Try This Now: Take Breaks When You’re Learning Something New

Evidence from a new study highlights the importance of rest for your brain.

Leah-Anne Thompson/Shutterstock
Leah-Anne Thompson/Shutterstock

Learning doesn’t end: People continue to accumulate new knowledge and skills throughout their lives. Now, new research has uncovered an effective way to make a new skill stick.

The study — published in Current Biology and conducted by the National Institutes of Health and National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke — found that taking short breaks to rest while we’re in the process of learning something new can improve our memory. And though we tend to focus on “putting in the work” to learn something, this research highlights the importance of rest in the process.

“Everyone thinks you need to ‘practice, practice, practice’ when learning something new. Instead, we found that resting, early and often, may be just as critical to learning as practice,” Leonardo G. Cohen, M.D., Ph.D., senior investigator at NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and a senior author of the paper said in a statement.

After examining the findings, the researchers noticed that the participants’ brain waves seemed to change much more during the rest periods than during the typing sessions. This correlated with their performance, which improved more during the rest periods. Their findings suggest that the volunteers’ brains were consolidating, or solidifying, memories during the rest periods.

The next time you want to learn something new, make sure to build in breaks so you’re at your most effective.

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