Best and Worst Drinks for Studying — What the Research Say


Are you sipping on the right drink while hitting the books? You may think your study drinks are harmless, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Depending on what you’re drinking, you can easily consume way too much sugar, which can lead to slumps in energy, difficulty concentrating, and headaches, and in the long-term, more serious health concerns like diabetes and heart disease. Caffeine, when consumed in excess, can also have a significant negative impact on your health and ability to study effectively.

In this post, we’ll break down the three best and three worst drinks to study with, so that you can optimize your energy, focus, and memory retention during study sessions and avoid a sugar crash.


The 3 Best Drinks for Studying

3. Coffee

While not ideal, when drunk black and in moderation, coffee is a solid option that will keep you alert and focused.

First, let’s start with what’s not so good about coffee. America has an issue with always wanting everything to be big, bold, and strong. People want a big bang of effects, which coffee provides, but with that comes the negative effects of jitters and GI issues. Plus, many people add additional sugar and cream to their coffee, both of which come with their own health concerns that we’ll get to later.

Black coffee, on the other hand, provides stimulation and alertness without the sugar crash. Numerous studies show that coffee, and caffeine in general, is beneficial in low arousal situations and is an effective countermeasure to fatigue.

Caffeine was found to have “…many positive actions on the brain. It can increase alertness and wellbeing, help concentration, improve mood, and limit depression.”

But keep in mind that all of this is in moderation. Too much coffee can give you the jitters, cause headaches, and upset your stomach—none of which are ideal for a long study session.

Additionally, the half-life of caffeine ranges from a minimum of 2 hours to a maximum of 12 hours, but on average, it’s about 5 hours. Therefore, consuming coffee for evening or late night studying is not recommended.

2. Tea

Next up in the number 2 spot, we have tea.

Tea has a lower concentration of caffeine for a more nuanced and balanced experience. Even though tea doesn’t provide the same bang that coffee can, there are still plenty of studies that show tea improves alertness, memory, and cognitive functions.

Black tea has been shown to improve attention and self-reported alertness. Another study on black tea found that consumption speeded performance, improved memory, reduced the number of errors in cognitive tasks, and sped up cognitive processing.

Tea also contains L-theanine, which can improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety. Even caffeinated teas produce a calm and focused state, as opposed to the jittery high provided by coffee.

Plus, there are hundreds of scientific publications documenting the health benefits of tea. Tea decreases your risk of skin cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer, breast cancer, and more. It also decreases cardiovascular risks, the chance you’ll develop type II diabetes, as well as the risk of arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

So, why don’t more people drink tea? Most Americans are used to tea bags, which are essentially tea dust. But high quality loose leaf tea is completely different. Most people think of generic English breakfast or green tea bags when they think of tea, but that’s far from the reality of a great cup of tea.

But one downside is that truly excellent tea needs more attention and care to prepare. Unlike coffee, which is generally just made as one large pot, the best teas are brewed one cup at a time.

1. Water/Soda Water

This brings us to the number one drink for studying: Water.

It may not be that sexy of a drink, but hydration is absolutely necessary for effective studying.

Even a slight bit of dehydration can cause headaches and irritability while lowering attention, concentration, and cognition, which is definitely not ideal for studying or test taking.

Unfortunately, so many people are chronically dehydrated without realizing it, and by the time you notice feeling thirsty, the negative impacts of dehydration have already kicked in.

Make water, and plenty of it, your go-to study companion, and save caffeinated beverages for when you truly need that extra boost.

Water can help you during your exam as well. A study on the benefits of drinking water found that “Students who brought water to the exam achieved better grades than students who did not.”

If you find water boring, soda water is a great alternative, so long as it doesn’t have any added sugar. The carbonation is stimulating, which can minimize your cravings for sugary drinks and snacks.


The 3 Worst Drinks for Studying

3. Pop/Soda/Sugary Juices

First up for the three worst drinks to study with, we have pop/soda, and we’re lumping in processed sugary juices as well.

In small doses, real fruit juice may not hinder your performance and could give you a small boost, but many juices have a tremendous amount of added sugar and other unnatural ingredients.

And even with real fruit juice, you’re still getting a ton of sugar. It varies depending on the brand, but a single 8 oz cup of orange juice has anywhere from 20-30 grams of sugar, which is five to seven teaspoons.

Many pops/sodas, such as Coke or Pepsi, also contain caffeine, which will give you a short boost, but there are many better ways to get a caffeine pick-me-up without the chemicals and sugar rush that is inevitably followed by a sugar crash.

There are 39 grams of sugar in a 12 oz can of Coke, which is the equivalent of nearly 10 teaspoons of sugar.

If you’re someone who adds a spoon or two of sugar to your tea or coffee, that doesn’t even come close to the sugar from one can of soda. Plus, there’s a good chance that if it’s your drink of choice, you’ll have more than one can of Coke in a day.

If you’re choosing between pop or real fruit juice, always go with the juice, but if you can, opt for soda water instead.

2. Energy Drinks

Next, we have energy drinks. Energy drinks provide high, concentrated doses of caffeine combined with high doses of sugar. For example, a 250 ml can of Red Bull contains 27 grams of sugar and 80 mg of caffeine.

Consuming too much caffeine will negatively impact your sleep, which you absolutely need when studying, especially close to a test or exam.

Let’s not forget, being awake for 17 hours is similar to having a blood alcohol content of 0.05%, and being awake for 24 hours is similar to having a BAC of 0.10%. The federal limit to legally drive in the US is 0.08%. If you can’t legally drive a car, you can’t effectively study, and you certainly can’t effectively take a test.

Unfortunately, it is incredibly easy to get way too much caffeine from energy drinks.

A study on energy drink consumption found that “Emerging evidence has linked energy drink consumption with a number of negative health consequences, such as risk-seeking behaviors, poor mental health, adverse cardiovascular effects, and metabolic, renal, or dental conditions.”

The following negative health effects were reported across 32 studies of 96,549 individuals: “Frequently reported adverse events in the pediatric population were insomnia (35.4%), stress (35.4%), and depressive mood (23.1%). Frequently reported adverse events in the adult population were insomnia (24.7%), jitteriness/restlessness/shaking hands (29.8%), and gastrointestinal upset (21.6%).”

If you absolutely need a caffeine pick-me-up, go for tea or coffee instead. With a couple cups, you can get quite a bit of caffeine without all of the sugar and other harmful chemicals found in energy drinks.

1. Alcohol

The number one worst drink to study with is alcohol. Alcohol is detrimental for a number of reasons, as it negatively impacts your memory, concentration, and mood.

Alcohol also dehydrates you, which causes headaches and hinders cognition.

Plus, it can also negatively affect your sleep, which as we already covered, will hinder your studying and performance on test day.

That said, there is some evidence that indicates alcohol, when consumed in moderation, can help the creative process. For example, if you’re brainstorming for an essay. You may have heard the famous phrase: “Write drunk, edit sober.”

But this is only for the creative process. Note that these studies are for small to moderate consumption of alcohol. Don’t think that you can go to an all-night rager and come home in the ideal state to complete an essay.

When it comes to studying, you should study in the same mental state as when you take the test, and drinking alcohol certainly isn’t how you should enter any test or major exam. It may give you a small boost of confidence, but it will derail your performance. Plus, it’s a good way to get kicked out of school.


Final Thoughts

When you’re hitting the books, avoid sugary drinks like pop/soda and fruit juice, energy drinks, and alcohol. Instead, opt for coffee, tea, or crisp, good old-fashioned water. If water’s too boring, make it more stimulating with some carbonation.

And don’t wait until you’re thirsty! Drink water consistently throughout the day to boost your mental clarity, focus, and cognition.

To learn more about the ideal drinks for studying, watch Dr. Jubbal’s video here:

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Paul

    Would love to see some more data on the consumption of milk!

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