Taking a break: Planning your day in quarantine


Arely Sun

Taking the time to rest can often be difficult, especially when we often prioritize the completion of tasks over making space in our schedules for brief respites.

by Arely Sun, Lifestyle Editor

Every day since quarantine started, you find yourself exhausted after spending a day hunched over a screen, taking meeting after meeting. After school, you dive headfirst into a mountain of work, draining the rest of your energy. At the end of your hard work, you reward yourself with a long nap to compensate for the late-night study session.

Taking the time to rest can often be difficult, especially when we often prioritize the completion of tasks over making space in our schedules for brief respites. Director of Health Services Debra Nott suggests allocating specific times to disconnect from our work.

“I think we all know the importance of taking breaks, both for physical and emotional reasons. So why is it so hard to make it happen? I think it’s because we plan our work, but we don’t plan our rest,” Nott said. “It’s too easy, at the end of the day, to realize we have spent 90 percent of our time seated.” 

Nott also emphasizes the importance of using breaks to maintain eye health. Because humans have developed to become adept at what we do most, when we spend too much time reading or staring at a screen, our eyes become accustomed to focusing up close, resulting in a loss of distance vision.

“During your class breaks, go outside and look far away. Throw a ball to your dog. Look at the mountains if you can see them through the smoke,” she said. “And about every 20 minutes or so, look up from your book or your laptop and look around the room and out a window.”

An alternate method of resting our eyes is napping, an ever-popular mode of relaxation that has become even more useful during quarantine. According to Dr. Manpreet Singh, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Lucile Salter Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, napping can help with sleep deficit and therefore can provide benefits for brain development in teens.

“Catch up sleep [is] really important for your brain development and your body if it’s needing more sleep. It’s probably first and foremost a developmental need,” Dr. Singh said. “Your brain is growing, so getting those naps in is actually really good for your brain development.” 

In addition, according to the National Sleep Foundation, short 20-minute naps can improve performance, restore alertness and reduce mistakes and accidents. These “power naps” are the most beneficial when taken between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. or right after lunch. However, not all naps have positive effects as longer slumbers can cause sleep inertia, a state of grogginess and disorientation after awakening from deep sleep, and can dysregulate your natural sleep cycle.

“If [naps] disrupt your sleep schedule too much, and it causes you to stay up later, and then you’re in that same vicious cycle, you end up losing the value of that restorative nap,” Dr. Singh said. “So regularity is really important in making sure that your naps are not interfering with your natural sleep-wake cycles so that you can get a good restful sleep at night.”

While we often view breaks as a chance to relax and “recharge our batteries,” many breaktime activities provide numerous benefits in other aspects of wellness. Even the shortest breaks have the potential to be fruitful. Nott suggests using passing periods and class breaks for simple exercises such as jumping jacks, which take minimal time and can increase heart rate quickly. Psychology teacher Dr. Julie Turchin also highlights the mental benefits of exercise.

“For a lot of people, exercise puts you in a state that we call flow, which is almost like a meditative state. It’s something that you can do that engages your body and your mind but not in a way [where] you have to think really hard, but you’re also not bored,” Dr. Turchin said. “And it turns out that spending time in that flow state is good for our well being and mental health too.”

According to Headspace, an online healthcare company, among the benefits of achieving flow state are a heavy sense of concentration, a sense of clarity, freedom from worry and positive emotions such as happiness, qualities that enhance learning abilities and overall mental health.

In addition to mental benefits, taking care of your body through certain activities can lead to developing a keystone habit, a practice that leads to other beneficial actions. For example, exercising regularly may cause changes in a person’s diet, provide more energy throughout the day and improve the quality of sleep.

“When you hear exercise is important, it’s not really just that exercise is important,” Dr. Turchin said. “It’s also that people who exercise regularly seem to then build these other good habits of nutrition, sleep, stress reduction [and] routine. And everything together has this really outsized effect.”