Why is it important to take breaks while studying?

student taking a break in a forest

You might feel overwhelmed by your studies and taking breaks might look like a total waste of time. However, a growing body of research shows that taking breaks is actually essential for achieving success in your studies. So why taking breaks is so important?

Taking breaks while studying is important since it can make students more productive. Proper breaks allow your body and mind to recharge, make you more effective at your studies, boost your creativity, and are essential for your physical and emotional health.

While this sounds rather counter-intuitive, studying less and taking proper breaks can actually let you learn more. There is a lot of scientific studies and anecdotal evidence supporting that.

10 reasons why you should take a break

So let me break it to you why taking breaks is so important After analyzing scientific studies and articles on the topic here is a list of reasons for why taking breaks while studying can be beneficial:

  1. Productivity & focus boost. A study by Ariga and Lleras showed making brief breaks can dramatically increase your ability to focus for extended periods of time.
  2. Creativity boost. Taking a break can clear and recharge your mind. And as a result, it is easier to think in more creative ways. For example, research by Standford university revealed, that taking a walk can make you more creative when dealing with mental tasks that require imagination. So take a walk to get those creative juices flowing!
  3. Stress prevention. Another important benefit of breaks is that they allow you to relax and reduce stress (Coffeng et al., 2015, Geurts et al., 2014). While stress is not always bad, breaks can allow you to manage your stress levels and stay healthy.
  4. Increased energy levels. According to a study by Korpela et al. (2016), taking a lunch break and resting from work can boost your energy levels and make you less exhausted. Also, it was found that such breaks can even boost vigor and energy levels over time as well.
  5. Reduced risk of sleep disorders and cardiovascular disease. By recharging your body breaks diminish the risk of developing fatigue, sleep disorders, and cardiovascular disease (Geurts et al., 2014)
  6. Improved mood. A relaxing break can actually reset your mood as one study shows. So if you feel rather gloomy – take a break
  7. Mental and physical recovery. Relaxing and social breaks were shown to return mental and psychical functional systems to their baseline and as a consequence allowing you to recover.
  8. Restored motivation, especially for long term goals. According to an author Nir Eyal, “When we work, our prefrontal cortex makes every effort to help us execute our goals. But for a challenging task that requires our sustained attention, research shows briefly taking our minds off the goal can renew and strengthen motivation later on.”
  9. Prevention of decision fatigue. Working and studying for extended periods can undermine your willpower and ability to reason. For example, a famous study on Israeli judges showed that judges were more likely to grant paroles (release a prisoner in on the promise of good behavior) after taking breaks rather than after working for a while.
  10. Consolidates memories and improves learning. Like sleep breaks play an important role in consolidating our memories. It seems that when we rest our brain uses that time to review and reinforce prior learnings.

Of course, you can probably see that some of these reasons overlap, but the key takeaway is that breaks are essential for the proper functioning of your body and mind.

“Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life” – Ferris Jabr, Scientific American

When should you take a break?

This is great a great question and a very nuanced one. The short answer is that we recommend taking short breaks (about 15 minutes) for every hour of focused work and longer breaks (about 30 minutes or more) every 2 or 4 hours of work.

Another great way of knowing when to take a break is when you just feel a bit tired, or maybe find it hard to concentrate. This is essentially your body and mind telling you that you should take a break.

However, as mentioned the topic is rather nuanced. So if you want a more thorough answer on the timing of a perfect break I highly recommend checking out this article.

Recipe for a great break

Now there are a lot of different ways of taking a break. And different people might enjoy different things. However, here are some general guidelines for having a great break:

  • It should be relaxing – probably the most important quality of a great break is that it is relaxing. Quite a few of the studies that I have cited in this article mention that breaks should relax you. If a break is not relaxing or even stressful then it hardly qualifies as a break.
  • It should not be cognitively intensive or qualify as work. It should not be work or it should not strain your mind. Once again if you engage in some intense thinking during your break it is not a break, because your mind has to work. Allow your brain to have some rest!
  • Non-work or studies related. As mentioned it is important that you would not work during your break. Often students during their breaks start answering emails (I am guilty of that myself), discussing group work, etc. The bottom line during your breaks you should detach yourself from studies. It is ok if the studies or work is in the back of your mind, but you should not be thinking about them actively.
  • Try to use no screens ( no smartphones, no computers, TV, social media, etc.). I know that it is extremely tempting to check your phone or Facebook. But this is essentially like taking drugs your brain gets a hit of dopamine, you start worrying about new issues, you get distracted, you get emotional or engaged. All of that is not relaxing and that is not how you take a proper break.
  • Don’t create new distractions (don’t do something that will, later on, distract you from work). This point is rather self-explanatory. If you know that you need to get back to studying in 5 minutes, do not start cooking spaghetti or a soup that requires your constant attention every 10 minutes to monitor the heat and so on.

What to do during breaks from studying?

After reviewing the literature (1, 2, 3) on the subject here is a list of suggestions of what you could do during your breaks:

  • take a short walk
  • make some tea, coffee, or just go and grab some other drink
  • get a snack
  • have a small chat
  • meditate
  • take a couple of deep breaths
  • change your environment
  • tidy up or organize your workspace
  • stretch
  • take a quick shower
  • run a quick errand
  • do something creative like drawing
  • do some journaling
  • daydreaming
  • deep breathing
  • get a proper meal (if it is a longer break)
  • exercise (run, yoga, etc.) (if it is a longer break)

Of course, these are just suggestions. The key idea is that you should do something that allows you to relax. Not all of these activities might be relaxing for you, so you should experiment and find what works best for you.

Concluding thoughts

After reviewing the literature on the subject it is quite clear that every student should take proper breaks!

However, the issue is that many students are not aware of the importance of breaks or are just not willing to take them. After reading this article you now know that breaks are important, but it is essential that you put these ideas into practice.

Only by taking steps to incorporate breaks into your daily study routine, you will reap the benefits discussed in this article. So what are you waiting for – go and take a break!

Danielius Korsakas

Has a BSc in Economics and currently is pursuing a double master's degree in very fluffy but interesting subjects. Loves learning and building stuff.

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