6 Daily Habits for Faster Learning

You might think that learning is what happens when you’re actively studying something.

But here’s the secret – everything you do, all day, from waking up to eating to exercise to sleeping, can impact learning!

These daily activities and habits influence things like how alert you are, your ability to focus, how motivated you feel.

They influence the conditions that affect whether or not you’re able to learn and recall what you learned successfully.

And by knowing how to best adjust your daily habits, you can take greater control of your learning success!

Table of Contents

1. Wake Up Early

2. Avoid Bright Light in the Evenings

3. Get Some Light at Sunset

4. Start Your Day with a Cold Shower

5. Control Your Caffeine

6. Mind What You Eat

6 Daily Habits for Faster Learning

1. Wake Up Early

6 Daily Habits for Faster LearningAnd I don’t mean this as generic “the early bird gets the worm” advice. Waking up early has science proven benefits for your learning and memory!

Do you wake up groggy and take some time to be able to properly focus and learn? Get some early morning light!

When cells in your eyes receive early morning sunlight, they send off signals to your circadian clock.

Among other things, this clock regulates your sleep-wakefulness cycle. It’s a natural, biological system that runs on a 24-hour schedule. And light is one of the main factors that affects it!

The light in the early morning has the specific blue-yellow contrast that’s perfect for activating this system for wakefulness.

It sends off signals to trigger the release of the hormone cortisol throughout your system.

Cortisol sets about waking the rest of your brain and body up. It lets all your internal systems know that it’s time to pay attention and be alert!

At the same time, the cortisol release also sets the timer on your sleep hormone, melatonin, for 12-16 hours later.

Proper sleep is another essential part of learning and memory, as you’ll see in more detail in the following sections.

Waking up early doesn’t just give you more time for everything you need to do.

It regulates the neurobiology of several of the systems involved in your learning.

You wouldn’t be able to access this level of focus and alertness with midday light.

The good news is that if you do this frequently, the connection between your eyes and circadian clock learns to anticipate morning light.

As a result, you’ll naturally find yourself waking up earlier!

2. Avoid Bright Light in the Evenings

6 Daily Habits for Faster LearningHave you ever gone camping, and noticed you tend to fall asleep close to dusk, and wake up at dawn?

Your body naturally syncs with the day-night cycle out in nature.

And the reason why this might not work in your everyday life too is bright artificial light.

Even after sunset, you’re surrounded by bright light sources. These could be your laptop or phone screens, fluorescent light bulbs, and more.

Several of these artificial light sources also emit blue light, which is especially bad for sleep since it suppresses melatonin.

Blue light during the day, whether from the sun or artificial sources, is great because by suppressing melatonin it keeps you alert.

But after dark, this suppression can delay your sleep schedule until you struggle to fall asleep.

total recall learningmastering habits

memory skills made easy

And sleep is a critical part of your learning process.

Your brain uses this time to process what you learned through the day. It’s not an opportunity your brain gets when you’re awake, since it’s constantly scanning, filtering, and processing your environment.

As you sleep, your hippocampus and neocortex review what you learned and try to make sense of it in context of what you already know. This non-linear shuffling around of information also lets your brain come up with more novel ideas, and solutions to problems.

It’s during sleep that information also gets shifted around and worked into your long-term memory.

Have you ever pulled an all-nighter only to realize that you forgot most of what you learned not long after?

This is why.

Your brain needs quality sleep to create long-term memory, and to enhance your creativity, cognitive processing, problem-solving, and more.

Meanwhile, if you miss even one night of sleep, a waste product, beta-amyloid, builds up in parts of your brain.

This might be why you experience brain fog – you might feel groggy and muddled, unable to focus or recall information. You have a hard time learning and retaining information, and might feel cranky, irritable, or upset.

As you can see, sleep is extremely important for your learning.

6 Daily Habits for Faster Learning
And if you struggle to drift off at night and find it hard to learn the next morning, bright lights may be to blame.

Not only do blue light and bright lights tamp down your melatonin at night, they also affect your dopamine pathways.

Dopamine is the brain chemical which influences your motivation, helping narrow your focus down to achieve something.

Because bright light at night suppresses dopamine, you feel demotivated the next day, unable to stay alert or pay attention.

So, cut down on bright lights after dark.

Use blue blockers like photochromatic lenses and protective screens if you absolutely must use your devices in the evenings.

Switch out bright LED light bulbs for dimmer, orange or red tinted light bulbs.

These colored lights more closely emulate the natural light of sunset but remember – they can’t be too bright. Any type of bright light can disrupt your circadian rhythms after dark.

Another tip to remember is to choose lights closer to the ground, like floor lamps, instead of overhead lights.

The light-detecting cells in your eyes respond to overhead light from the sun. Overhead artificial lights might accidentally activate them after dark, too.

3. Get Some Light at Sunset

6 Daily Habits for Faster Learning

Now, you don’t have to completely live in darkness to avoid disrupting your circadian rhythms.

You don’t have to do something as drastic as ban devices at night or use the bathroom in the dark.

You can offset some of the effects of artificial light by getting light into your eyes at sunset.

Your light-detecting retinal cells get more sensitive throughout the day. This is why exposure to light in the evenings can easily wreak havoc on your circadian rhythms.

However, the blue-yellow light of sunset helps reduce this sensitivity a tad.

It buys you a little extra room to maneuver. Some Netflix or social media scrolling at night, or using the restroom, won’t doom you to a night without sleep.

Another great thing about getting this natural dusk light is that it delays your melatonin release just a little bit.

Thus, you don’t end up sleeping too early in the night, and don’t wake up too early in the morning!

4. Start Your Day with a Cold Shower

6 Daily Habits for Faster LearningIf you’re partial to hot showers, and the idea of a cold shower is making you cringe – I get it.

But despite not being pleasant, it’s scientifically proven to place you in a great state for learning.

Cold water, like an ice bath or jumping into an unheated pool, is a mild stressor.

It basically creates a state of short-term stress in your brain and body. And a little bit of stress can actually be a good thing.

The shock of the temperature change releases adrenaline in your body. It kicks in your fight-or-flight response, which basically gets your brain and body ready for action.

This in turn also stimulates release of acetylcholine, a brain chemical that helps sharpen your focus and alertness.

Cold showers can also cause huge spikes of dopamine, your motivation molecule.

Together, these three neurochemicals create the perfect conditions for learning. You feel alert, focused, motivated, and geared up to go!

Meanwhile, the temperature change causes your blood vessels to contrast, speeding up your heart rate, blood circulation and breathing.

Your brain starts receiving a lot more oxygen-enriched blood, helping it work faster creating connections between your brain cells.

This leads to faster learning and more efficient cognitive processing!

When you step out of a cold shower and feel uplifted and clearheaded, know that you’re not just feeling refreshed.

You’re actually in the best state to learn!

5. Control Your Caffeine

6 Daily Habits for Faster LearningJust like cold showers are a stressor, so is caffeine.

You might rely on it to wake you up and give you a boost through the day.

However, to understand why you need to know when and how much caffeine to take, you need to know how it works.

Caffeine basically wakes you up by interfering with the work of the molecule adenosine.

Adenosine makes you drowsy – it’s at its lowest when you’ve just woken up and builds up through the day.

Caffeine binds to your adenosine receptors, blocking off the drowsiness and keeping you alert.

But then, what about the caffeine crash?

You might be familiar with the feeling, partway through the day, where you’re suddenly exhausted and lethargic. You might even feel foggy-headed and a little moody.

This is because when the caffeine leaves your system, all the adenosine it’d been holding off binds with its receptors. The drowsiness kicks in again all at once. And you might then have to rely on more coffee to wake you up.

However, you can actually delay this midday crash and push it closer to the end of your day.

Remember, your adenosine levels are lowest when you wake up. So, if you drink coffee right after waking up, there’s not much adenosine built up for it to work against.

The caffeine leaves your system before the adenosine properly builds up through the day. And hence, you get that caffeine crash not long after.

total recall learningmastering habits

memory skills made easy

So, push back your first cup of coffee or tea for the day a couple of hours after waking up.

Your adenosine levels build up after a while. And this gives you a natural boost of alertness to carry you through the day.

This also means you’ll feel less inclined to have more caffeine to get through a midday crash. Caffeine can stay in your system for several hours. The later in the day you have some, the more likely that it’ll interfere with your sleep.

Plus, if you drink multiple cups of coffee, you might actually develop a bit of an addiction to it.

Caffeine causes your dopamine levels to spike up, which in moderation can be a good thing.

However, frequent spikes end up leading to withdrawal symptoms like headaches, brain fog, irritability, sluggishness and so on. It pushes you to keep having more coffee to alleviate those symptoms.

So, time your coffee right, and don’t drink too much!

6. Mind What You Eat

6 Daily Habits for Faster LearningHave you ever felt sleepy or tired after a meal?

Chances are the meal in question had a lot of carbs.

Foods like pasta, rice, bread, greasy fried foods and refined flour and sugar, contain lots of carbs.

And carbs require more of your body’s resources to digest.

This is why you might end up feeling sleepy or tired after a carb-loaded meal. Your body is diverting its energy and efforts to digesting what you just ate.

Carbs are better on the menu in the evenings, closer to when you’d want to sleep, than during the day.

For your daytime meals, try foods which contain nutrients like l-tyrosine and choline. You’ll find these in proteins like meats, dairy, eggs, fish, nuts and beans!

L-tyrosine is an amino acid, which is a precursor to dopamine. Choline, meanwhile, is a precursor to acetylcholine.

And as you know, these brain chemicals play a big role in putting you in the best state for learning!

Fatty fish like mackerel and salmon, and a variety of nuts and seeds also contain Omega-3 fatty acids.

Nearly 60% of your brain is made up of fat. And these Omega-3 fatty acids are critical for the healthy development, functioning, maintenance, and repair of your brain!

Eating, sleeping, waking up – these are all regular parts of your everyday life.

But the conditions under which they take place can play a huge role in your learning!

With these 6 daily habits for faster learning, you can be confident that you are in the right state to learn every single day!

Pat Wyman is the CEO of HowtoLearn.com 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, including Total Recall Learning™. 

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

Related article