Study Breaks: positive effects and 5 tips for students

Written by: Kerstin Lakits, Mar 10, 2022

“One must concede calm relaxation to the inner self, even if one is convinced to lose time by doing nothing.” – Saint John of the Cross

Homework, seminar papers and exams are adding up and the To-Do list sometimes seems endless. It’s only natural that you want to study and get everything done as quickly and well as possible – especially if there is a deadline coming up. It’s exactly then that we cut out breaks, believing that we will get more done. However, we are going to show you why breaks are crucial to your study success and give you tips on how to have beneficial study breaks.

Why are breaks essential?

Studying isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Meaning that you cannot study until complete collapse regardless of the consequences. Just like your muscles need time to regenerate after working out, your brain needs a break as well to be able to perform better afterwards.

Slowly concentration fades away, you get sleepier and lose all motivation. You make more mistakes and don’t feel ambitious anymore. These side effects of studying for too long without breaks illustrate how important study breaks are for you and your work.

Many studies and analyses also prove that our brain needs breaks to process and store complex information. Furthermore, the corresponding synapses are built during breaks.

What should you do in study breaks?

Basically everything that provides a break from thinking to your brain is allowed. Maybe taking a short walk outdoors or relaxing with some music and enjoying the moment helps you to give your mind a break.

  • In general moving – be it running, walking, yoga, strength training, dancing – is a great way to give your mind a break because you are focusing on your body.
  • However, easy tasks like opening the windows, clearing your desk or organising your documents are a great opportunity for your brain to take a moment of rest from exhausting cognitive processes.
  • It can also be helpful to just let the mind wander and find relaxation. Maybe you want to meditate, listen to music or just sit in the sun and listen to the noise around you.

5 tips for practical study breaks

We have gathered 5 tips for you so that your future study breaks will be really relaxing.

1. Move your body

After sitting for a long time, you should give your body a little jump-start. A bit of movement stimulates your circulation and blood flow, which provides your brain with more oxygen. Moreover, the elevated pulse wakes you up again and the movement releases tension in your body. Yoga, Zumba, running, walking, stretching or whatever you enjoy is perfect for your study breaks.

2. Fresh air

Without sufficient oxygen your brain cannot work. So, open the windows of your room and let fresh air enter. Regular ventilating is essential for a great work environment. Or spend a few minutes on your balcony or in your garden. If you’re studying in a library or café, you should go outside every once in a while to get some fresh air.

3. Drinks & Snacks

Don’t forget to hydrate! Use your break to refill your bottle and drink a few sips of water. Or how about some coffee or tea? That will wake you up and give you a rush of energy. Speaking of energy, your brain needs sufficient nutrients to function properly. Therefore, a study break is the perfect time for a little snack, ideally brain foods like nuts, fruit or vegetables. Then you can get back to your study session!

4. Mental relaxation

Sometimes we forget the incredible work our brain does every day. Therefore, you should really let your brain cells relax and not use your break for other mental exercises. You can give your mind a break with the right music or by meditating.

5. No phone

Breaks are an opportunity to turn off your mind, not switch on your phone. You’re probably looking at a screen all the time while studying anyways. Your eyes need a break as well. Moreover, your brain cannot relax if you’re playing Candy Crush or scrolling through your Instagram feed. Leave your phone on your desk and turn it off. The same goes for the TV and the like.

How often should you take breaks?

Some people need more breaks than others. The amount and the length of your breaks depends on many different factors. It’s most important to listen to your body and brain. It’s more than necessary to take a break as soon as you notice first signals that your performance is getting worse. Your body and your brain are telling you to take a break when:

  • Your concentration fades (distractions, more mistakes…)
  • You get tired (yawning repeatedly, heavy eyes…)
  • You lose all motivation and ambition
  • You feel pain in your neck and shoulder area or lower back
  • You are hungry or thirsty

Even though everybody has their own individual rhythm, there are some guidelines that have proven themselves and which you can take as inspiration for your own break schedule.

  • 10 minutes studying: 1 minute micro-break
  • 30 minutes studying: 5 minute mini-break
  • 2 hours studying: 15-20 minute coffee-break
  • 4 hours studying: 1-2 hours relaxation break

If you tend to forget to take breaks, you can use a timer. Either your use the timer on your phone or a kitchen timer. If you prefer to have a structured break schedule, you can work with the pomodoro technique for example.

What happens if you don’t take breaks?

Science as well as experience show that breaks are essential to studying successfully and for long periods of time. Despite the positive effects of breaks, are there negative side effects if you don’t take breaks?

Cerebral frequency

Our brain works at different frequencies depending on the intensity of work. In a relaxed state, our brain sends alpha waves. If we meditate or daydream, we can reach an even deeper level, the so-called theta waves. When we study or perform other exhausting tasks, our brain works with high intensity and sends gamma waves. However, this gamma frequency can only be reached from the alpha level. This means that your brain cannot perform on this high level that you need for successful studying without moments where it can come back to the lower frequency.


If you ignore the signals for a break that your body is sending and force yourself to continue studying without a break, you put your body under stress. Without breaks your body releases certain hormones that will allow you to continue, but that put your body into a state of stress at the same time. Chronic and excessive stress is detrimental to our body and brain.

Neuronal connections

Studies show that our brain needs breaks to create the necessary neuronal connections to remember information. Without breaks these neuronal connections are fewer and your brain needs much more time to create connections in the first place.


Everybody notices this negative effect immediately. You mind wanders all the time, you cannot remember anything you’ve reviewed and distractions that pull your brain out of working mode are lurking everywhere. This is a clear signal that your brain is overwhelmed and needs a break. It would be useless to continue studying because your brain will not process anything.


Studies show as well that we cannot remember what we’ve learned for long and well without taking breaks. It is harder to process and transmit the study content into long-term memory without breaks. Your brain doesn’t have enough time to process complex information and store it correctly.

Breaks are important to be able to perform at a high level. Even if it’s sometimes hard to “do nothing” and take breaks even though there is so much to do, you shouldn’t give up your breaks. You’re not losing time, but you’re using it more efficiently! Here are more tips to study efficiently!

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