Not taking mental breaks during the day is like trying to fill your car with gas while driving. “You must stop and turn off the engine to refuel,” says Julie Fratantoni, Ph.D., a cognitive neuroscientist with the Center for BrainHealth at the University of Texas at Dallas. The human brain focuses on deeper-level thinking for about 90 to 120 minutes at a time, ideally followed by 20 minutes of rest. “Attention is a finite resource, so we have to protect it,” she says. Here’s how.
Today: Look at something different
When the brain’s sympathetic nervous system is stressed by long discussions or overwhelming deadlines, our biology has us wired to freeze, flee, or fight. Look out the window or even at a picture of a vista so your brain will realize it’s safe to return to normal functioning, Fratantoni says. Mid-meeting? Use your peripheral vision to look sideways and calm your nervous system.
Tomorrow: Take a five minute break—five times
Fit in regular short breaks: “It’s amazing how quickly our brains can recharge,” Fratantoni says. No, social media and checking email don’t count—both require your brain’s information filters and processing.
The day after tomorrow: Organize your time in chunks
If you run out of gas during 90-minute work sessions, try time-management expert Set a timer for 25 to 50 minutes, then take a short break. Repeat four times, then take an extended break. “You’ll be more productive than if you’re continuously ‘on,’ ” says Kristin Schneider, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science. Your brain is busy—help it out!
This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Prevention.LORA SHINNLora combines a background in library science and journalism to write for general-audience magazines, newspapers and online media, along with custom publications, nonprofits and business clients.
The Gaon’s son testified that for fifty years his father did not sleep for more than two hours in a twenty-four hour period.