How Often Should You Take Breaks When Studying?

With so little separation between school and home these days, unplugging is more challenging than ever.

We’re familiar with this phenomenon as adults: studies have shown that the shift to remote work has increased the number of hours workers are putting in each day. When work is at home, it becomes omnipresent.

The same holds true for students, especially those who tend to be perfectionists or overachievers. There’s nothing wrong with working hard, but there’s nothing wrong with slowing down and taking a breather either.

In fact, too much “hustle” might actually be harming your student’s productivity, not to mention creating risks for their mental and physical health.

The antidote to being constantly “plugged in” is to take breaks. Whether that’s rest, relaxation, or recreation, a break is a chance to unwind, physically and mentally, and to replenish your energy for future endeavors.

Not only do breaks help us mentally and physically reset, they can improve academic performance and increase concept retention. Sometimes less really is more!

What does a break look like?

I mentioned rest, relaxation, and recreation as three different types of breaks. Examples of each include:

  • Rest: staring at the clouds, taking a power nap
  • Relaxation: walking around the block, taking a yoga class, listening to music
  • Recreation: reading a book, going for a hike, playing a board game

Some activities can be adjusted to fit into a quick 5-minute break; others require an entire afternoon. Your student’s daily and weekly schedule should include breaks with varying lengths and different activities.

How often should your student take breaks?

Every hour (at least). At Signet, our philosophy is that students should take breaks before they feel like they need them. For this reason, we like the Pomodoro Method to encourage built-in breaks throughout the day.

The Pomodoro Method is based on 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of rest, although that can be adjusted based on your student’s needs. Taking short but consistent breaks allows students to extend the total amount of time they’re able to focus. They’ll also retain the material better and usually enjoy the whole learning process more!

  • Try this: During a study break, have your student physically get up and move aware from their study space: stand up, stretch, walk around for a few minutes before returning to work.

Every day. Every student should have some time in their day that’s not dedicated to schoolwork, chores, or other structured activities. At a minimum, there should be a break before bed. The downtime will help your student wind down the day and prepare for a better night’s sleep.

  • Try this: During a daily break, your student can get outside, spend time with friends or family, play an instrument, or read a book for fun.

Every week. We strongly recommend students allocate some portion of the week as time away from obligations or engagements. That could be all or just part of their weekend, but it’s important to deliberately hold that space open on their calendar every week.

  • Try this: Get out of the house (if possible). Hit up a drive-in movie, go for a hike, or plan a socially distant picnic.

Every once in a while. Vacations, holidays, or even weeks that are light on work are all opportunities to relax. A change of scenery is always helpful, whether you’re traveling for miles or checking out a new local spot. Even vegging out and sleeping in can be valuable for a couple of days, although you want to make sure your student doesn’t spend their whole winter break as a couch potato.

  • Try this: Plan a day trip or a quick overnight; visit friends and family who live further away; engage in some kind of multi-day project or adventure.

Every single summer. Summers should be useful, certainly, but they should not be a grind or feel like the third semester of school. Summer break (it’s right there in the name!) is designed to help your student regenerate and recuperate.

  • Try this: Your student can volunteer, take a vacation, work a job or seek out an internship—but slow down the pace and don’t overcrowd their schedule with activities. Allow for some time completely off at the beginning and end of summer break.

Every important transition. Students who build breaks into the fabric of their lives now will be able to maintain the habit as they grow older. The average working career is 40+ years, and in such a long timeframe it’s vital to take time out to reflect, to make sure you’re being guided by what matters most. Signet’s Semester Reflection is a great tool to help your student continually refine their goals and strategies.

  • Try this: Consider a gap year, a career sabbatical, or a break between jobs. Not every option will be right for every student, but thinking through the value of larger breaks is an important exercise.

In a culture that often puts hustle and grind over personal health, it can be tough to commit to taking breaks. Signet can help. Our academic coaches help students redefine success by setting goals that aren’t based on productivity or efficiency, but on meaning and purpose.

And the learning tips and study hacks we share will help your student work more effectively, giving them the freedom to confidently take that break—and reap the benefits. Knowing you’ve got a clear plan in place makes it easier to put down the to-do list and relax every once in a while.

Picture of Jay B.

Jay B.

Jay Bacrania is the CEO of Signet Education. As a high schooler, Jay won awards for chemistry at the state level in his home state of Florida, and at Harvard, he initially studied physics. After graduating, Jay spent two years studying jazz trumpet at the Berklee College of Music.

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