Studying for extended periods of time can be mentally and physically exhausting. A simple solution might be to spread your studying out over multiple days or sessions, but during certain times, that just isn’t possible. Sometimes that might be because you haven’t been spacing out your homework assignments and now you’re having to cram because there is an exam that week. Or, maybe it’s because you’ve been struggling to balance your extracurricular activities with all of your homework, and now you have multiple exams in the same week and are tight on time.
As much as we’d like to be able to maintain our focus and productivity for large chunks of time, taking regular breaks throughout a study period is essential to optimize learning and ensure we are retaining information effectively. In this article, we’ll explore why taking breaks is important, how often you should take them, what to do during study breaks, and how they can help you.
Why are Study Breaks Important?
When we study for prolonged periods, our brains begin to tire and lose focus. Our attention span and cognitive abilities start to decline, and we become less efficient at retaining information. Cornell University states that “Research shows that taking purposeful breaks (anywhere from 5–60 minutes) from studying to refresh your brain and body increases your energy, productivity, and ability to focus.” In other words, by taking breaks, we can give our brains the rest they need to recharge and refocus. This helps us be more productive, retain more information, and reduce the risk of burnout and exhaustion.
How Often Should You Take Study Breaks?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The ideal frequency of study breaks will vary depending on the individual and the task at hand. As a general rule, taking a short break every 45-50 minutes of study is a good starting point. This will allow you to recharge and maintain your concentration without losing momentum. However, you should also listen to your body and take breaks as needed. If you find that you’re losing focus or becoming fatigued before the 45-50 minute mark, take a break sooner.
What Counts as a Study Break?
The most important thing to remember when taking a study break is to truly disconnect from your work. This means stepping away from your desk, putting down your books, and doing something completely unrelated to your studies. Cornell emphasizes here that, “social media doesn’t work well as a “purposeful break.” In fact, “that ‘break’ time on your phone actually has the opposite effect. If you really want to relax, it might be best to take a break from your phone to boost your mental stamina” (Source). Instead, “find activities that give your mind a break and allow you to breathe deeply, laugh, move your body, be creative, or ‘zone out’ on purpose. These kinds of activities will help you re-energize and re-focus.”
Could these activities be on your phone, such as a mindfulness app? Absolutely! We highly recommend the Healthy Minds Program, as the exercises are backed by decades worth of neuroscientific studies. If you do choose to take a study break using your phone, be *mindful* about your choices. Assess, honestly, if you are using your phone to take a mental break or if you are actually adding to your mental load by checking in on notifications, communications, and other to-do items that bog your brain down.
One surefire way to give your brain the break it needs is to get up and stretch! Here are some demonstrations of easy stretches to do at your desk or workspace.
Here are a few other ideas for study break activities:
Take a walk: Getting outside and taking a short walk is a great way to clear your head and get some fresh air. This can help to increase your focus and productivity when you return to your studies.
Listen to music: Listening to music can be a great way to reduce stress and improve your mood. Choose something upbeat and energizing to help you recharge.
Do some yoga: Physical activity can help to improve circulation and increase your energy levels. Take a few minutes to stretch your muscles or do some yoga poses to help you relax and recharge.
Have a snack: Eating a healthy snack can help boost your energy levels and improve your focus. Choose something nutritious like a piece of fruit, veggies, or nuts.
Call a friend: Taking a few minutes to catch up with a friend can help to improve your mood and reduce stress. Just make sure to keep the conversation brief, so you don’t get too sidetracked.
How Does Taking Breaks Help Studying?
When we take breaks, our brains have a chance to recharge and consolidate the information we’ve just studied. This consolidation process helps to transfer information from our short-term memory to our long-term memory, making it easier to recall later on. Taking breaks can also help reduce stress and prevent burnout, both of which can negatively impact our ability to learn and retain information.
Taking study breaks is a crucial component of effective studying. By taking breaks, we can recharge our brains, improve our focus and productivity, and reduce the risk of burnout and exhaustion. Remember to take breaks regularly and choose activities that help you disconnect from your studies and recharge so you can get back to work and be more efficient and energetic than before!