Is there a universal best time to learn? Is every human being structured in such a way that we can achieve optimal efficiency at certain times? Or maybe these are highly subjective issues and everyone has to answer the question – when is the best time to study and work?
Your chronotype – what determines the best time to learn?
The key to successful and effective work is synchronisation with your internal biological clock. Listen to your body and work out (fortunately you can do this quite easily) the best time to learn . It will be helpful to define your own chronotype. How can you do this? It’s easy!
Do you like to get up in the morning and don’t need an alarm clock or a kind person to throw you out of bed with the first rays of sunshine? Do you feel a surge of energy right away? You don’t need coffee, but you do feel the need for a good breakfast? Do you start learning Spanish at 7:45 AM? If so, then you are a skylark . The Skylark sleeps as much as necessary, which is about 7-8 hours. Rising in the morning, even at a very early hour, has to have a predetermined date and rhythm. But the lark starts to feel weary at 4 p.m. and would prefer to go to bed at 10 p.m. A sleepless or late night destroys their next day.
The opposite of the lark is an owl . The owl wakes up on its own, preferably around noon, often prolonging the phase of slow lounging, which imperceptibly turns into lazing around in bed. So, if it is not a weekend that allows him or her to freely choose the time to get up, an alarm clock becomes necessary to wake up the owl. Breakfast for the owl is not obligatory, but morning coffee – definitely is! Around 4 p.m. the owl begins to feel full of energy. Internal symptoms are peak body temperature, peak levels of melatonin, that regulates the rhythm of sleep and wakefulness, and peak levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Of course, the lark reaches its highest values much earlier. This most efficient phase extends up to 10 pm in the case of owls. Pulling an all-nighter does not cause such big problems as with the lark.
Most of us tend to be one or the other chronotype, we rarely represent the extreme cases. It is the chronotype that has a significant impact on when it is best to learn, because it tells us when we can count on greater efficiency. Sometimes it is disturbed by the forced rhythm of work and study, but a few days off are enough to listen to your body and find your own rhythm. The only question is whether it is more effective to move in your own circadian rhythm, or is it better to choose the option of morning or afternoon activity yourself, regardless of your natural preferences? Is it possible to reprogramme yourself and, in a sense, set yourself the best time to learn?
The answer is the diurnal intellectual rhythm
Our intellectual abilities and concentration do not depend on chronotype, but change according to their own consistent rhythm, as shown in the chart below.
So, we have two distinct intellectual highs that are the best times to study : the first extends from 6.00am to around 1:30pm, the next starts around 3:30pm and expires in the evening between 9:00pm and 10:00pm.. So most of the day is beneficial to us in terms of intellectual potential. We also have 2 intellectual lows. The night-time does not require any additional description, and is in line with the intuitive view that the night is not the best time to learn . The afternoon dipfrom 1:30 pm to 3:30 may be a bigger surprise. If you remember an interesting lecture, where your head drooped involuntarily, or important meetings where you happened to drift off, most often they were in this time frame. Then, your concentration and the ability to learn information suddenly drop.
How to reach higher intellectual effectiveness
The information provided above is unfavourable to the owl. By sleeping until 12 p.m., the owl loses most of, potentially, its best time to study and work, simply by sleeping through it. And if he or she is awake, because it is a working day and the ruthless ringing of the alarm calls, it often takes the first hour of work or study to wake up. Most often, it takes the form of slowly reading the news on the Internet, checking social forums – instead of the joyful and effective use of time when our intellectual potential is at its highest and when it’s best to study .
So, what are we to do? First, it is best to use the intellectual dip from 1:30pm to 3:30pm to slow down your work or study, go out to lunch, or do other less intellectually absorbing activities, so that you can make better use of the remainder of your afternoon peak. And secondly, try to work with your chronotype to adapt it to the intellectual peaks and troughs and pick the best time to study and work. Although the chronotype is genetically determined, it is also influenced by age and lifestyle. During their studies and youth, many people devote a lot of energy to their nightlife, so the chronotype shifts towards the owl. Later in life, then, it can be shifted back towards the lark, so we gain access to our peak intellectual hours, when learning should come to us with greater ease.
How can you do it? Certainly not violently and forcefully. It is best to start by slowly changing the time you get up and go to bed – with the emphasis on the latter. After some time, your body will start to adjust itself and function in a new rhythm. There is no point in making a sudden change: an owl that is forced to get up early will be out of balance and irritated. It will increase its susceptibility to stress and illness.
When is the best time to study? Decide for yourself
The key is to change the circadian rhythm. Here are some tips on how to do it without negatively affecting your body:
falling asleep: it is better to calm down and relax immediately before bed, instead of stimulating your emotions and imagination. So, don’t finish off bits of work or try to learn a language just before going to bed, it’s not the best time to learn. It’s better to read a good book;
getting up: it’s best to get up right away, not giving yourself a chance to go back to bed, instead of deliberately lengthening your sleep by snoozing. A few minutes of exercise on rising will increase blood pressure and oxygenate the body;
And if it becomes a habit to get up in the morning, we will be rewarded by access to our peak intellectual abilities!
How can I use the best time to learn?
Once you have regulated your circadian rhythm and gained access to your intellectual peak moments, use the time well to assimilate as much knowledge as possible. Fortunately, there are tons of tools available to make learning more effective. SuperMemo courses are one of them. They are based on a system of intelligent repetitions which was created with the help of a special algorithm that determines the optimal time for users to repeat material. This algorithm will tell you when it is best to learn by organising your learning accordingly.
Between 1:30 pm and 3:30 pm (in the period of intellectual trough), should all intellectual activities be abandoned? No, this less than optimal learning period can also be made use of. If you do not need to be at work during this time, try to watch a series in the language you are currently learning, reach for some light foreign-language reading or listen to a podcast. Listen to the language, practice your pronunciation, combine business with pleasure, but do not forget to rest. Properly regulated rest opens up the way to effective learning, giving us energy and access to our intellectual peaks.