Learning should not feel like punishment. Learning goals, schedules, and checklists are great, but have we undervalued the need for breaks? 

Common belief about learning tells us that the best way to learn is to practice deliberately. There is truth to this, but for optimal learning, breaks are vital. Educational neuroscience has proven the value and necessity of brain breaks and it is time to empower breaks.

In this article, we will explore the neuroscience behind the importance of taking brain breaks and provide practical tips for creating effective brain break activities.

In 2022, researchers conducted a study to understand how micro-offline gains help to learn. They observed young adults learning how to type.

Researchers conducted brain scans to understand neural networks and how they change as young adults learn typing and during breaks. They observed that during breaks, the participants’ brains appeared to involuntarily repeat typing sequences at high speeds. This was due to the constant back-and-forth transfer of information between the brain’s processing and memory centers, happening dozens of times in just 10 seconds. They concluded that taking breaks is just as crucial as practicing in the acquisition of new skills. 

This image confirms the value of 10-second breaks. After breaks, learners began at a higher skill level, owing to the micro-offline gains. 

According to the research, much, if not all, skill learning happens during rest periods rather than during active practice. Studies have shown that improvements in skill acquisition are mainly gained during rest periods interspersed with practice. The findings indicate that rest plays a crucial role in the learning of new skills and happens over a shorter timescale than previously believed. 

Educational neuroscience encourages us to create learning experiences, with time for breaks. Many of us feel guilty during breaks, but science has proven that breaks improve skill and performance. 

Brain breaks are not complicated. From the suggested research-backed brain breaks, here are the five most empowering, simple, and effective to include in your daily life:

1. Music

While music is great to get into the flow, it is also a great way to slow down and distract before you get back to learning. Music is personal and each individual should choose the playlist of their choice. 

2. Aromatherapy

This one came as a surprise. Research suggests that certain scents, such as lavender and rose, can have a calming effect, reduce stress, and improve mood.

For example, a study published in the International Journal of Neuroscience found that lavender aroma reduced levels of the stress hormone cortisol in participants and improved their mood. Another study published in the Journal of Medical and Aromatic Plant Sciences found that rose oil improved cognitive performance and reduced stress in participants. 

3. Change of scenery

This one is my personal favorite. Changing learning settings, like moving from your desk to the living room, or a coffee shop has a direct impact on mood and can inspire new ideas, and exposure to new sights, sounds, and experiences can stimulate different parts of the brain and promote learning in new ways.

4. Get creative

Are you a doodler? This one’s for you. Stepping away from your learning to draw, and write helps your brain with clarity. 

5. Get outside

Spending time outdoors, surrounded by nature, has been shown to improve mood and cognitive function. Take a walk, sit on your patio, and see how you are uplifted to come back. 

One unusual brain break that caught my attention was virtual reality. A simulated environment is a welcome change from the repetitive tasks and stressors of daily life. The visual and auditory stimulation provided by VR can also help to re-engage the brain and provide a break from routine. The only caveat is to indulge in moderation, as is for almost everything. 

Unlearning Thought

Sprints, not marathons! This applies to brain breaks as well.