Sometimes, despite your best intentions, you might have noticed your attention wanders during class.
For whatever reason, you just can’t seem to focus.
These are all universal experiences – and if this only happens every once in a while, you can cut yourself some slack if your attention strays.
But if you consistently have trouble focusing in class, there’s a chance there are some underlying issues at play.
Fortunately, there are easy, science-backed fixes. Letss take a look at the best 5 ways to improve focus in class!
Best 5 Ways to Improve Focus in Class
1. Eat the Right Type of Foods
Many students make the mistake of consuming something packed with artificial sugar – like an energy drink, sweetened coffees, sugary cereals and snack foods, in order to power themselves through class.
And while sugar does lead to a temporary dopamine spike (a neurotransmitter that gets your brain alert, focused, and ready to learn), it’s also followed by a lower blood sugar which makes you tired and unable to focus.
So, if you’re wondering why, despite bouncing into class earlier with your donut and coffee in hand, why you feel so incredibly sleepy and unable to concentrate later – this is your answer.
Sugary foods may help for a minute but a long-term dopamine deficit follows.
As a result, you feel sluggish, irritable, and unable to concentrate.
Similarly, deep-fried foods and fast foods are just as bad for you.
It might seem like a quick and tasty lunch option before your afternoon classes, but the extra saturated fats and salts in these foods slow down your cognitive functioning.
This is why you feel so sleepy and lazy after a fast food meal – gratifying, I know, but not conducive to improve focus in class!
So, switch out the artificial sugar for some naturally-occurring fruit sugars.
Flavonoid-containing berries and dark chocolate, and Omega-3 containing nuts, seeds, and fish, etc. are better options because they enhance the functioning of your brain and your focus.
Tyrosine, an amino acid found in meats, dairy products, nuts, legumes, beans, etc., plays a big part in dopamine production – so include these foods in your diet!
Can’t work without your caffeine fix?
Switch out the energy drinks and canned coffee for teas (particularly matcha) – these contain the amino acid l-theanine, which stimulates neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin production.
As a result, you feel more alert and able to focus – without the jitters you might get from coffee.
2. Get Enough Sleep
There’s almost an expectation that students aren’t getting the best amount of sleep for learning and and focus.
All the homework, assignment deadlines, studying for exams, along with extracurriculars and hobbies, just don’t leave enough hours in the day.
Therefore, you might not be a stranger to all-nighters.
But ultimately, not getting enough sleep or staying up the whole night studying, is bad for you – not just for your focus the next morning but also for your learning.
Neuroscientists have established that when you sleep, parts of your brain involved in learning and recall are active.
Your hippocampus, neocortex, amygdala, etc. are working to transform what you encountered during the day into long-term memories.
Subsequently, people who sleep after learning new information are better able to recall it than those who stay awake without any opportunity for the brain to consolidate memories.
Studies find that even a short nap in between learning and sitting a test improves results compared to not giving your brain time to rest at all.
The key is to plan ahead and start early, so you have enough time to meet your deadlines without sacrificing sleep (and as a result, your learning, recall, and focus abilities improve).
3. Handwrite Your Notes
If you’re used to using your laptop or tablet to take notes, this might be a big reason why you’re struggling to concentrate in class.
Compared to a notebook explicitly dedicated to your notes, technology opens up access to a bunch of other things you could be doing.
Checking your social media, playing an online game, working on a different assignment for a different subject altogether – you’re probably guilty of at least one of these, right?
You’re not alone.
One study finds that students who used laptops in class were likely to use them for non-class related activities about two-thirds of the time.
That’s not the only reason you should switch to handwritten notes, though.
Studies also find that compared to people who took notes by typing them down, those who write their notes by hand have better recall of information and perform better in tests.
This is because when you’re typing up notes, you’re basically transcribing what you hear – almost word for word, without really processing the information.
On the other hand, because writing by hand is slower than typing, you have to listen, process the information, and then synthesize and compress it in a meaningful way to write it down.
As a result, you engage with the information more and can recall it better.
Since you have to listen carefully to take notes, you’ll find it helps improve focus in class!
Yes, you might have to wake up a bit earlier to go for a morning run or even a morning walk – but a little bit of exercise can do wonders for your concentration.
When you exercise, you’re sending lots of oxygenated blood up to your brain, which helps it process information and make neural connections (links between your brain cells for new knowledge) better.
At the same time, you stimulate the production of endorphins and more dopamine and serotonin which are all the feel good neurotransmitters in your brain.
Not only does this put you in a great mood, but it also helps you feel alert and ready to focus in class.
Doesn’t exercise sound like a great way to boost your focus?
5. Mindful Breathing
When you breathe deeply, your brain waves slow down to alpha waves.
Compared to beta waves, which are when you are super super alert and feel wired, alpha waves make you feel calm, clear-headed, and ready to focus.
You might feel unfocused in class because there’s just so much going on, you feel overwhelmed.
A few deep breathing exercises – which you can do at any time, anywhere – can help center you by stimulating your vagus nerve.
This sends signals out to your body to calm your heart rate, muscles, blood pressure, etc.
The act of focusing on your breathing also helps you tune out your external situation and focus inward.
As a result, by focusing on counting your breaths (for example, using the 4-7-8 technique – breathe in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds, and breathe out for 8 seconds), you recalibrate.
Your mind is clear, calm, and alert, to help improve focus in class!
Everyone experiences distraction once in a while in the classroom.
But if you find that this is a persistent problem you face, why not try out these five tips?
You will notice the difference – and I can’t wait to hear about it, so do share your experiences below!
Pat Wyman is a learning expert, university instructor, best-selling author and the CEO of HowtoLearn.com. She invites you to take the free Learning Styles Quiz on the home page.
Her courses, Total Recall Learning™ for Students, Total Recall Learning for Professionals™, Total Recall Speed Reading™and Total Recall Memory™ have benefited over half a million learners with higher grades, increased productivity and the ability to know how to read faster, learn and remember anything.
She’s worked with people in such corporations as Microsoft, Raychem and Sandvine and has won several life-time achievement awards for her work. Pat is a mom, golden retriever lover and big time San Francisco Giants fan! Come on by if you’re ever at a Giant’s game and she’ll welcome you with open arms.