Learning Something New? Take a Break

Taking short breaks may help your brain learn new skills, according to new study

(RxWiki News) They say practice makes perfect, but taking breaks may make perfect come a little more easily.

A new study found that taking short breaks while learning a new skill may help the brain learn.

Taking breaks appeared to cause the brain to repeat what it had just learned more rapidly during rest. And repeating the new information more often during period of rest appeared to help study participants learn.

This finding could be useful for anyone hoping to learn a new skill, but it may also have health implications for people who have suffered brain-related injuries.

“Our results support the idea that wakeful rest plays just as important a role as practice in learning a new skill," said senior study author Dr. Leonardo G. Cohen, of the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), in a press release. "It appears to be the period when our brains compress and consolidate memories of what we just practiced. Understanding this role of neural replay may not only help shape how we learn new skills but also how we help patients recover skills lost after neurological injury like stroke.”

To learn how breaks affect the brain while learning a new skill, Dr. Cohen and team monitored 33 healthy, right-handed volunteers using a sensitive brain scanning technique. They asked volunteers to type a five-digit code as many times as possible with their left hands for 10 seconds. Then, they took a 10-second break. They repeated this process 35 times.

During the rest periods, participants' brains appeared to be replaying the code at a much faster rate. The study authors were able to detect this because they had recorded the pattern seen when participants were actively typing the code.

This study also found that participants whose brains appeared to replay the code more frequently during breaks were more likely to perform better on the active test of typing the code. The improvements from taking breaks seen in the participants overall appeared to be better than those tied to a night's sleep, these researchers noted.

The parts of the brain responsible for motor control appeared to be communicating with other regions of the brain. The study authors suggested that their findings could be helpful in stroke rehabilitation. But more research on this topic will be necessary.

This study was published in the journal Cell Reports.

NINDS funded this research. The study authors disclosed no potential conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
June 21, 2021
Last Updated:
June 22, 2021