Study breaks – why does the brain need them?
The brain gets bored quickly. It ceases to pay attention to stimuli if it is dealing with them continuously for a long time. Therefore, for example, you do not pay attention or do not feel that your skin is in contact with your clothes all the time. You ignore it, right? Unless something is tight or uncomfortable, then you are probably recording this deviation from the well-known norm. Otherwise, the brain stops paying attention to your clothes.
This rule was also noticed by Alejandro Lleras from the University of Illinois, who became interested in the phenomenon of concentration loss. Why do you stop paying attention to the information that reaches you? After all, you have to concentrate on different stimuli all the time. The key is to vary these incentives.This is why you need a break from learning to provide your brain with new stimuli and stop it from ‘getting bored”
Study break – after how many hours, or minutes?
The information that reaches you during the first and last 20 minutes of learning is best remembered. This is confirmed by the psychological effects: the beginning effect and the freshness effect. Our concentration is “consumed”. After about 25-30 minutes it weakens, after another dozen or so it drops significantly. That is why breaks in learning and during “mental work” are so important. Are you wondering when it is best to take a break from study?Forget about long, monotonous hours spent sitting over books. You should take breaks approximately every 25-30 minutes. Thanks to them, you can rebuild, and then maintain high concentration and commitment.
Of course, it’s worth watching your ability to stay focused. When there is a break in learning, it should be reflected in individual predispositions. For some people, 25-30 minutes may be too short to even enter a state of deeper concentration. Then your break should be a little later, when you notice that it is harder to focus on the material you are absorbing.
Remember that it is better to divide knowledge into smaller sections and learn more often, than to strain your own ability to concentrate. Smaller portions of material will also be easier to remember during revisions. You can adjust their frequency to your abilities with the help of the special algorithm available in SuperMemo courses. The method that uses the algorithm is called the spaced repetition method, developed by the creator of SuperMemo, Dr. Piotr Woźniak
How long should a break from learning last?
The break should be long enough to allow you to regenerate, but also short enough to remain in a high state of concentration afterwards. Remember that a break is not a matter of hours. Its optimal length is 5-7 minutes. Don’t get stuck in procrastination. If a break is too long, it will be difficult to get back to learning.
Another reason why breaks are so important is that they should be considered a reward after mental effort – and if it is a reward, the brain releases dopamine. This makes it easier to enter a state of relaxation and stress relief.
On the other hand, when you work conceptually and you are in the process of problem thinking, the break allows you to process information on an unconscious level, i.e. incubation, which may result in finding a solution to the problem.
So, how should you organise breaks during studying, so that you can use all their potential in the few minutes that you have for them?
What not to do during a study break
It is definitely not worth continuing learning in a lighter form, like, for example, doing revision. A study break is time during which you should provide the brain with different stimuli than those with which you bombarded your mind while flipping through textbooks.
If you want to stay focused for a longer period of time, avoid social media activities during breaks. Do not play on smartphones or tablets. The brain will not rest during such activity. During a few hours of study, the breaks should be used much better – give yourself a break, get away from the desk.
What to do during a break
What is the best thing to do during a break from studying? Do something completely different than studying! Ideally, use this time to engage in activities that are enjoyable, which will flood your brain with dopamine, so you can relax.
Remember to change the stimuli delivered to the brain. If you were writing during your study time – listen to music. If you were listening – now watch something – but try to avoid sitting in front of the computer or browsing social media. If you were sitting – jump about or move, or you can even dance! It is best to start a break in learning with oxygenating the body, because the brain accounts for 20% of the total oxygen consumption in the body. If you can’t spare the time for a little outdoor exercise, just ventilate the room.
Another way to get oxygen during a break is using diaphragmatic breathing techniques. The normal breathing system is chest breathing, which results in relatively shallow breaths, while diaphragmatic breathing allows you to calm the body down and oxygenate it.
A great solution during breaks from studying is to include music. Depending on what genre you choose, it can relax you, help you unwind, or stimulate you to act!
There is also nothing to prevent you from choosing a completely different direction: try a simplified version of one of the relaxation and concentration techniques dome on the floor or on a bed, such as autogenic training or Jacobson training. The latter involves stretching and relaxing individual muscle groups and does not require special preparation, so it is perfect for a short break in learning.
It is worth adding drinking water and green tea to doing your exercises, as these keep your body and brain hydrated. A break is also a great opportunity for a healthy snack. When studying, it is better to avoid eating because, contrary to appearances, it can be difficult for you to focus on both learning and eating.