30 Unhealthy Habits You Should Break Immediately, According to Science
Some very common habits aren’t that good for us. Between interfering with your sleep and increasing your risk of deadly diseases, read on to find out what you probably should stop doing. There are a lot of health myths on the internet and articles of contrasting advice in media, but we tried to bring the best science-based information to you.
1. Don’t let your kid sleep with the lights on
Lights at night are a new thing for our bodies, which evolved to sleep when the sun goes down. Before sleeping, your body starts making melatonin, a hormone that helps you sleep. But lights, especially bright or blue-hued lights, can disrupt the production of melatonin in your body, making it harder to fall asleep.
Kids are especially sensitive to light disrupting their sleep because their eyes actually let in more light than adult eyes. Disrupted sleep is bad enough, but researchers have also found that exposure to lots of light at night might actually increase your risk of cancer. So use dimmed or red lights before bed and turn them off when you sleep.
2. Biting your nails could make you sick
Your hands are the dirtiest part of you — they touch everything: doorknobs, food, toilets, other people. The list goes on. Putting these dirty digits in your mouth could give you a cold or another illness, depending on what microbes are chilling on your fingers.
Plus, the area around your nails could get infected and you might harm your teeth. Biting most likely won’t cause long term damage to your nails, but it certainly isn’t healthy. Instead of biting your nails, try playing with a hair tie on your wrist or a ring on your finger as a more hygienic nervous tick.
3. Don’t (static) stretch before working out
If you’re warming up before a workout, don’t hold stretches. Pre-workout stretching temporarily weakens your muscle strength, impacting your performance and causing you to run more slowly or lift less effectively. Instead, for a warm-up, you can do high knees, squats, light biking, jumping jacks, arm circles, or another moderate intensity movement.
After your workout, you can do those static stretches that you hold for about 30 seconds or so. They might help you become more flexible, but science suggests they have no effect on whether or not you injure yourself while exercising. In fact, science is a little fuzzy on what stretching actually does and if it has any substantial long-term effect.
4. Sitting all day could be harmful to your health
Many of us spend nearly the whole day sitting — between the office (or school), the car, and the couch, there’s little physical activity. Some studies have linked the practice with health concerns like obesity, high blood sugar and blood pressure, death from cardiovascular disease, and even cancer.
While sitting for long periods of time hasn’t necessarily been proven to directly cause disease, a sedentary lifestyle does seem to be harmful and may affect your brain as well as your heart. However, exercising regularly appears to reduce the effects. While it’s hard to not sit when you have to work all day, try getting up and moving regularly or work in a standing position.
5. Don’t brush your teeth right after eating
It seems counterintuitive to brush your teeth before breakfast unless you’re in the habit of eating on the way, but it can be the best option. Brushing your teeth right after eating or drinking can be a harmful habit for your tooth enamel, especially if you ate something acidic.
Acid isn’t good for the enamel on your teeth; it erodes the protective covering. As a result, brushing right after you eat can push the acid even further into your teeth. Plus, once the acid gets through the enamel, it starts eating at another layer on your teeth: the dentin. Wait at least 30 minutes after eating to brush your teeth.
6. Hitting the snooze button can ruin your mental health
It’s so easy to wake up to your alarm and simply press the snooze button. Those extra few minutes are so enticing. But if you’re already very tired, snoozing is the last thing you need. After snoozing the alarm, you will likely start a new sleep cycle, which will be interrupted once the alarm goes off again.
Sleep inertia, a groggy and tired state, affects you whenever you wake up, but snoozing just lengthens the time you’re afflicted. 20 minutes might turn into two to four hours. If, however, you don’t fully fall back to sleep after pressing snooze, it isn’t so bad for you.
7. Don’t sleep on your stomach
While we’re on the topic of sleep, you may as well know that sleeping on your stomach is terrible for your neck and back. Since you have to turn your neck to avoid suffocating while sleeping, your upper cervical vertebrae lock into place. This can give you neck problems and headaches.
Plus, your lower back is bent in a rather weird shape. As a result of the position, the cartilage in your neck and back wear down and might tear. After a long enough time, your bones might start to rub against each other and eventually you could develop osteoarthritis. However, plenty of people change their sleeping position throughout the night, so you might not stomach-sleep all night long.
8. Wearing contacts too long can lead to blindness
When you wear contacts, your eye is deprived of oxygen the entire time you have them in. To deal with this, your cornea grows new blood vessels, which can lead to inflammation and blindness. Usually, your cornea, the clear protective layer of your eye, has no blood vessels.
Just in case you want to avoid a little blindness, you should regularly replace your contact lenses. On top of that, make sure to take them out before going to sleep. Even wearing contacts all day every day can interfere with your cornea, so if you’re really paranoid about the blood vessels, just use glasses.
9. Don’t look at your computer screen for too long
While computers have brought great convenience and excessive amounts of information to our fingertips, they’ve also brought their screens. They aren’t bad except for the fact that we like to spend most of our waking hours looking at them. As a result, people can become plagued by computer vision syndrome.
Computer vision syndrome is characterized by dry eyes, eyestrain, headaches, and blurred vision. To limit the effects of the computer screen, you can keep your computer over an arm’s length away from your eyes, wear blue-light limiting glasses, or take resting breaks, among other things. The 20-20-20 rule is recommended: every 20 minutes, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
10. Teeth whitening strips might be stripping proteins out of your teeth
Recently, a scientist bought some teeth off eBay so she could use them for an experiment. No, this isn’t a Twilight Zone episode. She wanted to know how teeth whitening strips affect teeth — other than the supposed whitening. She put some artificial saliva on the teeth and then proceeded to experiment.
She found that teeth had fewer proteins in them when they went through more whitening strips. The hydrogen peroxide in the strips was breaking down the protein’s chemical bonds. Your teeth can replenish these proteins in the dentin layer, but not the enamel. So it’s unclear whether or not these strips are doing lasting damage.
11. Don’t leave the toilet open when you flush
Every time you flush your toilet, it sends a toilet plume of poop particles and microorganisms shooting into the air. They can go as high as 15 feet and fall onto the floor, the sink, and your toothbrush. Close the darn toilet lid before you flush the toilet. It’s incredibly nasty.
Many newer, low-flow toilets don’t have this problem, but plenty of homes still have older toilets. While the toilet plume might not regularly spread disease, unless the particles get in your mouth, it’s still gross. So close the lid before flushing and try to keep your toothbrush in a cabinet.
12. Poor posture has a myriad of impacts on your health
For good posture, you want to have your head, shoulders, and hips aligned (plus knees and feet when standing). While sitting hunched over isn’t necessarily bad, holding any position for too long isn’t good for your body. Even sitting or standing at work all day in perfect posture isn’t great if you never move around.
Still, studies suggest poor posture can make arthritis worse, cause fatigue, impact your mood, hurt your neck and back, and give you heartburn, among other things. Plus, if you stay in body-straining positions for a couple of decades, it can lead to herniated discs and pulled muscles. So sit up straight, move around throughout the day, and do exercises to strengthen your core and back muscles.
13. Don’t clean your ears with Q-tips
There’s nothing like the feeling of freshly cleaned ears after a shower, but did you know it isn’t really good for you? Our ears and their wax evolved long before anyone invented Q-tips — which literally say on the box not to put them in your ears. Cotton swabs often push earwax further in and can even damage your eardrum.
Your earwax actually will fall out on its own. Sure it’s gross thinking about walking around leaving little chunks of earwax as you go, but your body already has this cleaning process down. Earwax is good for your ear; it prevents infections by grabbing foreign invaders. If you really want to clean your ears, try using a washcloth instead.
14. Sleeping excessively on the weekend
If you’re in a pattern of sleeping little on the weekdays and then sleeping a lot on the weekends, it isn’t a good habit for your health. Lack of sleep is generally a bad thing since it is associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, and other issues, but this pattern is even worse.
You might think that sleeping extra on the weekends can make up for your sleep deprivation over the week, but a recent study suggests that it’s actually more harmful. The irregular sleep cycle actually impacts your insulin sensitivity (which is related to diabetes) and your blood sugar regulation. Generally, it’s best to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.
15. Don’t let your kid sit in the W position for too long
Mommy blogs all over the internet renounce “W-sitting” which is characterized by knees bent forward, feet back, and the butt on the floor between the kid’s feet. For the most part, adults can’t sit like this because our bodies are different from children’s. However, for kids around the ages of three to eight, this sitting position is very comfortable.
It’s not particularly bad for your kid to sit in this position every now and again, but if he or she keeps doing it, then it becomes a problem. In W-position, the child is not using their core muscles to hold them up, so chronic use of the position keeps the kid from properly developing those muscles.
16. Not wearing sunscreen can give you skin cancer
Sunscreen may remind you of childhood trips to the beach and a reluctance to slather the white stuff on, but many people argue it should be used every day, no matter the weather. Sunscreen has had some bad press, but there’s no substantial science to back up the false claims that it is harmful to you.
What sunscreen does do is protect you from skin cancer caused by ultraviolet light (which comes from the sun) and aging caused by the sun. However, people with darker skin tones aren’t as susceptible to skin cancer, so they probably don’t need it for that. But if you are lighter-skinned or want to slow your skin’s aging, get some sunscreen! Just make sure it’s the coral-reef safe kind.
17. Don’t go on your smartphone before bed
It sure seems like we have a lot of bad sleeping habits! This one is really hard to kick: don’t use your smartphone before going to bed. The reason is similar to what we’ve already talked about; the screen light interferes with your body’s normal processes.
When looking at a screen before bed, your body doesn’t make as much melatonin as it normally would, so it takes you longer to fall asleep. Your sleep quality suffers and you feel worse in the morning. Plus, it screws with your circadian rhythm which is linked to your mood, metabolism, and appetite. So set the screen to a warmer tone at night and put the phone down a little before going to bed.
18. Touching your face can make acne worse
Even harder than getting off your phone before sleep is not touching your face. You’re probably touching your face right now, but try not to. First off, rubbing your eyes too much can actually damage them a little bit by making tiny tears in the tissue and breaking capillaries. This can make your eyes look older.
Secondly, touching your face can exacerbate acne since you have so many microorganisms on your hands. The Huffington Post offers a surprising method to get you to stop touching your face: hypnotherapy. But first, try washing your hands properly and not touching your face when possible.
19. Don’t fall asleep to the TV
So far we’ve learned a lot about sleeping: don’t do it on your stomach, don’t press snooze, don’t sleep with lights on, don’t use your phone right before bed, and don’t have an extremely irregular schedule. We’ll leave you with this: don’t fall asleep with the TV on. It has the same light issues as your phone combined with one other: sound.
Whatever show or movie you fell asleep to isn’t going to have a single note of white noise; chances are it’ll have some sudden, loud noises. The sound is unpredictable and could easily wake you up. Since interrupted sleep is just as bad as limited hours of sleep, minimizing the causes of it is best. Sounds still bother you even if you don’t wake up.
20. Not eating vegetables could kill you
A recent study came out about worldwide deaths and diets; it found that one-fifth of all deaths in the world are associated with diets lacking vegetables, seeds, and nuts but full of sugar, salt, and trans fat. Most of those deaths were from cardiovascular disease, with cancer and Type 2 diabetes in second and third.
The best way to eat a healthier diet is not to try and limit sugary and fatty foods, but to instead add healthier foods. People don’t eat nearly enough nourishing foods as they should, so it’s more important to introduce those than take away the other foods.
21. (Maybe) don’t skip breakfast
You’ve heard it before — don’t skip breakfast. People who eat breakfast do better on cognitive and memory tests because the brain functions better when it’s been fed. Plus, their blood lipids and blood sugar are healthier and they tend to weigh less than people who eat more later in the day. But whether or not you can skip the meal is really up to you.
It’s possible that not eating breakfast increases inflammation in your body, but more research is needed on this. And while some studies suggest skipping breakfast has no negative health impacts, others suggest skipping dinner would actually be better for weight loss. Scientists are finding that intermittent fasting (like only eating within a 9 hour period of the day) can be good for you.
22. Boredom can lead to self-destruction, death, and creativity
Boredom may seem like a trivial, though annoying, problem but it actually has larger consequences than you may realize. It is associated with self-destructive behavior, depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and even a somewhat higher chance of dying. However, boredom has persisted through evolution, so why do we still feel it?
When people don’t try to drink away their boredom or deal with it in other destructive ways, it can lead to great creativity. Boredom causes kids and adults alike to come up with creative things to do. So instead of fearing boredom and trying to stamp it out, embrace it every now and again to see where it takes you.
23. Low carb diets can lead to weight loss, bad breath, and possibly serious health issues
When you go on a low carbohydrate diet, like the keto diet, in which you eat mostly fats and proteins, your body goes through a lot of changes. First off, you most likely will have lower energy but you’ll also probably lose a significant amount of weight. It’ll be water weight initially, but as your body runs out of fueling carbs, it turns to fat.
However, when your body begins to use fat as your main fuel source, you might start to have horrible rotting-fruit-scented breath. If that doesn’t discourage you, perhaps the results of a recent study will. They found that people on low carb diets had higher risks of cancer, coronary heart disease, and cerebrovascular disease than those with higher carb diets. More research is needed to be sure of low carb’s long-lasting effects, but perhaps remind yourself of the phrase, “Everything in moderation.”
24. Don’t do a cheat day if you’re on a low carb diet
Alright so yes, the keto diet is good for weight loss and Type 2 diabetes. As of now, it’s a bit uncertain if it’s long term effects are good or bad, though one study says it’s dangerous. But if you’re still on the diet anyway, you shouldn’t be doing cheat days.
A recent study looked at people on the keto diet and what happens to their bodies when they suddenly eat a lot of sugar after avoiding it. The spike in sugar actually damages your blood vessels, the study suggested. It still needs more research, but perhaps this is why scientists have found the keto diet to have poor long term effects?
25. All-fruit smoothies aren’t super healthy
If you’re making smoothies for breakfast, you shouldn’t just throw in fruits and vegetables and perhaps a bit of milk. You need some more substantial proteins and fats as part of your meal — like nut butter, yogurt, or protein powder.
Plus, consuming so much fruit in such a short amount of time (do you drink your smoothie faster than you would eat the same ingredients?) isn’t great for your blood sugar. It’ll spike and then crash and you won’t have any energy. Generally, fiber will keep fruits and veggies from making your blood sugar spike, but when you blend fruit up, fiber has less power.
26. Ultra-processed foods will likely make you gain weight
A recent study looked at how ultra-processed diets vs whole food diets affect weight gain. The volunteers ate ultra-processed diets for two weeks and whole food diets for two weeks. All the volunteers were given meals with the same amounts of fat, carbs, and other nutrients for each diet, but were allowed to snack outside of that amount.
After analyzing the data, the scientists found that when the volunteers were on the ultra-processed diet, they ate more calories and gained weight. The ultra-processed diet caused them to overeat by an extra 500 calories (on average) per day! So it doesn’t seem to be the sugar, fat, and salt in ultra-processed foods that leads to all their health effects, but possibly a hormone alteration.
27. Abusing prescription opioids is bad
One “bad habit” that’s been making the news lately is the abuse of prescription opioids like OxyContin and Vicodin. The scary part is that doctors were actually prescribing this addictive bad habit. In fact, the company behind OxyContin brutally pushed this drug, acting almost like a drug cartel.
While opioids can be important painkillers for really painful medical issues, they have been overprescribed. People have been using them willy-nilly (mostly due to them being prescribed willy-nilly), which has led to the overdosing crisis we have today. Currently, some of these drug companies are being sued for their role in the crisis.
28. Don’t smoke cigarettes
In the US, cigarette smoking causes one in five deaths. It has killed more than 10 times as many US citizens as all the wars in US history. Cigarette smoking harms most of the organs in your body, especially the lungs, and puts people at a greater risk of heart disease and stroke.
Perhaps the worst part of cigarette smoking is that this bad habit puts others in danger: Secondhand smoke is dangerous to the people around you. Fortunately, quitting smoking can reduce your risk of heart attack, cancer, and stroke. Cigarette smoking is probably one of the worst habits you could have!
29. Excessive drinking isn’t a great thing to do
Around 88,000 people a year die as a result of excessive drinking. This manifests in alcohol poisoning, liver disease, car crashes, and other accidents. Excessive drinking is when someone drinks too much in a day or during an entire week. For men, excessive drinking is more than four drinks in a span of about three hours (or 15+ drinks per week).
For women, excessive drinking is more than three drinks in a three-hour span, eight or more in a week, or during pregnancy. Nearly a third of the population meet this baseline for excessive drinking, but most of them are not alcoholics.
30. Don’t eat too much red meat
The science isn’t exactly clear on how red meat affects your risk of death, but it suggests that eating less of it is better for you. One recent study found that eating red meat daily triples the amount of a certain chemical in your body.
Trimethylamine N-oxide, the chemical, is a byproduct formed during digestion, made partly from nutrients abundant in red meat. This chemical, TMAO, is associated with heart disease. This relationship isn’t fully understood, but we do know that the high saturated fats in red meat contribute to heart disease. Also, red meat is terrible for the environment.