How to Put Yourself in the Best State for Learning

Does this scenario sound familiar to you?

You’ve switched your laptop on and plugged it in, pulled up the websites and resources that you need.

Your books or reports are on your desk in front of you, with your pens and highlighters ready to go beside them.

You have a notepad at the ready, and a Word document or presentation slide or spreadsheet open, the cursor blinking and waiting for you to get to work.

But you’re stuck.

You might be having trouble focusing, or you might be so tired you can’t seem to think straight.

Maybe you’re having brain fog, or the amount of work you have to do has you feeling too overwhelmed to function.

If you’ve ever been in a situation like this before, you’ve probably wished there was a way to break yourself out of this unproductive state.

Here’s the good news – by looking at neuroscience, you can use science-proven strategies to get yourself out of your productivity slump and into the best state for learning!

Table of Contents

1. Get Some Morning Light

2. Get Proper Sleep

3. Get Some Early Morning Exercise

4. Use Physiological Sighs

5. Mind Your Caffeine

5 Strategies to Put Yourself in the Best State to Learn

1. Get Some Morning Light

How to Put Yourself in the Best State for Learning

You’ve likely seen plenty of magazine articles and social media posts talking about how great it is to wake up along with the sunrise.

But did you know that there are actual science-backed benefits to doing so?

In fact, waking up and exposing yourself to morning sunlight doesn’t only shift you into a state of alertness and focus to take on the day.

It also helps set up your sleep schedule, so you get better, sounder sleep – which is critical for learning!

Here’s how.

When the light-detecting cells in your eyes detect early morning sunlight, they signal for the release of the hormone cortisol.

Cortisol is sometimes called the stress hormone – in high degrees, and especially later in the evening, it does make you feel more stressed out and anxious.

However, this early morning release of cortisol is the healthy kind. The steady pulses of it help wake you up, signaling to the rest of your body that it has to be alert and focused now.

It also sets the timer on your sleep hormone, melatonin, for some 12-14 hours later.

The more frequently you expose yourself to early morning light, the more the connection between your eyes and nervous system learns to anticipate it.

And this is what gets you waking up earlier naturally!

So, try to wake up early and expose yourself to some natural early morning sunlight.

Of course, the degree of sunlight you get depends on where you live and conditions like weather and infrastructure.

If the sunlight is too stark, just a couple of seconds of exposure works. If it’s overcast, you might have to take a little longer, around 10 minutes or so.

While it’s best to get direct sunlight, if this is inconvenient you can also use an artificial bright light instead.

2. Get Proper Sleep

How to Put Yourself in the Best State for Learning

Like you read earlier, sleep is critical for learning.

This isn’t just because you’ll be tired if you don’t get enough sleep.

Even when you’re in dreamland, your brain is still learning.

Neuroscientists believe that sleep is necessary to help what you’ve learned stick in your memory.

It’s during this time that your hippocampus and neocortex look through what you learned during the day and try to make sense of it.

This not only helps process what you learned into long-term memory, but also lets you come up with original ideas and solutions to problems.

In fact, neuroscientists find that you are at your most creative when your brain is in a state of calm.

This is similar to how you feel right after you’ve woken up, when your brain is in its alpha brain wave state.

Out of the four brain wave states, alpha, beta, theta and gamma, the alpha brain wave state is where you’re both alert but calm.

If you’ve ever gone a night without sleep and found yourself unable to remember what you learned the day before, this is why.

This is also why you’ll likely struggle to come up with creative solutions and ideas if you aren’t well-rested.

total recall learningmastering habits

memory skills made easy

Moreover, when you don’t get enough Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, your amygdalae, the almond-sized nuclei in your brain, grow bigger.

Your amygdalae regulate your memory along with emotions like anxiety, stress and fear. Researchers find that people who don’t get enough sleep stay reactive to negative emotions from the day before.

If you’ve ever woken up feeling upset, irritable, or moody, it could be that you didn’t get enough sound sleep.

Along with the bad mood, lack of sleep also builds up a waste product in your amygdalae and other parts of your brain.

This causes brain fog and makes it harder for you to focus, learn and remember.

How Can You Get Better Sleep?

How to Put Yourself in the Best State for Learning

Early morning sunlight exposure is one way of maintaining a good sleep schedule.

Neuroscientists also recommend exposure to the specific wavelengths and quality of sunset.

This basically helps delay your sleep mechanism just a little bit, so you don’t end up sleeping too early and waking up in the middle of the night.

In an ideal situation, your sleep cycle would naturally align with sunrise and sunset. But the reason why it doesn’t is because you’re also exposed to artificial light throughout the day.

Specifically, you’re almost constantly surrounded by blue light, from the screens of your devices, fluorescent lights indoors and even the streetlamps outside.

Naturally occurring blue light is safe, and actually good for you. It helps suppress melatonin, and keeps you alert and awake through the day.

But when your eyes detect artificial blue light after sunrise, the suppression of melatonin can lead to you struggling to fall asleep.

Plus, your eyes are naturally bad at focusing on blue light, since this particular light wavelength scatters a lot.

As a result, your eyes are working that much harder when you’re spending hours looking at a screen. This can lead to headaches, brain fog, and many more symptoms of Digital Eye Strain (DES).

The best method of countering blue light is putting your devices away a couple hours before bed.

But since it might not always be practical to completely stop using screens in the evening, look into blue light blockers.

You might find red-tinted glasses useful, since these completely block out blue light. There are also blue light blocking protective screens for devices, and photochromatic lenses for your glasses.

You can also switch out your LED lamps for orange- and red-toned lighting instead.

3. Get Some Early Morning Exercise

How to Put Yourself in the Best State for LearningPlenty of research points to the benefits of aerobic exercise for better focus and in managing stress and anxiety.

A heightened level of physical activity gets your lungs working harder, drawing in more oxygen. Your heart works faster too, pumping more of this oxygen-rich blood to your brain.

All the nutrients and oxygen your brain receives helps it create connections between its brain cells or neurons faster. This in turn helps you learn and create memory faster.

This also helps your brain create neurons, in parts of your brain involved in learning and memory like the hippocampus!

That’s not all. Exercise helps stimulate the release of chemicals that create the best conditions for alertness and focus.

It releases adrenaline and acetylcholine, which make you highly focused and alert. It also stimulates dopamine and serotonin, which keep you motivated and in a good mood!

The cognitive boost from working out early helps you unlock mental sharpness and energy through the morning and into noon!

4. Use Physiological Sighs

How to Put Yourself in the Best State for LearningWhether or not you’re aware of it, you are constantly sighing – in fact, you sigh about a dozen times every hour.

This is your body’s in-built mechanism for offloading carbon dioxide.

But the great news is the fact that you can consciously, voluntarily use physiological sighs to hit the brakes on stress.

When you’re stressed, the little pockets of air in your lungs, your alveoli, collapse.

This leads to a build-up of carbon dioxide in your bloodstream, which in turn makes you feel stressed, anxious and jittery.

Now, when you use a physiological sigh, it helps pop those alveoli back open, and you offload more carbon dioxide from your system.

A physiological sigh goes like this – breathe in deeply, twice. First take in a deep breath, and then sneak in a quick “top-up” breath at the end. Do this through your nose.

And then, breathe out deeply, through your mouth.

Do this a couple of times, and you’ll notice how much calmer you feel after about 10 or 15 physiological sighs!

5. Mind Your Caffeine

How to Put Yourself in the Best State for LearningYou might be relying on your coffee first thing in the morning to wake you up.

But neuroscience shows how drinking caffeine first thing in the morning might actually be a mistake.

If you drink coffee right after waking up, you’re probably familiar with the midday crash. You start feeling lethargic, moody, sluggish and sleepy.

This happens because of the relationship between caffeine and the molecule adenosine.

Simply put, adenosine makes you drowsy. When you wake up, your adenosine levels are low, and it builds up the longer you stay awake.

Now, caffeine interferes with the work of adenosine by binding to the adenosine receptors. This is how it helps wake you up – by blocking adenosine from doing its job.

However, once the caffeine is out of your system, all the built-up adenosine finally gets to bind with its receptors.

This is what causes your caffeine crash to happen.

So, rather than drinking coffee right after waking up, when your adenosine levels are already low, wait a little.

Around two hours after waking up, caffeine gives your alertness a natural boost since the adenosine has built up. This can then carry you through the day longer.

total recall learningmastering habits

memory skills made easy

It also helps you avoid having to reach for more coffee midway through the day.

Although different people have different levels of tolerance, caffeine can stay in your bloodstream for up to 10 hours.

So, the later in the day you have a cup, the more likely that it might interfere with your sleep at night.

Moreover, too much caffeine can actually make feelings of anxiety and stress worse by constantly keeping you in a highly alert state.

There are other risks to relying on coffee as your pick-me-up. You might experience withdrawal symptoms like headaches and jitters if you’re not constantly drinking coffee.

This is why I personally prefer green tea – especially organic, ceremonial grade matcha.

Green and black teas contain the amino acid l-theanine, which counters the jitteriness you’d get from coffee.

It helps make you feel more alert yet calm, and can even help ease feelings of anxiety and promote better sleep!
With these 5 brain-backed strategies, I hope you now know exactly how to put yourself in the best state for learning!

Pat Wyman is the CEO of and an internationally noted brain coach known as America’s Most Trusted Learning Expert.

Pat’s superpower is helping people learn, read and remember everything faster. She has helped over half a million people in schools and corporations such as Microsoft, Intel and Google improve their lives with her learning strategies, learning styles inventory and courses, inclluding Total Recall Learning™. 

Pat is the best-selling author of more than 15 books, a university instructor, mom and golden retriever lover!

Related article