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How often does your brain need a break?

Our brains are constantly processing information throughout the day. Whether we are focused intensely on work, switching between tasks, or relaxing after a long day, our brains need breaks to recharge and refresh.

How often should you take breaks?

There are no hard and fast rules on how often you should take breaks, as it depends on various factors like the type of work you’re doing, your personal needs and energy levels, etc. However, some general recommendations are:

  • Take a 5-10 minute break every 45-60 minutes during intense mental work
  • Take a 15-20 minute break every 2-3 hours to step away from the computer, stretch your legs, and give your eyes a rest
  • Take a 30-60 minute lunch break to eat and completely detach from work
  • Take regular screen breaks by looking away from your screen for 20 seconds every 20 minutes

The key is to listen to your mind and body. If you feel your productivity or focus slipping, your eyes straining, or your energy dipping, it’s usually a sign you need to take a break.

Why are breaks important?

Breaks are vital for our brains and bodies to recharge and continue functioning at their best. Here are some of the benefits of taking regular breaks:

  • Rest and restore focus: Breaks give your brain a chance to rest and recover from sustained mental effort, helping restore your focus and concentration.
  • Process new information: Your brain continues processing information during breaks, helping strengthen learning and memory.
  • Spark creativity: Letting your mind rest can allow for new insights and creative connections.
  • Reduce burnout: Taking regular breaks can prevent mental fatigue and burnout.
  • Relieve eye strain: Looking away from screens gives eyes a much-needed rest.
  • Improve wellbeing: Breaks boost energy, mood, and motivation.

Types of breaks

Not all breaks need to be the same. In fact, incorporating different types of breaks can help maximize the benefits. Here are some examples:

Passive breaks

  • Short 1-5 minute microbreaks – e.g. close your eyes, listen to a song
  • 10-15 minute screen breaks – e.g. step outside, make a cup of tea

Active breaks

  • Stretch breaks – e.g. neck rolls, shoulder shrugs, body stretches
  • Movement breaks – e.g. take a quick walk, climb some stairs
  • Breathing exercises – e.g. deep belly breathing, alternate nostril breathing

Social breaks

  • Chat with coworkers – e.g. discuss non-work topics
  • Eat lunch with others – e.g. leave your desk to eat
  • Call friends and family – e.g. catch up over the phone

Outside breaks

  • Get outside – e.g. take a walk around the block
  • Change of scenery – e.g. work in a cafe or park

Combining different types of breaks throughout your day helps gives both your mind and body a chance to refresh.

Tips for taking effective breaks

Here are some tips to help make the most of your breaks so they are truly restorative:

  • Fully disengage from work tasks and thoughts
  • Avoid screens if possible since they can be mentally draining
  • Do an activity you find relaxing, enjoyable or interesting
  • Get moving or up on your feet to energize your body
  • Spend time outdoors or connect with others if possible
  • Avoid social media scrolling which tends to increase mental fatigue
  • Listen to your body over break duration – take more time if needed

Keeping track of breaks

Here are some ways to help remember to take breaks throughout your day:

  • Set a timer or reminders on your phone/computer
  • Use apps or programs to prompt you to take breaks
  • Place visual reminders around your workspace
  • Schedule breaks on your calendar
  • Pair breaks with established habits – e.g. after each chapter or milestone
Time of Day Break Type Example Activities
Mid-morning Passive microbreak Close eyes, deep breathing, stretch
Lunchtime Active break Eat lunch away from desk, take a walk
Mid-afternoon Screen break Make tea, chat with coworker
Late afternoon Social break Call friend or family member

Planning out different types of breaks at various times throughout the day helps ensure your brain gets the recovery it needs.

Signs you need to take more breaks

Watch for these signs from your mind and body that indicate you need more break time:

  • Decreased focus and concentration
  • More mistakes or careless errors
  • Trouble recalling information
  • Fatigue, low energy
  • Increased irritability or impatience
  • Strained or tired eyes
  • Feeling restless or fidgety
  • Headaches or mental fogginess
  • Lack of motivation
  • Feeling overwhelmed or burned out


Taking regular mental breaks is essential to productivity, performance, and wellbeing. While there are no hard rules on timing, aim to take a break every 45-60 minutes of focused work. Mix up passive and active breaks and disengage fully from your work. Stay in tune with your mind and body’s signals to determine when you need more rest. Building in opportunities throughout the day to give your brain a timeout allows you to refuel, refresh and bring your best focus when it matters most.