For some, it happens while preparing for exams. Others feel their attention slipping away while watching lecture videos. For this reporter, the hurdle occasionally assumes the form of writer’s block. Every student has faced the all-too-familiar struggle to concentrate. According to science, this inability to focus may be rooted in external factors. Evaluating your surroundings can help you identify and eliminate physical barriers to learning.
Reduce your exposure to blue light before bed
There is little doubt that sleep deprivation impairs your ability to focus. However, what’s lesser known is that devices with electronic screens, such as smartphones, tablets and laptops, could be diminishing your quality of sleep.
According to sleep researchers from Harvard University, human circadian rhythms – our “biological clocks” – are programmed to respond differently to various forms of light. Exposure to blue light, frequently emitted by laptop or cell phone screens, suppresses the body’s secretion of melatonin, a hormone that induces drowsiness. Our bodies also react to blue light by creating hormones that energize us and make us hungry. Reducing exposure to artificial light can improve your ability to fall asleep, your quality of sleep, and therefore your ability to concentrate.
Setting aside electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime is the most straightforward way of eliminating blue light-related sleep problems, but there are other paths for those who just can’t part with their devices. For example, consider using blue light filtering software. F.lux adjusts your computer’s display according to the time of day. Towards dusk, this free software subtly increases the warmth of your screen display, reducing the emission of blue light. Many smartphone features and applications perform similar functions, such as “Night Shift” mode on iPhones. It’s not a perfect solution, but it may help!
And on the subject of light, there are studies that show that daylight improves alertness and productivity. Try to get some studying done when and where you can indirectly get natural daytime light.
Pay attention to your posture
If you find yourself experiencing neck pain or backaches after a study session, consider adjusting your seating arrangement. Research shows that prolonged physical discomfort diminishes one’s ability to concentrate and retain information, not to mention the long-term health implications it might have. Check out our story on staying fit while you sit for other ideas!
Find a quiet environment to study in
According to Mark A. W. Andrews, a physiology professor at Seton Hill University, stress resulting from background noise may decrease higher brain function, impairing learning and memory. Andrews says that long-term exposure to background noise does not desensitize listeners to its negative effects, so even if you think you are tuning it out, it may still be affecting you.
To optimize your ability to concentrate, strive to study in an environment with minimal noise, such as a library or an office. To make it even better, make it visually quiet too. Clutter in your workspace can distract and stress you.
By Maha Ansari
For more articles, see CUOL’s story archive.