Taking a Break While Studying: A Path to Academic Success and Well-being

Discover the Science Behind Taking Breaks and Napping for Enhanced Productivity and Well-being

In today’s competitive academic environment, students often find themselves pushing their limits to excel in their studies.

They spend countless hours huddled in front of a computer, convinced that cram sessions and all-night study groups are the keys to success.

However, numerous studies have shown that taking regular breaks is essential for achieving productivity, success, and a positive outlook on the future.

In fact, neglecting to take breaks can significantly decrease academic performance and serious health concerns like anxiety, insomnia, and depression.

The demands of academia often lead students to believe that cramming and pulling all-nighters will help them achieve their academic goals. Nevertheless, numerous studies have shown that taking regular breaks is essential for productivity, success, and maintaining a positive outlook on the future. Failing to do so can result in a decline in academic performance and serious health concerns, such as anxiety, insomnia, and depression.

The Science Behind Taking Breaks

Our brains are not designed to maintain focus for extended periods. According to a study conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, our ability to focus on a task declines over time, and taking breaks can help counteract this effect (Lleras & Ariga, 2017). This phenomenon, known as “vigilance decrement,” demonstrates the importance of breaks in maintaining our attention and cognitive performance.

Another study from the University of Melbourne found that brief breaks, during which participants engaged in unrelated activities or let their minds wander, led to improved focus and creativity (Zijlstra et al., 2011). This concept, termed “cognitive fixation,” suggests that taking breaks can help students process new information and develop innovative solutions to problems.

The Pomodoro Technique, developed by Francesco Cirillo, is a time-management method that emphasizes the benefits of short breaks. This technique involves working in 25-minute intervals, known as “Pomodoros,” followed by a 5-minute break. After four Pomodoros, individuals take a longer break of 15-30 minutes. Research has shown that this method can help maintain productivity and focus throughout the day (Cirillo, 2006).

The Importance of Breaks for Mental Health

In addition to improving cognitive performance, taking breaks is crucial for maintaining mental health. A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that frequent breaks during the workday resulted in reduced mental fatigue, stress, and an overall improvement in well-being (Hartig et al., 2004).

A separate study from the University of Otago in New Zealand discovered that engaging in creative activities during breaks, such as drawing or writing, led to increased feelings of well-being and a reduction in stress levels (Conner et al., 2016).

Incorporating physical activity during breaks can further enhance the benefits of taking breaks for learning and productivity. A study published in the journal PLOS ONE found that moderate-intensity exercise, such as walking, can improve memory and cognitive function (Suwabe et al., 2017).

Engaging in physical activity during breaks can increase blood flow to the brain, providing it with essential nutrients and oxygen. Exercise also helps release endorphins, improving mood and alleviating stress. By incorporating physical activity into their break routine, students and professionals can support their cognitive performance and overall well-being.

This evidence suggests that taking breaks and engaging in enjoyable activities can improve mental health and contribute to academic success.

Consequences of Skipping Breaks

Ignoring the need for breaks can have severe consequences for both academic performance and mental health. A study from the University of California, Los Angeles, found that students who sacrificed sleep for study time experienced a decline in academic performance (Gillen-O’Neel et al., 2013). Furthermore, excessive studying without breaks has been linked to increased levels of stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms (Beiter et al., 2015).

The Power of Napping: Boosting Productivity and Academic Focus

Napping has long been advocated to recharge and improve overall well-being. Recent research supports this notion, suggesting that naps can increase productivity and enhance academic focus.

The Science of Napping

Napping, particularly when kept brief, has been shown to improve alertness, cognitive function, and mood. A study by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) found that a 26-minute nap increased pilot performance by 34% and alertness by 54% (Rosekind et al., 1994). This research demonstrates the potential benefits of napping in professional settings where maintaining focus and mental acuity is essential.

Another study published in the journal Sleep examined the impact of napping on memory consolidation. Researchers found that participants who took a 90-minute nap after learning a new task demonstrated significantly better retention than those who remained awake (Mednick et al., 2003). This finding suggests that napping can be crucial in consolidating newly acquired information and enhancing learning and memory.

The Benefits of Napping for Students

For students, the power of napping to improve academic focus and performance is particularly relevant. A study conducted at the University of California, Riverside, found that students who took a 60-90 minute nap after learning new material performed better on tests compared to those who did not nap (Lau et al., 2010). This research supports that napping can help students process and retain information more effectively, ultimately contributing to academic success.

Moreover, a study in the journal Behavioral Brain Research discovered that a 20-minute nap could improve alertness, mood, and cognitive performance in sleep-deprived individuals (Kaida et al., 2013). This finding is significant for students who often experience sleep deprivation due to academic demands and may struggle to maintain focus and productivity as a result.

Finding the Ideal Nap Duration

While napping can offer numerous benefits, it is essential to consider the duration of the nap to maximize its positive effects. A short nap, lasting 10-20 minutes, can improve alertness and cognitive performance without causing grogginess or interfering with nighttime sleep (Brooks, & Lack, 2006). However, a longer nap of 60-90 minutes can provide deeper restorative benefits, including improved memory consolidation and creativity (Nature Neuroscience, 2003).

The Detrimental Effects of Overlearning

A 2006 study conducted by researchers from the University of South Florida and the University of California, San Diego, investigated the impact of overlearning on information retention (Rohrer, Pashler, 2007).

Participants were divided into two groups and asked to study for a vocabulary test:

The first group read through the list five times, with each participant achieving a perfect score no more than once.

The second group read through the list ten times, with each participant achieving a perfect score at least three times.

Initially, overlearning seemed to be an effective short-term strategy, as the second group performed better on the test. However, when re-tested one week later, the over-learners still outperformed the first group, but when re-tested after four weeks, there was little difference in scores between the two groups.

This finding suggests that overlearning does not contribute to the long-term retention of information.

The Power of Spaced Learning

The same study was later repeated with breaks between sessions, ranging from five minutes to one month. The results revealed a direct correlation between the break length and the information retention duration.

Students who took a one-day break performed the best when tested ten days later, while those who took a one-month break performed the best after six months.

These findings highlight the importance of spaced learning, a technique that involves breaking up study sessions with breaks or focusing on different subjects. Spaced learning allows the brain to process and consolidate information more effectively, leading to better long-term retention.

Real-World Implications

The consequences of overlearning and the benefits of spaced learning are not limited to academic settings. A study at Harvard University reported in The New York Times found that American companies lose approximately $63.2 billion every year due to sleep-deprived employees who struggle to maintain productivity.

Furthermore, a survey by Harris Interactive Inc. revealed that the average American adult forfeited 9.2 vacation days in 2012, up from 6.2 vacation days in 2011.

These findings emphasize the significance of taking breaks and allowing the brain to rest for academic success and workplace productivity. By incorporating spaced learning techniques and taking regular breaks, individuals can improve information retention, reduce stress, and maintain higher productivity levels in various aspects of their lives.


The science behind taking breaks while studying is clear: regular breaks are essential for maintaining productivity, focus, and mental well-being. Instead of cramming and pushing through exhaustion, students should prioritize taking breaks to ensure they achieve academic success without sacrificing their health. Incorporating techniques like the Pomodoro method and engaging in enjoyable activities during breaks can lead to improved academic performance and a healthier, more balanced lifestyle.