How to refresh your mind during a study break?
March 8, 2007 9:49 PM   Subscribe

How to refresh your mind during a study break?

I find that I can dedicate two or three hours of studying before I start reading the same sentence 20 times over and my brain is trying to tell me "Take a break!" The problem is that it seems that I need a very long break, sometimes another two or three hours, before my brain is ready to concentrate again. I need to fit in about eight hours of study a day and sometimes more, so that's not acceptable.

An hour or so after I wake up, I'm always refreshed and ready to study, so sleep is obviously something that refreshes my brain. Watching television, reading a book, messing around on internet forums, doing household chores, exercising are all things that are not helping my brain back into study mode.

In case the topic of study is relevant, I'll share that I'm a computer engineering student and I am currently taking courses in number theory, physics, and programming. I appreciate any suggestions!
posted by giggleknickers to Education (28 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Studies have shown that after intense periods of stress of learning, the amount of time people spend in REM sleep go's up dramatically. Sleep is good, especially for studying.
posted by dantekgeek at 9:57 PM on March 8, 2007

Best answer: Sometimes ten minute naps here & there work even better than longer ones. Have you tried that?
posted by miss lynnster at 9:59 PM on March 8, 2007

Best answer: After reading your quesiton a bit more, I think maybe doing something creative might be of help. You seem to be studying mostly left brain scientific things, so taking some time to draw/paint/sub-aquaticly basket weave might just work.
posted by dantekgeek at 10:01 PM on March 8, 2007

Minesweeper/Tetris/etc. are tried-and-true methods for some people...something about not having anything unexpected but at the same time not being idle.

Also if you can break up the types of studying you're doing (scanning, taking notes, reviewing notes, organizing notes). For example, when your brain hates reading then break out the flash cards and do timed quizzes...
posted by anaelith at 10:13 PM on March 8, 2007

Hey, I'm taking number theory too!

To actually answer your question, I've never been able to nap, but my study break strategy has been to take a short walk and have some dark chocolate.
posted by crinklebat at 10:17 PM on March 8, 2007

Cigarette...I don't smoke but during long study sessions a cigarette outside for 10 minutes and a chat with a friend or whoever is out there helps me get back in the groove if I find myself drifting.
posted by jckll at 10:20 PM on March 8, 2007

This is something my productivity-obsessed self has been concerned with. I have also found that sleeping and tv watching help. With tv watching I think it helps because it is a passive activity, it is enjoyable, and allows your mind to wander and loosen back up. When I need a really long-ass break it means that I found the work to be brutal and painstaking, or I just worked too long and burnt myself out. Another tactic is to do something that makes me feel really guilty about wasting time like playing a computer game and that's enough to light a fire under my ass for days potentially. I'm still working on this, but progress can be made as long as you write down your ideas and tips on this subject on your computer and build on it as you go. Good luck!
posted by who else at 10:26 PM on March 8, 2007

cklennon, what do you do with the cigarette if you don't smoke it? As an ex-smoker, I would strongly recommend against occasional smoking, because for most people, it doesn't end that way. Also, smoking reduces oxygen flow to the brain.

giggleknickers, a question I asked earlier which had some great suggestions.
posted by b33j at 10:36 PM on March 8, 2007

I read about a study in the NYTimes some weeks ago that asserted people retain more info if their stomach is empty but do better on tests if their stomach is full.
So some chocolate may be appropriate, but avoid a big meal.
posted by Dizzy at 10:48 PM on March 8, 2007

b33j, sorry, didn't realize that may not have been clear: I smoke it! By calling myself a "non-smoker" I simply mean that I don't smoke regularly at all. Last I bought a pack of cigarettes was around Christmas, and as I look in my desk drawer I count 9 still there.

The advice to non-smokers about not occasionally smoking is heeded, and I agree that is probably good advice for most people. I have discovered in myself that I have perhaps the least addictive personality on Earth; I've smoked during heavy studying and about once a month otherwise for two to three years now and have never found myself "craving" a cigarette in the ordinary sense.
posted by jckll at 10:59 PM on March 8, 2007

Take a walk - I like to just aimlessly stroll for 10 minutes or so, letting my mind wander where it will. After forcing the mind to focus for so long, a little freedom is a nice break. The motion helps keep me from getting stiff and can help keep you awake if the stuff is dull.

Also find ways to make your studying more active. Don't just read teh sentence, take notes, highlight, draw pictures - whatever you need to do to help yourself really focus in on the material.
posted by chrisamiller at 11:06 PM on March 8, 2007

I make up a CD with 8 songs on it. (I usually do 8-hour study sessions.) Though it took me a long time to figure out the 8 songs that refreshed me most in the whole world! You might have to figure out what songs they are "accidentally".

But if you can find the right music, they'll recharge you in a moment. I have tried to listen to music to aid my study, but it never works; I become distracted.
So every hour I just listen to one song & have a cup of tea or a cola or whatever, and then my mind's back on the job.

(Incidentally, my all time best song for getting my mind back on track is Halcyon by Orbital... songs without lyrics seem to work best.)
posted by mjao at 11:07 PM on March 8, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think that the usual advice is to take short, frequent breaks - five or ten minutes every hour. Even though you might be able to concentrate well for two or three hours, it sounds like you're then experiencing burnout. I would try setting a timer to make sure that you take a break at least once an hour. You may well find that you're more productive in the long run.
posted by different at 11:11 PM on March 8, 2007

When I was in college, even when I was sleeping ~8 hours a night, I needed to take lots of 20-30 minute naps. I tried to resist, but really there was no other way to handle the 10+ hours of classes and studying I often had to do. Exercise is also good, but your brain needs sleep to learn.
posted by Good Brain at 11:22 PM on March 8, 2007

Mjao - that sounds like a good idea. I can't hang with music while studying either, but I like the idea of using it recharge yourself.

Also, worth mentioning that the nap thing doesn't work for all people, or you at least have to find the sweet spot. I'm a heaving sleeper who goes into REM very quickly, and when I am woken up from anything more than 5 minutes asleep, I am grump, pissed, and sick to my stomach. My SO can routinely nap for anywhere from 10 minutes to 2 hours with nary an irate word afterwards.
posted by rossination at 11:35 PM on March 8, 2007

During my college days a friend of mine used to constantly pull all-nighters in the dorm's study lounge. I would usually do the same when I had a big test or paper due.

When we took our breaks to reenergize we would sometimes rearrange the desks/furniture in the lounge and we would give ourselves one of two choices: either practical or aesthetic. Practical meant just moving the desks and couches around so the room was just a different layout, but aesthetic could entail any bastardized version of modern art that popped into our head. We were particularly fond of placing the desks one upon the other so it was impossible for the janitor figure out how to take them down without taking out the ceiling. Just the anticipation of him getting frustrated at trying to figure out how to take apart this structure was enough sometimes to keep us up until daylight. Either way it changed our surroundings enough to keep boredom at bay and revive our creative juices.
posted by any major dude at 12:00 AM on March 9, 2007

I've got the same problem you do. I tend to go for walks. My housemates do other things. I think this is sort of one of those "figure out what works best for you." People's minds don't all work the same, but there's surely a battle plan out there tailored to your needs. Is there a way you could do a dry-run or something, so that your study session isn't doubling as a personal psychology experiment? I dunno, for me that would sorta add to the stress of the whole thing and kinda defeat the purpose.
posted by Doublewhiskeycokenoice at 12:10 AM on March 9, 2007

For me, computer games work. They work because I initially think it's fun to play a game, but within 10 minutes the "this is not helping me in my life" part of my brain kicks in and I'm itching to get back to productivity.

This is why I can only play sports games, driving sims, and other non story based games :)
posted by wackybrit at 12:33 AM on March 9, 2007

Gym helps me. If I'm finding myself drifting too much during the day, a half hour gym trip is better than anything else. Luckily the gym is near my desk and the library, so I can be there, on the stairmaster for 30 minutes, showered, then back at my desk in 45. But it is well worth it.
posted by handee at 12:52 AM on March 9, 2007

Thinking about it, it could be the shower that is the most useful. But I'm fairly sure the exercise works too.
posted by handee at 12:56 AM on March 9, 2007

Best answer: I find doing puzzles (crosswords, target word, logic puzzles, etc.) works for me. They keep my brain in thinking mode so I don't have to go through the disengage/re-engage cycle, yet are sufficiently different in nature from work work that they provide a refreshing break.
posted by sarahw at 1:00 AM on March 9, 2007

I took a cognitive psych class in college and the professor gave us a handout that included the following tips:

1. Take 15 minute breaks every hour.
2. During your breaks, do something totally different than your studying (i.e. if you're reading, go for a walk)
3. Get a good night's rest the day before the test/presentation.

By taking breaks and doing something totally different during said breaks, the mind can sublimate the info, and thus it sticks in your head better. Think of it as pouring water into a funnel. If you pour a bit, wait, and then pour some more in, it goes a lot smoother than just trying to pour all the water in and having the funnel overflow. Same concept.

I've been thinking of transcribing this handout into my Google Pages homepage. If you want to read the whole thing, e-mail me (e-mail in profile) and I'll see what I can do.
posted by reenum at 5:41 AM on March 9, 2007

Along the lines of puzzles you might like the game Set (you can try a hand ). It's a matching game, and definately works my mind, but still feels "playful". I also had classmates that really enjoyed knitting, etc as a break.
posted by ejaned8 at 7:23 AM on March 9, 2007

I work with a timer (set to 45 minutes) and never look at it counting down. When it goes off, I take a break, usually for 5-15 minutes, to walk around, make a new pot of tea, attend to rising bread, whatever.

The important part of the break is that I am using different muscles, focusing at longer distances, not reading. This worked well enough, for me, to allow 12-14 hour workdays when I was writing my dissertation.
posted by janell at 8:17 AM on March 9, 2007

Coffee? No one takes a coffee break? Its a delicious short break and when you return to work you are awake and more focused, at least I am.
posted by comatose at 10:29 AM on March 9, 2007

i like to wash dishes or put a load of laundry in the machine.
it's manual, brainless, quick, and productive.
posted by twistofrhyme at 10:52 AM on March 9, 2007

Comatose - I take coffee breaks. I am taking a coffee break right now. They are absolutely essential to studying. But I wish I had some cookies.
posted by walla at 11:13 AM on March 9, 2007

Best answer: Here's something I learned whilst recording my first CD. I would be on the twentieth or thirtieth take of some guitar or vocal track, and I'd get to the point where the frustration prevented me form making any further progress. I needed something that would take my mind entirely off the task at hand.

I learned to bake bread. It's the perfect activity because while it can take around five hours to do it from scratch, you're never working at it for more than twenty minutes at a time and there's usually about an hour in between steps.

Also, the kneading motion can be very therapeutic, as can the smell of fresh-baked bread.
posted by The White Hat at 3:08 PM on March 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

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