If you’ve ever found it difficult to get through a challenging task at work, studied for an important exam, or spent time on a finicky project, you might have wished you could increase your ability to concentrate.
Concentration refers to the mental effort you direct toward whatever you’re working on or learning at the moment. It’s sometimes confused with attention span, but attention span refers to the length of time you can concentrate on something.
1. Train your brain
Playing certain types of games can help you get better at concentrating. Try:
- crossword puzzles
- jigsaw puzzles
- word searches or scrambles
- memory games
Brain training games can also help you develop your working and short-term memory, as well as your processing and problem-solving skills.
2. Improve sleep
Sleep deprivation can easily disrupt concentration, not to mention other cognitive functions, such as memory and attention.
Occasional sleep deprivation may not cause too many problems for you. But regularly failing to get a good night’s sleep can affect your mood and performance at work.
Being too tired can even slow down your reflexes and affect your ability to drive or do other daily tasks.
A demanding schedule, health issues, and other factors sometimes make it difficult to get enough sleep. But it’s important to try and get as close to the recommended amount as possible on most nights.
Many experts recommend adults aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.
Improving the sleep you do get can also have benefit. A few quick tips:
- Turn off the TV and put away screens an hour before bed.
- Keep your room at a comfortable but cool temperature.
- Wind down before bed with soft music, a warm bath, or a book.
- Go to bed and get up around the same time each day, even on weekends.
- Exercise regularly, but try to avoid a heavy workout just before bed.
You can find more tips on healthy sleep habits here.
3. Make time for exercise
Increased concentration is among the many benefits of regular exercise. Exercise benefits everyone. A 2018 study looking at 116 fifth-graders found evidence to suggest daily physical activity could help improve both concentration and attention after just 4 weeks. Other research looking at older adults suggests just a year of moderate aerobic physical activity can help stop or even reverse memory loss that occurs with brain atrophy related to age.
4. Give meditation a try
Meditation and mindfulness practices can offer multiple benefits. Improved concentration is only one of these.
A 2011 review of 23 studies found evidence to suggest mindfulness training that emphasizes attention focus could help increase attention and focus. Mindfulness can also improve memory and other cognitive abilities.
Meditation doesn’t just mean sitting silently with your eyes closed. Yoga, deep breathing, and many other activities can help you meditate.
If you’ve tried meditation and it hasn’t worked for you, or if you’ve never meditated before, this list can give you some ideas for how to get started.
5. Vary your diet
The foods you eat can affect cognitive functions like concentration and memory. Avoiding processed foods, too much sugar, and very greasy or fatty foods. To boost concentration, try eating more of the following:
- fatty fish (think salmon and trout)
- eggs (white and yolk both)
You can find more brain foods on this list.
Staying hydrated can also have a positive impact on concentration. Even mild dehydration can make it harder to focus or remember information.
Eating breakfast can help by boosting your focus first thing in the morning. Aim for a meal that’s low in added sugars and high in protein and fiber. Oatmeal, plain yogurt with fruit, or whole-grain toast with eggs are all good breakfast choices.
6. Drink caffeine
There’s no need to include caffeine in your diet if you prefer to avoid it, but research does suggest caffeine can benefit your attention and focus.
If you feel your concentration starting to drop, consider a cup of coffee or green tea. A serving of dark chocolate — 70 percent cacao or higher — can have similar benefits, if you don’t enjoy caffeinated beverages.
A 2017 study found evidence to suggest phytochemicals naturally found in matcha, a type of green tea, not only improve cognitive function but can help promote relaxation. So matcha may be a good option if coffee tends to make you feel jittery or on edge.