Study Break Ideas: 15 BEST Tips To Refresh Your Mind

No one despises taking breaks.

But we rarely do them. We feel guilty about it.

Mainly because spending more time studying with a “work, work, work” attitude is celebrated, and spending less time being frowned upon.

After all, what’s more important than “studying hard”?

Well, two things: Actually getting things done, and doing them better.

And for that to happen, you need to periodically refresh your mind and energy by taking study breaks.

It’s not good studying in a completely saturated state, don’t you think?

What should I do during study breaks?

During study breaks, it’s important that you do things that’s NOT studying (or work). Based on research, it’s actually recommended that you do external tasks that allow your mind to wander.

They are helpful for three reasons:

  • These activities restore your ability to focus
  • They restore your energy
  • They put you into a “diffuse mode of thinking”, where your brain works “in the background”–connecting different areas of knowledge and forming fresh ideas

However, what’s NOT recommended is using social media to take breaks.

Studies show that using social media while taking breaks actually increased the stress level of students, rather than supposedly lowering it.

Furthermore, because of the never-ending novelty of our news feeds, our brains increasingly crave the miniature, intermittent rewards provided by these engineered services.

Thus, our ability to focus is compromised.

How Long Should I Take Breaks?

Your recovery depends on how cognitively strenuous your activity is, but the general guideline should be between 5 to 20 minutes. This information is based on a study by DeskTime (17 minutes) and the Pomodoro Technique (5 minutes short break, 15 minutes long break).

15 Study Break Ideas to Refresh Your Mind

Sleep

Sleep restores our ability to learn.

The problem is, when you wake up at the deeper stages of sleep, you’ll wake up feeling worse.

To get through this problem, I use an app called Sleep Cycle on my phone.

What it does is it wakes you up when your brain is at the most alert stages of its sleep cycle, rather than at the deeper stages.

But to state the facts, sleep reportedly removes toxins called beta amyloids from the brain and helps us think more clearly.

This also explains the fact that we make poorer decisions and perform worse when we lack sleep.

Walking

Walking has a TON of benefits, and it’s a largely underrated thing to do during study breaks.

To name a few benefits, according to research:

But you didn’t come here for those reasons, did you?

The main reason is that walking allows the mind to wander in its own rhythm.

You’re not forced to think.

You’re not intently focusing on something.

Ever tried answering a tough math problem only to figure out the solution while walking on the street?

Exercise

Exercise is not only good for the body, but also to our memory and attention.

Tons of research papers were already published regarding the benefits of exercise for the brain, but I think the best one is that exercising improves the production of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor. (study)

Think of it as a “fertilizer” for our neurons.

Regardless, because we just want a good study break activity, exercise comes out on top because helps release “feel good” hormones, namely, dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin which regulate our mood and increase our energy.

Reconnect with Nature

In a study by Marc Berman of the University of South Carolina, students who took walks through an arboretum (garden filled with trees) improved their performance on a memory test than students who walked along city streets.

This just made walking even better.

There’s just something to walking and reconnecting with nature when everything around us are forests made of concrete and metal.

This is my go-to “study break” when I’m experiencing burnout. It takes a really long time, for sure, but it’s worthwhile.

You think of more creative ideas, You experience solitude, No city noise, and most importantly, my mind finally takes a break from all the knowledge work.

Try this out if you’re taking a day off from studying. You’ll see what I mean.

Meditation

Something simple to do is to just go to a quiet place, sit down, and focus on your breathing.

On the contrary, this one requires you to focus on something, or more accurately, re-focus on something.

When your mind wanders, you just bring it back to the present moment.

This simple act of meditation and focusing on the breath improves your ability to concentrate. (which we became incredibly poor at because of the increasing number of distractions)

All I can say is, Meditation is incredibly boring at first, but it INSTANTLY improves your productivity when you go back to study again.

Try it out: Sit down in a quiet place, close your eyes, and focus on your breath for 30 deep breaths.

You’ll be amazed how difficult it is to catch your mind thinking of something else.

Take a Power Nap

As I’ve mentioned earlier, Sleep restores our ability to learn.

But what if you don’t have time to sleep, and want some quick “energy hack” instead?

This is THE energy hack. It’s called the “Nappuccino”.

I read it on some blog, so I can’t take credit for this.

Basically, if we sleep for more than 20 minutes (not a rigid number by the way), we experience what we call sleep inertia. This is what people fear when it comes to sleeping when taking a break.

Because we now know this fact, we only have to set an alarm for 20 minutes so we won’t reach the deeper stages of sleep before we wake up. That’s the reason for our grogginess, in the first place.

To step it up even more, we take a cup of coffee before taking a nap. Or if you’re that much into details, 45 minutes (time it takes for caffeine to be completely absorbed) – 20 minutes = 25 minutes before taking a nap.

In hindsight, I remembered I read something about the inventor Thomas Edison, that when he’s kinda stuck in a problem, he used to grab a metal ball and held it in his hands before napping.

When his nap becomes too deep, the metal ball drops to instantly wake him up, and by this time, there’s an idea lightbulb in his head (pun completely intended) and problems are solved.

Take a Shower

What do all shower thoughts have in common?

They’re insanely creative. And that’s how we want to be when taking breaks.

Again, showering is another activity that lets the mind wander in all directions, which is incredibly helpful for learning and creating new ideas.

Even consider taking a longer shower to make yourself feel better.

Daydreaming

If mind wandering is what we’re talking about, then no look further than daydreaming.

It usually has a negative stigma behind it because it’s usually detrimental when people are daydreaming while working.

That kind of daydreaming will get you fired.

But in terms of relaxation and allowing the mind to have a break, simply allowing your thoughts to go completely random is incredibly liberating.

Research also shows that daydreaming, similar to night time dreaming, also has a role in memory consolidation and problem-solving. (just like any other items on this list)

Deep breathing

I learned this one while reading 10-minute Mindfulness by SJ Scott.

Aside from the mindfulness benefits (similar to Meditation), the simple act of deep breathing has a dramatic effect on our respiratory, circulatory, and nervous system which relaxes our mind and body.

If you don’t feel like meditating, going outside, raising your heart rate, then this might be the one for you.

Organize Your Workspace

What do productive people have in common?

They’re extremely organized. From to-do lists, schedules, to their workspaces.

It’s really difficult to channel your attention into your work when all you’re seeing in front of you is clutter than you don’t even need.

Just follow a simple rule: Only put things that you will use when studying.

That means clearing everything up, so that only the essentials remain.

Check out this infographic that I found about this topic.

Stretch out Your Hip Flexors

Being seated for a very long time can eventually lead you to some costly postural problems–usually Anterior Pelvic Tilt. 

Anterior Pelvic Tilt is caused by tight hip flexors, muscles of the front thigh that are shortened for prolonged periods of time when you’re seated.

That’s why it’s a good idea to stretch them out every once in a while, as shown below:

Otherwise, you’re potentially increasing your risk of developing Anterior Pelvic Tilt, or “Donald Duck Syndrome”.

Listen to Music

But not just any type of music! 

Studies have shown that some types of music can be rather distracting.

Therefore, we should incline towards a more “background” type of music that still allows our minds to wander.

Personally, I’d like to listen to some anime or video game background music to add a bit of nostalgia to it.

Here are 5 types of music that work, according to science:

  • Classical Music
  • Nature Music
  • Epic Music
  • Video Game Background Music (they’re designed to enhance your gaming experience, so they HAVE to be good)
  • Ambient Soundtracks

Study Breaks Research: Does taking breaks help studying?

Taking breaks helps studying by restoring your attention and motivation, encouraging creativity, and reducing decision fatigue. Scientific evidence has shown that this is due to the activation of the brain’s default mode network, or “diffuse mode thinking”.

To further prove the point, here’s Scientific American:

“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…Moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one’s moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self.”

Study Breaks: Other Works Consulted

  • Andrews-Hanna, J.R. “The Brain’s Default Network and Its Adaptive Role in Internal Mentation.” Neuroscientist 18, no. 3 (Jun 2012): 251-70.
  • Immordino-Yang, M. H., J. A. Christodoulou, and V. Singh. “Rest Is Not Idleness: Implications of the Brain’s Default Mode for Human Development and Education.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 7, no. 4 (2012): 352-64.
  • Moussa MN, Steen MR, Laurienti PJ, Hayasaka S (2012) “Consistency of Network Modules in Resting-State fMRI Connectome Data.” PLoS ONE 7(8): e44428. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0044428.
  • Raichle, Marcus E, and Abraham Z Snyder. “A Default Mode of Brain Function: A Brief History of an Evolving Idea.” NeuroImage 37, no. 4 (2007): 1083-90.
  • Learning How to Learn Course by Learning Expert Dr. Barbara Oakley at Coursera.org

Bottom Line

Breaks aren’t bad after all.

In fact, you’ve just learned that it’s better to have them in your schedule.

What would you want to see next?

Leave a comment down below! As always, thank you for reading!

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