When it comes to work, school, and other tasks, many cultures glorify “the grind.” The ability to focus and work intently for hours at a time – no matter how boring or challenging a task is – is seen as desirable. The reality is humans can’t function this way. We need breaks. Here are ten reasons why taking breaks is important:
#1. Our brains benefit from focus and “unfocus”
Most people understand the benefits of focus, but the human brain can’t focus constantly for too long. Too much focus drains our energy and when we have low energy, we’re more likely to make mistakes, behave more recklessly, and interact negatively with other people. Research suggests your brain is healthiest when it’s allowed to switch between states of focus and “unfocus.”
#2. Taking breaks helps with decision-making
When we’re in a state of “unfocus,” it doesn’t mean the brain turns off. When we’re unfocusing, a brain circuit called the “default mode network” is engaged. It’s only engaged when we stop intentionally focusing on something. In this state, the brain goes through memories, switching between the past, present, and future. This blending of memories leads to new connections and ideas, leading to better decisions!
#3. Taking breaks helps with learning
Scientists know that memories are consolidated during sleep, but resting while awake could accomplish something similar. In a study from the National Institutes of Health, researchers mapped out brain activity in healthy volunteers. They found that when the volunteers rested after practicing a code, their brains quickly replayed faster versions of the code. The more they replayed the activity, the better they did in later practice sessions. This suggests both practice and rest are important when learning a skill.
#4. Taking breaks can boost creativity
Most of us know the feeling of focusing too long. We feel zapped of creativity. Research supports the importance of breaks and regaining creative thinking. In a study on how breaks affected individual brainstorming, researchers found that participants who took breaks came up with more ideas in the final part of the brainstorming session than those who didn’t take a break.
#5. Taking breaks reduces stress
Persistent stress can lead to burnout, which is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. People don’t experience burnout after one long workday, but if every workday is stressful, burnout is often around the corner. Building breaks into every work or school day is essential to long-term health, especially if you have a high-stress life. The American Psychology Association supports this, recommending that workers take their vacation days, establish work-life boundaries, and “switch off” from work.
#6. Taking breaks is good for your vision
According to the American Optometric Association, the average American worker spends seven hours a day on the computer. Even if your job doesn’t require much screen use, we use computers and phones for social media, movies, and more. This can cause “computer vision syndrome” or “digital eye strain.” Symptoms include headaches, blurry vision, dry eyes, and neck and shoulder pain. Taking a break to stretch and rest your eyes helps. The AOA recommends resting your eyes for at least 15 minutes for every two hours of screen use.
#7. Taking a break gives you time to eat
The hustle-and-grind mentality encourages many people to ignore their hunger cues. Rather than take a break, many people keep working and trying to focus. When you don’t eat, however, it’s much harder to be productive. Scheduling breaks in your day for food prevents the sluggishness and irritability of hunger while also giving your brain a chance to recharge. Organizations should take note, too, and make sure to give employees sufficient lunch breaks.
#8. Taking a break keeps you safe
Fatigue is one of the top causes of on-the-job accidents. According to OSHA, accident and injury rates are 30% higher during night shifts. Working 12 hours a day is linked to a 37% increased risk of injury. Breaks are essential to keeping workers safe, so organizations must allow rest times and prioritize worker safety. The primary responsibility is on the organization as most workers would likely take more breaks if they were encouraged and not merely tolerated.
#9. Children need breaks, too
Breaks during a school day are just as important as breaks during a workday. Unfortunately, many schools are limiting or even removing recess time for students. This is a mistake because longer breaks benefit kids in a variety of ways. They get physical exercise and opportunities to develop social skills, both of which help them in the classroom and throughout their lives. Keeping kids inside all day without any breaks does them a disservice.
#10. Longer breaks (like vacations) are good for your heart
While not everyone can take big vacations every year, longer breaks away from work or school can protect your heart health. A nine-year study from the State University of New York at Oswego studied middle-aged men at high risk for coronary heart disease. They found the frequency of yearly vacations was associated with a reduced risk of all-cause mortality and mortality due to heart disease. There are other factors, of course, but considering that cardiovascular diseases are the world’s leading cause of death, it’s good news that taking a long break to relax could reduce your risk.