“Sugar (e.g., candy bars) is the only thing that gets me to sit down and study. How do I stop this habit?”

—Madeline, Newark, Delaware

Sugary foods cause a spike in blood sugar that can amp up your energy levels for a short time. It’s likely that you eat the sweets to (consciously or subconsciously) jump-start your energy for studying. Unfortunately, what typically follows is a drop in blood sugar. This can create the desire for more sugar (to regain the energy). However, there are ways to stop the cycle.

Here are some alternative ways to get your energy up for studying:

  • Start your study session with a mini-workout Exercise gets your blood flowing, wakes you up, and improves your ability to shift and focus attention—all important for study sessions.
  • Take activity breaks Do this every hour, or sooner if you feel your energy dropping. Stand up, stretch, or go for a brisk walk, bike ride, or run.
  • Stand up to study If you don’t have access to a standing desk, try putting your laptop or your books on the counter.
  • Drink up—water, that is Dehydration can make you feel tired and lethargic, which is not helpful for studying. Caffeine can contribute to dehydration and interfere with sleep, so watch your consumption.
  • Choose foods that give you long-lasting energy Instead of eating sugary foods before and during study times, try eating meals and snacks that sustain your energy over time. Combine foods high in complex carbohydrates with protein and fat.

These food combinations provide steadier energy over time:

  • Peanut butter on whole grain bread
  • Cheese with whole grain crackers
  • Oatmeal with low-fat milk, walnuts, and dried fruit

Still craving sweets? Snack on a trail mix that includes whole grains, nuts and seeds, and dried fruit. And maybe some dark chocolate chips, too.

If you integrate any or all of these strategies, you are likely to feel more energized and clear-minded when it’s time to study.