The Value of Microbreaks
In 1885, the German psychologist Herman Ebinghaus discovered something very peculiar. He was a psychologist who was very interested in the study of memory. In one of his experiments, he compared 38 repetitions over three days, with 68 repetitions all in one go. The result in memory perfomance was the same. So, the time between learning, or spacing interval, seems as important as the time spent studying.
It is well known that more repetitions improve memory. Unfortunately, repetitions have diminishing returns.
It has been shown that two spaced learning sessions can be twice as efficient as two learning session without spacing.1 Moreover this so-called spacing effect seems to be very general between types of learning. Whether it is language learning, mathematics, or difficult choreographies!
Twice as efficient? That’s great! So, why do we need rest in between learning?
😴 What happens during rest?
Much, if not all skill learning occurs […] during rest. 2
During rest,the neurons in the brain are rewired. It is sometimes explained as more repetitions - i.e. while resting after learning something, the events will be re-played.
The actual physical rewiring of the brain is crucial for long-term memory. This rewiring mostly happens during periods of sleep. However, we now know that even very short wakeful rest states can make a big difference!
In one recent experiment2, Hippocampal replay, or the replaying of events, was studied in participants who were asked to practice a simple finger motion exercise. Every so often, the participants were asked to take a 10-second micro break. At the same time, their brain activity was measured with an MEG. It was found that, during these short rest states, the brain activity mimiced the activity during the exercise, but 10 to 20 times faster! Meaning, that in those short micro rests, the exercise was played back in the brain, very fast! This lead to participants taking micro breaks to learn the exercise much more quickly than a control group without breaks.
⏰ Why use the MicroBreaks timer?
As opposed to other study timers, most of which employ the Pomodoro method of 25 minutes work, 5 minutes rest, the MicroBreaks.co study timer includes micro rests in addition to longer study periods. During these micro breaks you stop, close your eyes, and think of nothing for a bit. Deep in your brain, however, many repetions of the stuff you had just been learning are going on, at a staggering 10 to 20 times the speed! The interval between these mico breaks is random. This avoids you expecting rest and losing focus prematurely. You can easily modify the length and occurence of the micro breaks.
If you study with microBreaks.co on in the background, and take the small 10 second rests while prompted, you might see spectacular increases in your learning speed!
Kornmeier, J. and Sosic-Vasic, Z., 2012. Parallels between spacing effects during behavioral and cellular learning. frontiers in human neuroscience, 6, p.203. ↩︎
Buch, Ethan R., et al. “Consolidation of human skill linked to waking hippocampo-neocortical replay.” Cell reports 35.10 (2021): 109193. ↩︎ ↩︎