Recharge Your Brain with Downtime


By Deena Bodine, LCSW – Updated July 7, 2022 –

As a Youth First Social Worker, I have been fortunate to facilitate several Reconnecting Youth programs with small groups of high school students. One semester, the group I was working with selected some inspirational “pay it forward” activities to complete.

One of the activities involved writing encouraging messages on Post-It notes that we placed anonymously on student lockers. One of the students penned, “Think smarter, not harder” as her words of encouragement. Her message inspired me to think about how easy it could be to prioritize self-care by simply taking a pause.

Our kids are faced with high expectations at school with fewer opportunities to unwind through recess and the arts. On top of this, so many of them are navigating busy extracurricular and social calendars. The same can be said about our adult calendars.

This non-stop agenda doesn’t allow for much downtime. Downtime gives our brains the opportunity to refresh, recharge, and make sense of what we have recently learned or experienced. Downtime can be characterized in three forms, all of which are important for the health of our brains. 

  1. Getting good quality sleep. There is a great deal of information about the importance of sleep. I have witnessed the effects of inadequate or interrupted sleep firsthand in myself and my children. I’m guilty of sacrificing sleep for the sake of more urgent tasks, but it’s important to remember the role of sleep and its impact on our health and brain function.
  1. Idleness or time spent awake doing nothing. Examples of this include lying awake at night before falling asleep or meditation. Meditation allows us to refresh our ability to concentrate and attend to tasks more efficiently.
  1. Time spent on mundane tasks. Mundane tasks are also essential for learning. These tasks, such as feeding a pet, putting toys away, or cleaning a room give learners a much needed break from sustained brain activity.

Even closing your eyes, taking one deep breath, and exhaling can help refresh the brain and takes practically no time. Carving out some time at the end of the day or the end of the week to engage in meditation or mindfulness is good practice.

Other great opportunities for downtime include vacations and holiday breaks. Placing an abrupt pause on busy extracurricular and academic schedules during these times may feel jarring at first, but it can be incredibly beneficial for our brains and overall mental health. 

In the wise words of a high schooler, we need to “think smarter, not harder” and allow our brains more downtime. Fitting downtime into busy schedules is easier said than done, but it is well worth the effort.