Towson student Morgan Brenner uses Peeps and hot chocolate to stay awake (Photo by Elaina Clarke/Towson student)

There’s a Starbucks sitting conveniently in Cook Library at Towson University, beckoning drowsy students to come in and buy a flavorful jolt for their day. For those of us who don’t care for Starbucks, there’s also a Jamba Juice in West Village. Ask for a smoothie with an “energy boost” and you’re set.

And if those options don’t suit your fancy, there’s always the old standby: energy drinks.

As midterms rapidly approach, students look to answer the question that has been plaguing college campuses for years: how can anyone make it through long study periods without falling asleep?

For this question, every student seems to have their own answer.

“I use hot chocolate and I put peeps in my hot chocolate, and it usually takes me an entire pack of peeps to stay up for a night,” Sophomore English major Morgan Brenner said.

Megan Baker, a Sophomore Digital Art and Design major, relies on sleep to carry her through.

“I make sure I get enough sleep the night before (long study periods), and if I didn’t, I nap when I have the chance to,” she said. 

Brenner, who can recall having about 3 energy drinks since starting college, believes there isn’t a healthy way to stay awake, because “staying awake isn’t healthy.”

However, students don’t have to rely on energy drinks and excessive amounts of chocolate to carry them through the night. Believe it or not, there are healthy alternatives to high calorie, high sugar foods and drinks.

Professor Ann Greenbaum, a visiting instructor who teaches Nutrition for Exercise and Sport, Individualized Fitness, and Introduction to Coaching at Towson, insists staying active can help students stay awake.

“Incorporate regular exercise with a required 6-7 hours of sleep. Get up and walk around, or jump rope every 30 minutes, or go ride your bike. It clears your head and gets your blood pumping, which gives you energy,” she said.

Oftentimes, dedicated students can be found at their desks at all hours of the night, nursing a venti Iced Coffee, hot chocolate with peeps, or whatever boost they desire. But all-nighters, regardless of how effective they may be for studying, aren’t good for our bodies.

Greenbaum warns against staying up all night and “sitting for long periods of time,” saying these methods are “shown to decrease metabolism and increase weight gain.”

And what about those popular energy drinks many students rely on to get them through midterms and finals week? If you want to take a swig of Amp or Monster, Greenbaum says it’s not a problem in moderation. But don’t overdo it.

“I would say OK in moderation. They are not getting any micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) from these, or energy (carbohydrates) from some, so they need to have a balanced diet along with their intake. Also, many combine with alcohol and it causes some dangerous results,” she said.

Clinical Assistant Professor Jennifer Moxley, whose primary field of study is clinical exercise physiology, isn’t sold on the wonders of coffee and energy drinks for that extra boost during study periods.

“I don’t think energy drinks are appropriate options for students,” she said. “The caffeine content is extremely high and so is the sugar content. Excessive intake is unhealthy and the student can become dependent on the drink for energy.”

She says the same goes for coffee.

“I don’t think coffee is necessarily an appropriate option for staying awake,” she said. “I think if you need coffee to stay awake, you should examine your diet, exercise, and sleeping patterns to see where you fall short. I think it is unhealthy to rely on coffee to stay awake”

Even though many students are afraid to turn to food as an alternative, snacking might be just what the doctor ordered. Provided, of course, the snacking is healthy. So the next time you reach for a treat to stave off the exhaustion, Moxley says your best bet is fruits, nuts, vegetables and/or yogurt to do the trick.

Like Greenbaum, she agrees that a healthy diet, regular exercise and proper amounts of sleep are the best ways to keep alert.

“First of all, proper sleep is important,” she said. “Second, it is important to maintain appropriate levels of blood sugar to avoid ‘hitting the wall,’, meaning having symptoms of low blood sugar such as fatigue, headache, hunger, shakiness. Healthy snacking is key to maintaining blood sugar. Healthy snacking can include yogurt, fruit, or nuts. Another way to stay awake is to be sure to get regular exercise.”

Another important step is planning your work in a way that will allow you to be as efficient as possible.

“Planning is key,” Greenbaum said. “Don’t overschedule.”

With the right methods, proper sleep, healthy eating habits and smart scheduling, staying awake could be easier than you think.


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