The Art of Mastering Your Breaks

Photo Credit: OpenClipart

By Indira Purushothaman

Taking breaks in grad school often makes you feel like you’re falling behind. We give more attention to the life span and battery percentage of our devices than to ourselves. Taking breaks helps you recharge.

Recent studies show that the average American works approximately 9.2 hours a day, often times without a break. Individuals are more likely to eat lunch at the desk they work at than taking an actual lunch break. However, when an individual who works at a computer screen takes a 15 second break every 10 minutes, fatigue can be reduced by about 50%. Such is the concept of “Microbreaks.” Many graduate students now utilize the “Tomato Timer” in order to increase productivity. The Tomato timer can be set for work time and break time. After 25 minutes of work, the timer goes off to remind you to take a 5 minute break. Taking breaks can be more than just a 5 minute time period away from whatever work you were doing. Taking naps in the middle of the day can do your body a huge favor. Multiple studies show that 40 minute naps can increase alertness 34% and a 20 minute nap in the afternoon provides more rest compared to snoozing your alarm clock for 20 minutes in the morning.

For grad students, finding time to take breaks is a challenge in itself, let alone a 20 minute nap in the middle of the day on campus. More often than not, students resort to caffeine breaks rather than naps. For students who struggle to find the time to take a break, you have to take advantage of the time you have. Simply put, breaks are most advantageous when they are taken prior to when they are absolutely needed. Whether it’s scrolling through social media, taking 10 minutes to refill a water bottle, staring off into the distance to rest your eyes, or even walking down the hall to drop off paperwork: breaks are essential.

Studies conducted at the University of South Florida and UC San Diego sought to explore the effect “overlearning” has on the brain. Students often think that taking breaks is a distraction and prevents productive learning. On the contrary, students who took longer breaks where able to retain more information. The New York Times later reported about a study performed at Harvard University that concluded that American companies lose an estimated $63 billion annually because employees struggle to stay productive.

More importantly, despite the financial cost and physiological stress that the body endures because of lack of appropriate breaks, it is important to assess YOUR individual needs. You might benefit from the Tomato timer while others need a 20-minute nap midday. Overall, evidence supports that taking breaks are essential for maintaining productivity and how you chose to do so is up to you. You’d never let your phone go to 1%; don’t let your body reach that point either.

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