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One way to find out is to live with someone for a year, ask them to review your roommate performance, and brace yourself for the verdict. Another way is to take this quiz. Many of these scenarios and responses are based on students’ confessions in SH101 surveys. Click on each answer to see your result.

Question 1

Every time you get pizza, your roommate takes a couple of slices. That means no breakfast leftovers for you. What do you do?

A. Switch from pepperoni to anchovies. Nobody likes anchovies (including you). If that fails, eat the whole thing just to spite him.

Room to grow roommate ROOM TO GROW

Mm hmm. Deep inside, you know the solution does not lie in anchovies or force-feeding yourself extra pizza. On this delicate pizza issue, you’re a roommate with room to grow.

B. Duct-tape the pizza box and slap on a sticky note: “Don’t be a taker!!”

Room to grow roommateROOM TO GROW

Three things to note for a roommate with room to grow:
1. Duct tape fixes many things. Communication problems are not among them.
2. Respect the sticky note. It should not be deployed as a weapon of passive-aggression.
3. Avoid getting personal. Your roommate may be a taker (of pizza). Or annoyingly mellow, obsessive-compulsive, narcissistic, whatever. Either way, giving him a negative identity label or diagnosing him off the internet won’t make this better. The more you practice emotional self-control, the easier you can stay calm. Seriously, do the count-to-10 thing.

C. Explain that being deprived of pizza for breakfast gradually turns you into Ramsay Bolton. Ask your roomie if he’d like to throw in a few bucks so you can pick up enough pizza for two.

Fully-evolved roommateFULLY-EVOLVED

You’re handling this like a fully-evolved roommate. “By connecting on a personal level, you may come to a better understanding of one another,” says Rhonda Richards-Smith, a relationship expert and psychotherapist in Los Angeles, California.

Discuss to what extent you’re comfortable sharing. One of you may consider your roommate a friend whose shampoo, creamer, and bike are up for grabs. The other may find this invasive; maybe their sharing is limited to the cable bill.

If money is involved, be chill. Draw up a roommate agreement that lays out shared costs, payment due dates, who’s in charge of collecting the money and paying whichever bill, and the protocol for what happens if someone does not fulfill their financial responsibilities.

Question 2

Your time management was a hot mess this week, so you’ll be up late working on your assignment. How can you avoid disturbing your sleeping roommate?

A. Work in bed through the early hours with your laptop angled away from her.

Well-intentioned roommateWELL-INTENTIONED

You’re a well-intentioned roommate. Your laptop could disrupt your roommate’s sleep. It can also disrupt yours. The blue wavelength light emitted by electronic screens suppresses melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep. If you have to work late, try a light-dimming app, like f.lux, that dims your computer screen.

That said, working in bed (however and whenever you do it) can disregulate your sleep-wake cycle; it trains your brain to be busy there. If you’re living  in a residence hall, think about how to arrange the space so that your work and sleep are physically separated. Don’t take your laptop or your textbook to bed with you.

B. Work quietly in your room until midnight, then go to bed. Your assignment will be a little late so you’ll request an extension. OTOH, you and your roommate will be functional tomorrow.

Fully-evolved roommateFULLY-EVOLVED

On this, you seem to be a well-evolved roommate. Maybe you and your roommate have agreed that the lights go out at midnight. Among the benefits of this approach, you won’t be cranky with each other tomorrow. Try asking your professor for an extension on the assignment.

Getting at least a few hours of sleep serves you well academically in the end. Sleep is essential for learning, performance, and health. If you’re struggling to get enough sleep, try these strategies from Dr. Shelley Hershner, sleep specialist at the University of Michigan:

  • Aim for a consistent wake-up time. This is easier for students than going to bed at the same time each night.
  • Grab an extra half-hour here and 15 minutes there: It makes a difference.

C. Relocate to the library or a 24-hour café and work feverishly until morning, just making the deadline.

Well-intentioned roommateWELL-INTENTIONED

Bravo for respecting your roommate’s shuteye, and getting out. That’s well-intentioned.

But… we’re not letting you off that easily. All-nighters wreak havoc on your body clock, so even though you made your deadline, your grades may suffer anyway. Without enough sleep, learning and memory are impaired and GPAs can take a nosedive, research shows. In studies, sleep-deprived students performed worse but were not aware of it. “Pulling an all-nighter gives you the driving performance of being legally drunk,” says Dr. Hershner.

A little sleep is better than none. If you’re up late, always try to get a couple of hours. If you can manage four hours, that’s one full sleep cycle (not as good as a full night, but so worth it).

Question 3

Your roommate has spontaneously cleaned up his own dishes a grand total of once. You’re uneasy being around those moldy plates without a hazmat suit. What do you do?

A. Dump the dishes on his bed, ketchup and everything, then post a pic on Instagram: “FEMA to declare a disaster zone. #nightmareroommate #grossout #justkillmenow”

Room to grow roommateROOM TO GROW

Snarky subtweets and trial-by-Instagram are for cyberbullies—and roommates with a whole lot of room to grow. No, your most sophisticated tool here is face-to-face conversation. “Talk to your roommate directly about how their behavior is impacting you,” says Rhonda Richards-Smith, a relationship expert and psychotherapist in Los Angeles, California. Don’t wait until they are heading out the door: “We need to chat about what’s going on. When’s a good time for you?”

Don’t try to “win.” Aim to move past this and stay civil. Use LARA:

Listen and keep eye contact.
Acknowledge: Repeat their statements back to them.
Respond: Address their concerns.
Add: Raise important points that haven’t come up yet.

B. Clean it up yourself and act super-obnoxious for a week. Create a chore chart and hang it where it can radiate blame.

Room to grow roommateROOM TO GROW

“It always feels easier to hint when it comes to conflict,” says Richards-Smith. “However, this behavior can be misleading and is often misinterpreted. It assumes the person on the receiving end can read your mind, which they simply cannot.” Roommate, you need to grow.

A chore chart is potentially effective—but won’t work if it’s imposed unilaterally. This should be part of your mutual roommate agreement.

C. Remember that someone else’s mess is always more irritating than your own, and you’ve been known to leave your fetid workout gear on the bathroom floor. Then call a house meeting.

Fully-evolved roommateFULLY-EVOLVED

You should totally become a spiritual leader. Meanwhile, there’s a house meeting to organize. Download a template agreement and talk through these issues together:

  • Splitting domestic chores
  • Sharing costs
  • Personal space, possessions, and food (what’s off limits?)
  • Quiet time/lights off
  • Guest policy

Recognize at the outset that sometimes someone will slip up, and sometimes that someone will be you. Agree that if anyone can see trouble coming—a week when they will be unavailable for trash duty or up till dawn watching the election results—they’ll let everyone know in advance, so together you can figure out a stopgap solution. Congrats on being a fully-evolved roommate.

Question 4

Your roommate is overwhelmed with assignments, chores, and a family emergency. She’s happier when she’s physically active, but right now she says she doesn’t have time. How can you help?

A. Provide invisible support. Do some of your roommate’s chores—her laundry or house chores—while being low-key and discreet about it.

Fully-evolved roommateFULLY-EVOLVED

Invisible support is a true act of kindness. It requires maturity to not expect a payoff for yourself. “Don’t say, ‘Hey, I’m doing this for you so you can go to the gym,’ or, ‘Look how helpful I’m being; you owe me now.’ Give her the benefits without bringing attention to it,” says Dr. Xiaomeng (Mona) Xu, professor of psychology at Idaho State University. This kind of response is what makes you a fully-evolved roommate.

B. Say, “When I’ve been in a similar situation I did (awesome thing) and it was really helpful.” Then go to your spin class.

Fully-evolved roommateFULLY-EVOLVED

At first glance this may seem self-centered, but it could actually be helpful. Do this with warmth, like the fully-evolved roommate that you clearly (or nearly) are. “If our friends work out regularly and support our exercise goals, we are more likely to exercise,” says Dr. Xu.

Here’s what can work:

  • Slip useful information into casual conversation—e.g., “Hey, I use this workout app and find it really motivating.”
  • Be physically active yourself. We are more likely to be active when our friends are active. If your roommate seems receptive, suggest she join you for a quick stair workout or walk across campus.

C. Have her check out your workout app. “Hey, you should try this right now; it only takes 10 minutes a day.”

Well-intentioned roommateWELL-INTENTIONED

You’re well-intentioned on this, but maybe not effective. If she isn’t asking for your support, be careful. Avoid telling her what she “should” do or sending her unsolicited workout tips.

Instead, ask her what sort of support could be helpful. Would she like a workout buddy? A cheerleader?

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Article sources

Shelley Hershner, MD, sleep specialist and assistant professor in neurology, University of Michigan.

Rhonda Richards-Smith, a relationship expert and psychotherapist, Los Angeles, California.

X. Xu, PhD, professor of psychology, Idaho State University.

Eliasson, A. H., Lettieri, C. J., & Eliasson, A. (2010). Early to bed, early to rise! Sleep habits and academic performance in college students. Sleep and Breathing, 14(1), 71–75. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11325-009-0282-2

Engle-Friedman, M., Riela, S., Golan, R., Ventuneac, A. M., et al. (2003, May). The effect of sleep loss on next day effort. Journal of Sleep Research, 12(2), 113–124. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.13652869.2003.00351.x/abstract

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Kelly, W. E., Kelly, K. E., & Clanton, R. C. (2001). The relationship between sleep length and grade point average among college students. Journal of College Student Development, 35, 84–86. Retrieved from http://a1.phobos.apple.com/us/r30/CobaltPublic/v4/4a/b9/97/4ab997e8-12b0-22d0-1120e54ea79c3d0e/215-4929907074434892796

King, K. A., Vidourek, R. A., English, L., & Merianos, A. L. (2014). Vigorous physical activity among college students: Using the health belief model to assess involvement and social support. Archives of Exercise Health and Disease, 4(2), 267–279.

National Sleep Foundation. (2011). Sleep in America: Technology use and sleep. Arlington, VA: National Sleep Foundation. Retrieved from http://sleepfoundation.org/sites/default/files/sleepinamericapoll/SIAP_2011_Summary_of_Findings.pdf

Plante, T. G., Coscarelli, L., & Ford, M. (2001). Does exercising with another enhance the stress-reducing benefits of exercise? International Journal of Stress Management, 8(3), 201–213.

Trockel, M. T., Barnes, M. D., & Egget, D. L. (2000). Health-related variables and academic performance among first-year college students: Implications for sleep and other behaviors. Journal of American College Health, 49, 125–131. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07448480009596294?url_ver=Z39.88-2003&rfr_id=ori:rid:crossref.org&rfr_dat=cr_pub%3dpubmed&#.U82AgZRdVN4

Lucy Berrington is the editor of Student Health 101. Her work has been published in numerous publications in the US and UK. She has an MS in health communication from Tufts University School of Medicine, Massachusetts, and a BA from the University of Oxford, UK.