Why Your Brain Needs a Break
Whether it is taking a walk, standing up and stretching for a minute, or simply taking a few sips of water, it is critical to take breaks while working. Oftentimes homework is so chaotic and frustrating that families develop a “just get it done” mentality which creates bad habits for students and ultimately impacts their grades and work ethic. It is important for parents and educators to train students to recognize when they need a break and identify appropriate break activities.
Taking a break is not about working longer, but working smarter. You and your children will be more efficient workers – will spend more time highly focused when working – if you give your brains a break now and again. You might end up spending less time working, but produce better quality and quantity of work. How? It turns out that breaks refresh our attention and memory.
Let’s start with memory. In a previous post about how sleep affects learning, we discussed the important role sleep plays in memory. As we sleep, our brain consolidates new information, thereby locking it into long-term memory. Without this step, remembering anything would be impossible.
Taking breaks that allow you to space out or daydream is “waking rest” and serves a similar function for the brain as sleep. It can better help you absorb what you are studying for a test. As little as a 5-minute break to play with their fidget spinner can help your child study more efficiently for their upcoming history test.
Now, on to attention. Our brains are highly adaptable. They take in so much incidental information throughout the day that just isn’t important to notice or remember. This process of adaptation helps us forget the feeling of socks on your feet or the sound of your own breathing. This is great – we have so many other things we need to pay attention to. But adaptation is tricky because it can fool us into thinking whatever we’ve been working on for too long is unimportant, too. Our brains are just too good at getting used to things.
Doctors Lleras and Ariga’s 2011 study suggests taking short breaks during periods of prolonged focus can counter adaptation and prevent attention fatigue. By taking a break, you are switching focus to something new. When you come back to your original tasks, the brain’s adaptation clock has been reset, allowing you to focus better.
But how do we know when to take a break? Studies have shown varied guidelines for regular, timed breaks. Every student is unique, some will require more breaks than others. Encourage your student to become aware of when a break is needed. In a previous post, we discuss the “Check Your Engine” technique for self-regulation. Students learn to understand how their engines – or energy levels – can perform at various speeds. Certain speeds are helpful for certain activities. You want a low engine before bedtime. A high engine is great at an amusement park. A “just right” engine is perfect for schoolwork. However, our engines can change throughout the day and make focusing on homework or settling down for bedtime more difficult. Fortunately, you can take breaks to change your engine and have the energy you need for the task at hand.
When studying for a test or working on a bunch of homework, our engines can change in two directions. Your energy levels can decrease from boredom and tiredness. Your energy can increase from frustration, being overwhelmed by the work or excitement about a different upcoming activity.
If your engine is too low, you’ll want to take an energizing break. Get up and move around. You can do a Power Walk, jump on a trampoline, do cross crawls, go for a 5-minute walk outside.
If your engine is too high, you need a relaxing break. Play with a fidget toy, meditate, sit in a quiet room and enjoy aromatherapy, ask someone for a cranial massage, take 5 big deep breaths, go for a 5-minute walk outside (it’s always a good time for a walk).
Now, stand up and stretch your legs. Take that well-deserved break and notice how you feel. Share this post with someone you feel deserves a break and let us know your favorite brain break below in the comments.