad habit: Pulling all-nighters (or staying up until the early hours of the morning)
Sure, you may have gotten your assignment completed, but did you really do a good job on it? Are you really going to remember the notes you spent hours poring over? It’s no secret that going one or more nights in a row with little or no sleep doesn’t leave you at your best and brightest. Most of us find ourselves half-asleep in class, feel edgy or anxious and unable to react or respond to questions and conversations as quickly as usual. Our sleep-deprived selves are also more likely to make other not-so-smart decisions when it comes to what we eat, drink, and do throughout the rest of the day.
How to beat it:
Schedule, schedule, schedule! Setting an agenda for your work will help you prioritize and stay on track. Start your day (or week, if you’re super organized!) mapping out what needs to get done. You can try organizing your time into blocks, or making lists of priorities – what needs to get done, what you’d like to accomplish but don’t absolutely need to finish, and what you can put off until later. Don’t forget to include things like meetings, classes, and activities into your schedule as well.
Starting the day or week with a concrete plan will go a long way in keeping you on track and ready to go! “Try to go to sleep and wake up around the same times each day. Time management and advance planning (e.g., studying a little each day vs. pulling an all-nighter) are crucial for maintaining a regular schedule,” suggests Kimberly Liao, a community health educator at Penn State University.
If you find you’re too overwhelmed and honestly don’t have time to complete something, talk to a professor. If it’s looking like your week will be absolutely insane, approach the prof after class and ask about the possibility of a deadline extension. If you ask early enough, many teachers will be happy to grant you a little extra time. Just be sure to calmly and rationally explain why you need the extension, and don’t abuse this option too much, or you’ll quickly lose it.
If you do get behind on sleep, be sure you make an effort to catch up later in the week. That is, if you’re short on sleep one night, try and get to bed a little earlier the next night, or sleep in a little later if possible. One study conducted at Harvard Medical School suggests that catching up on your “sleep debt” actually does pay off, and you’ll be more refreshed once you catch up.
2. The bad habit: Loading up on tons of coffee or energy drinks throughout the week
To start, it’s important to know how much coffee is too much coffee. (Yes, there IS such a thing. Crazy, we know.) “If you’re interested in cutting down on your caffeine intake, start by assessing how much caffeine you’re currently consuming and when you’re consuming caffeinated products,” suggests Liao.
According to the Mayo Clinic, most of us can handle between 200 and 300 milligrams of caffeine a day without experiencing some of the downsides of caffeine. That translates to about two to four cups of brewed coffee a day. As another reference, one Red Bull has about 80 milligrams.
For a handy reference on how much caffeine your fave drink contains, check out this database. When you get closer to ingesting 500 to 600 milligrams, you may experience things like insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, irritation, or more physical symptoms like an upset stomach or headaches. Keep in mind that the FDA also considers caffeine a drug, so it’s something you can definitely become addicted to or dependent on – not good!
How to beat it:
Just like any drug addiction, it can be tough to just give up caffeine entirely. “Take small steps. You don’t have to go cold turkey—start out by drinking one less caffeinated beverage per day,” suggests Liao. Anyone who’s tried to quit drinking coffee can surely attest to that. Instead, start gradually cutting back on your caffeine intake.
Start finding alternatives to drinking caffeinated beverages as well, and slowly include more of these in your diet instead of caffeine-heavy drinks. Love the fizz from pop? Think about switching to a caffeine-free soda, or go even healthier and try mineral or carbonated water instead. Try other, more natural ways to boost your energy as well. Getting up and taking a quick exercise break when you’re stuck studying or feel your energy slumping, eating more whole grain foods, and sleeping more are all great ways to feel more refreshed without the jitters caffeine sometimes brings.
Be sure you’re “sleeping smart” as well. Minimize distractions when you’re trying to fall asleep by turning off loud music or the TV, turning off the lights, and avoiding doing anything super energizing like exercising or spending tons of time on your laptop before bed. “If you’re consuming caffeine to combat feeling tired, assess the quality and quantity of your sleep. Making changes to improve your sleep may help you cut down on caffeine,” says Liao.
3. The bad habit: Skipping meals because you’re too busy
This is the weird thing about skipping meals: it may seem convenient, or a natural way to cut back on calories and drop those last few pounds before summer rolls around, but it actually has the opposite effect. Skipping one meal often leads to overeating or overcompensating later in the day, either by taking in too much at your next full meal, or snacking more than you usually would. Weird eating habits are a huge issue when it comes to staying healthy in college.
Also, when you skip a meal or skip meals too often, your body actually starts to break down muscle tissue to provide enough energy for you to function, not fat. Skipping meals regularly also often results in your body feeling hungry way more than it should, meaning you won’t feel your best and can’t function as well as you would had you taken 15 minutes to grab something quick – and healthy!
How to beat it:
Learn how to make meals that are easy to eat on the go, and prepare them ahead of time. This is another habit where scheduling also might come in handy. Look at the next week or two, and pick a day to hit up the grocery store for some easy, on-the-go alternatives if you don’t have time to hit the dining hall three times a day.
4. The bad habit: Having one (or two… or three…) too many drinks at parties or nights out with the girls
Hopefully, you don’t need a major refresher on why that extra drink or two every weekend can spell trouble in the long run. You’ve had this drilled into you since forever, but it’s crazy important and is worth repeating.
The National Institute on Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse is a great resource for learning about the effects of drinking too much on a single night and consistently indulging in many booze-fueled nights out. Too much alcohol can damage almost every vital organ in your body, including your heart, liver, and brain, and can harm things like your immune system and cause cancer as well. Yikes!
How to beat it:
Obviously, many collegiettes know how to smartly enjoy a drink or two without going overboard. As always, it’s important to know your limits, including knowing how much you can handle at once and what types of drinks you can handle as well. It’s also important to know how much alcohol a single drink contains.
“Many students underestimate how much they are actually drinking. Be knowledgeable about standard drink sizes and what they look like in the containers you drink out of most,” says Liao. Use this newfound knowledge to set a limit for yourself ahead of time – make a mental note to only have X drinks based on what works for you and your body.
“Avoid trying to ‘keep up with the guys.’ If a man and a woman the same body weight have the same number of drinks, the man will have a lower blood alcohol content (BAC),” explains Liao. Alternate between a drink with alcohol and a glass of water too, to avoid things like hangovers or other downsides of alcohol.
If you’re worried about how much you’ve been drinking lately, don’t be scared to seek out some help. Most college health centers have free or low-cost services for exactly these kinds of issues. Look into these and other support services built into things like res life departments, Greek system-based support, and other close-to-campus resources. These can be great starting points for determining what, if any, action is needed.
Don’t be afraid to spend a night or two in or alcohol-free too, if you’re worried about your drinking habits. Grab a few chick flicks and curl up with a friend or two, or volunteer to be the driver when your friends hit the bar. Still fun, just different!
5. The bad habit: You’re just not as active as you were in high school or past semesters
We get it – it can be tricky to sneak a workout in between classes, extra-currics, homework, studying, and all the other stuff you do on a daily basis. There are definitely those days when it’s way more appealing to curl up with the latest season of your fave show on Netflix instead of hitting the gym. Without regular exercise however, you’re putting yourself at risk for a variety of things, including weight gain, diabetes, and even depression.
How to beat it:
The trick to getting more active is to make working out fun! “Being physically active doesn’t mean having to spend an hour at the gym. Increments as little as 10 minutes of activity at a time can benefit your health,” says Liao. “Find physical activity that you enjoy. Hate running? Try a Zumba class, hike outdoors, play pick up soccer, or join an intramural or club sports team.”
Find an activity you love, and stick with it. Try different classes your school fitness center offers, take a dip in the pool, check out a new intramural sport, or learn how to use a new machine at the gym. If you’re addicted to your smartphone, use technology as an extra motivator to get you out of the dorm and into the gym. Even if the weather’s gross or you don’t feel like leaving the comfort of your room, there are tons of workout ideas for you as well. You can also suggest setting small fitness goals, scheduling workouts, teaming up with friends, or using workouts as study breaks
Whether it’s eating better, getting more sleep, or becoming more active, there’s always something you can do to improve your health. Identify what it is you want to work on, find a strategy that works for you, and stick with it. You’ll soon be on your way to becoming the best version of your college self yet!