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Attention span is decreased drastically today; especially among the millennials. In such a scenario, having the ability to focus has become key! This becomes even more important for students. A common belief is that reading regularly can help improve your focus. But, does it?
Researchers have proved that reading improves your focus abilities. Reading books stimulates the prefrontal cortex; the area of the brain that affects concentration and attention among other things. Reading for 30 minutes daily can help in improving your focus, attention span, and memory.
In this article, we’ll briefly look at how reading can improve your concentration abilities. However, sometimes people even struggle to concentrate on the content of the book they’re currently reading.
Therefore we’ll also discuss aspects that might be the reason for this lack of concentration, and give tips on how to rectify it.
How Does Reading Improve Focus and Concentration?
Before we discuss how reading improves focus and concentration we must point out that in this article, we’ll use “focus” and “concentration” as exchangeable words.
We do this as one can’t actually define “focus” without using “concentrate” or “concentration.” According to the Cambridge Dictionary, “concentration” is “the ability to think carefully about something you are doing and nothing else.”
The Collins Dictionary gives the following definition of “focus”: “If you focus on a particular topic or if your attention is focused on it, you concentrate on it and think about it, discuss it, or deal with it.”
To understand how reading improves concentration, we’ll have to look at the connection in the brain between reading and focus.
Studies have shown that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex are two of the areas in the brain that are stimulated while reading.
It is the same areas where concentration, attention, planning, and decision-making activities take place in the brain.
Thus, as reading stimulates the areas in the brain that are activated when you are focusing on something, and frequent reading keeps these areas “in shape,” reading ultimately contributes to an improved concentration capability.
Can Reading Books Improve Focus While Studying?
Reading books can also positively affect focus while studying. Studying often requires long periods of concentration. Reading, especially fiction, improves specific brain connectivity which is needed for a long attention span.
When you read fiction you are focused on the story and you immerse yourself in every fine detail during your reading sessions. You force the applicable brain connections to be active for uninterrupted periods. This is the same skill needed when studying.
Related Article – 21 Benefits of Reading Regularly [Here’s Why We Should All Read!]
Also, to understand what you are reading you have to give the content 100% of your attention. This is a concentration exercise for your brain. With regular reading practice, you strengthen your concentration abilities.
And as concentration is essential for absorbing study material, it can be said that reading “trains” the applicable areas in your brain to stay focused for long periods.
If your brain is used to focusing on a specific task or topic without unconsciously switching between different activities, it is easier to concentrate on specific content when you study.
What to Do If You’re Unable to Focus When Reading?
To comprehend what you are reading, it is important to focus on the content you are reading.
If you are unable to focus when reading, there are steps you can take to improve your concentration ability. Let’s look at some of them.
- Create a quiet space without distractions for your reading.
- Sometimes it helps to have soft instrumental background music instead of absolute silence.
- Set small reading targets in the beginning.
- Take regular short breaks.
- To keep your eyes on the page, use your finger or a pen as a pointer for your eyes to follow.
When reading non-fiction:
- Before you start reading, review the structure of the text.
- Make notes and outlines while reading.
- Review and summarize when you’re done.
How to Focus When Reading in a Noisy Environment?
Some people struggle to read in a noisy environment as they can’t focus when it is noisy. But there are ways to improve your focus even when you are reading in a noisy environment.
Generally speaking, your first step to focus when reading in a noisy environment should be to get away from the source of the noise. If it is not possible to do so, you can isolate yourself off from the noise by installing sound-absorbing furniture or using noise-canceling earphones.
You can isolate yourself from the noise either physically and/or mentally. The latter is much harder to do.
If you normally find it easy to focus on what you are reading when you are in a relatively quiet place, then focusing itself is most probably not your problem. It is the noisy environment that is bothering you, whether you are reading, studying, or working.
Here are some of the things you can do to create an environment to improve your focus on your reading:
1. Headphones and Music
You can invest in noise-canceling headphones (links to Amazon) or listen to soft instrumental music on headphones designed to cancel out all other sounds other than the sound from your device.
The advantage of these two types of headphones (and a mobile device to play music) is that you can take them always with you and use them wherever you encounter a noisy environment.
You can use them when commuting or sitting in waiting rooms – any place where noise is negatively influencing your focus to read.
2. Sound-absorbing Furniture and Plants
If you have to create a “permanent” space for silent reading, you can use furniture, like lounges, sofas, and couches that are made from cloth. For best results, install panels made from sound-absorbing material. This is relatively inexpensive and will reduce unwanted noise.
Plants in this space reduce the echoing effect of sound. They absorb noise and can also add aesthetic beauty to your reading space, contributing to a tranquil environment enhancing the focus on your reading.
3. Enhance the Insulation of Your Reading Space
When you are preparing a permanent reading space and you have to block out exterior noise, it might be a solution to use sound insulation on the walls.
How Long to Read Every Day to Improve Reading Concentration?
Studies have shown that reading concentration improves when a person reads at least about 30 minutes per day.
The 30 minutes reading sessions must take place every day. Longer reading sessions only on one or two days per week don’t have the same positive effect as shorter sessions every day.
It is believed that children need shorter reading sessions per day to improve their reading concentration.
The University at Albany recommends in a report that apart from how much time children spend on reading at school their reading concentration will most probably improve if they spend an average of 15-20 minutes reading each day.
If you are not in the habit to read at least 30 minutes a day then start reading daily only for 5 minutes. You can then gradually increase your reading time.
Tips to Improve Concentration When Reading
In conclusion, we list some of the tips to improve concentration when reading. Although all the tips don’t apply to everyone, they might help you to find ways to improve your concentration when reading.
- Read with a pen or your finger as a pointer.
- Eliminate distractions.
- Listen to instrumental background music.
- Take breaks if you have to read for long periods.
- Focus on your motivation for reading.