Just as an athlete needs to give their body the proper rest, the same goes for the brain of a studier. Here are three things you could be doing during your breaks to help you relax and boost your brainpower when it’s time to return to the grind.
Unfortunately, studying and stress too often go hand in hand. What do we like to do when we’re stressed? We like to reach for the comfort food. Resist the urge! A lot of what you eat greatly impacts your ability to focus. The purpose of a study break is to make yourself feel refreshed afterward, not ready for another one. The next time you prepare a study-time meal, try to avoid the simple carbs (sugars). These kinds of foods cause a rapid spike in your blood sugar (1). What happens when something spikes? It comes crashing back down with a vengeance. Opt for foods with less sugar—such as whole grains over white breads and pastas—to avoid feeling sluggish when you return to the books. And, as an added bonus, taking the time to prepare a meal lets your mind focus on something other than studying for a change. It’s a win-win!
Work up a sweat
You’ve heard it many times before and you’ll hear it many times to come: You need to exercise. Studying is a stationary activity and too much sitting around will give you a case of foggy brain. Schedule short periods of exercise into your study plan. This will increase your energy levels and sharpen your focus. Studies have shown that exercising improves your brain in the short term by raising your focus for two or three hours afterward (2). This should give you enough time for some productive studying between breaks!
Take a nap
Any nappers out there? Let’s face it, there are times when we all just need some daytime shut eye. If done right, there is no harm in napping. Research shows that a 20 minute power nap can help alertness and motor skills, while a 30-60 minute nap can aid in decision making, memorizing vocabulary, and recalling directions (3). Longer naps—between 60-90 minutes—have been shown to play a key role in solving creative problems (3). If a short break is what you’re looking for, however, you might want to stick to the tried and true power nap. Anything longer will cause you to wake up groggy, and who has the time to deal with that?
Whether it’s studying for the GRE, LSAT, or GMAT, just remember to pace yourself by taking smart breaks. You can’t sprint a marathon.