Think back to a time when you were trying to study while feeling tired, hungry or restless. Your eyes get heavy, thoughts drift to food or sleep, and you feel itchy in your own skin. No matter how much effort you put into focusing on your work it still seems to drag on endlessly. This is because you are attempting to work in conditions that are less than ideal for learning.
It can be very hard to focus your attention on work when there are distractions surrounding you, and even harder if the distractions are coming from within you. Making sure to take care of your body and mind is the first step to creating conditions that are conducive to learning.
Help Yourself Study
Some ways for students to prepare both before and while studying are:
- Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation can lead to trouble focusing and a lack of concentration. According to webmd.com, not getting enough sleep can weaken learning capacity and later recollection of information.
- Sleep within a few hours of studying. Research conducted on students who received around six or more hours of sleep each night found that those students who slept after learning remembered more than those who stayed awake. Sleeping appears to help seal in the recently learned information, specifically the type of learning necessary to create new associations. Another study found that napping after learning new information can also help retain the information.
- Eat well. This includes eating the right amount and eating nutritious foods. Aside from the simple distraction of feeling hungry, studies have found that concentration is improved by healthy eating. Avoid eating foods high in sugar and fat because these cause energy levels to spike rather than remain stable. Some healthy snacks include: oatmeal with a spoonful of peanut butter and berries, an apple and cheese, yogurt with a handful of nuts, a glass of chocolate milk, or bread spread with mashed avocado and topped with sliced cucumber.
- Take short, regular breaks. An article in The New York Times discussed recent research which further evidences the idea that frequent breaks are more beneficial to productivity and creativity than working straight through mental tasks. This is because the mind gets weary and needs that time to rest and restore. The recommended amount of time that should be spent taking a break varies, ranging from a 15 minute break for every 30 minutes spent studying to a 10 minute break for every hour spent studying. Break ideas include: reading a book or magazine, deep breathing exercises, stepping outside to enjoy the fresh air, stretching, spending time with an animal, drinking tea or another beverage, or going for a short walk. [link to the forest bathing article here?]
Students Share Their Strategies
Some other study tips that students have shared include:
- Not studying on the day of the test
- Chewing gum while studying
- Listening to classical music or focus music (YouTube is a good resource for this)
- Study in a clean room
- Walking backwards before an exam (There may be something behind this. A Dutch study found that after people walked a few steps backwards they had greater mental control.)
Where To Go From Here
Making sure to create a nice, comfortable atmosphere for learning can make the experience more effective and enjoyable. Find what works for you and stick to it, but continue experimenting from time to time. After you’ve prepared yourself to study, the next step is to ensure the way that you are studying is the most effective use of your time, and I will cover this topic in a subsequent post.