man playing chessShare on Pinterest

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.

Factors that affect concentration

Both attention span and concentration can vary for a number of reasons. Some people just have a harder time tuning out distractions. Age and lack of sleep can affect concentration.

Most people forget things more readily as they age, and decreased concentration can accompany memory loss. Head or brain injuries, such as concussion, as well as certain mental health conditions can also affect concentration.

It’s easy to become frustrated when you’re trying to concentrate but just can’t. This can lead to stress and irritation, which tends to make focusing on what you need to do even more of a distant dream.

If that sounds familiar, keep reading to learn more about research-backed methods to help improve your concentration. We’ll also go over some conditions that can affect concentration and steps to take if trying to increase concentration on your own just doesn’t seem to help.

Playing certain types of games can help you get better at concentrating. Try:

  • sudoku
  • crossword puzzles
  • chess
  • jigsaw puzzles
  • word searches or scrambles
  • memory games

Results of a 2015 study of 4,715 adults suggest spending 15 minutes a day, 5 days a week, on brain training activities can have a big impact on concentration.

Brain training games can also help you develop your working and short-term memory, as well as your processing and problem-solving skills.

Kids

Brain training can work for kids, too. Invest in a book of word puzzles, complete a jigsaw puzzle together, or play a game of memory.

Even coloring can help improve concentration in children or adults. Older children may enjoy more detailed coloring pages, like those found in adult coloring books.

Older adults

The effects of brain training games may be particularly important for older adults, since memory and concentration often tend to decline with age.

Research from 2014 that looked at 2,832 older adults followed up on participants after 10 years. Older adults who completed between 10 and 14 sessions of cognitive training saw improved cognition, memory, and processing skills.

After 10 years, the majority of study participants reported they could complete daily activities at least as well as they could at the beginning of the trial, if not better.

Brain games may not be the only type of game that can help improve concentration. Newer research also suggests playing video games could help boost concentration.

A 2018 study looking at 29 people found evidence to suggest an hour of gaming could help improve visual selective attention (VSA). VSA refers to your ability to concentrate on a specific task while ignoring distractions around you.

This study was limited by its small size, so these findings aren’t conclusive. The study also didn’t determine how long this increase in VSA lasted.

Study authors recommend future research to continue exploring how video games can help increase brain activity and boost concentration.

A 2017 review looked at 100 studies examining the effects video games could have on cognitive function. The results of the review suggest playing video games may lead to various changes in the brain, including increased attention and focus.

This review had several limitations, including the fact that the studies focused on widely varying topics, including video game addiction and possible effects of violent video games. Studies specifically designed to explore benefits of video games could help support these findings.

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.

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.

Do what you can

Although aerobic exercise is recommended, doing what you can is better than doing nothing at all. Depending on your personal fitness and weight goals, you may want to exercise more or less.

But sometimes it just isn’t possible to get the recommended amount of exercise, especially if you live with physical or mental health challenges.

If you struggle to find time to exercise or don’t want to join a gym, try to think of fun ways to work it in throughout the day. If you get your heart rate up, you’re exercising. Ask yourself:

  • Can you walk your kids to school?
  • Can you get up 20 minutes earlier every morning to fit in a quick jog around your neighborhood?
  • Can you split up your weekly grocery trip into two or three trips by foot or bike?
  • Can you walk to the coffee shop instead of drive?

If you can, try getting exercise right before you really need to focus or when taking a mental break.

If you want to boost your concentration naturally, try to get outside every day, even for just 15 to 20 minutes. You might take a short walk through a park. Sitting in your garden or backyard can also help. Any natural environment has benefits.

Scientific evidence increasingly supports the positive impact of natural environments. Research from 2014 found evidence to suggest including plants in office spaces helped increase concentration and productivity, as well as workplace satisfaction and air quality.

Try adding a plant or two to your workspace or home for a range of positive benefits. Succulents make great choices for low-maintenance plants if you don’t have a green thumb.

Kids

Children benefit from natural environments, too. Research published in 2017 followed over 1,000 children from birth to age 7. The study hoped to determine how lifelong exposure to trees and greenery at home or in the neighborhood might affect attention in children.

The study found evidence to suggest natural environments could benefit brain development and may also improve attention in children.

Nature may have even more benefit for children with ADHD. A 2009 study that looked at 17 children with ADHD found evidence that a 20-minute walk in the park could help improve concentration more than a walk of the same length in an urban setting.

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.

How can taking a break from work or homework increase your concentration? This idea might seem counterintuitive, but experts say it really works.

Consider this scenario: You’ve spent a few hours on the same project, and suddenly your attention starts to wander. Even though it’s hard to keep your mind on the task, you stay at your desk, forcing yourself to keep going. But your struggle to focus just makes you feel stressed and anxious about not completing your work in time.

You’ve probably been there before. Next time this happens, when you first feel your concentration drop, take a short mental break. Refresh yourself with a cool drink or nutritious snack, take a quick walk, or go outside and get some sun.

When you return to work, don’t be surprised if you feel more focused, motivated, or even creative. Breaks can help boost these functions and more.

Turning on music while working or studying may help increase concentration.

Even if you don’t enjoy listening to music while you work, using nature sounds or white noise to mask background sounds could also help improve concentration and other brain functions, according to research.

The type of music you listen to can make a difference. Experts generally agree classical music, particularly baroque classical music or nature sounds are good choices to help increase your focus.

If you don’t care for classical music, try ambient or electronic music without lyrics. Keep the music soft, or at background noise level, so it doesn’t end up distracting you.

It’s also important to avoid choosing music you love or hate, since both types can end up distracting you.

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)
  • blueberries
  • spinach

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.

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.

Some supplements may help promote better concentration and improved brain function.

You’ll want to check with your healthcare provider before trying any supplements, especially if you have any health conditions or allergies. A doctor can go over the possible benefits and risks of supplements with you and may recommend one that’s best for your needs.

It’s often possible to get all the vitamins you need by adding certain foods to your diet, but supplements can sometimes help you meet daily intake goals.

The following supplements may help promote increased concentration and overall brain health:

Concentration workouts often help children who have trouble focusing. This mental workout involves fully devoting attention to an activity for a set period of time.

Try these activities:

  • Draw or doodle for 15 minutes.
  • Spend a few minutes tossing a balloon or small ball with another person.
  • Set a timer for 3 to 5 minutes. Try to blink as little as possible.
  • Suck on a lollipop or hard candy until it’s gone — resist the urge to bite into it. Pay attention to the flavor, the sensation of the candy on your tongue, and how long it takes to eat it completely.

After completing one of the activities, ask your child to write a short summary or sketch how they felt during the experience. Young children can simply use words to describe their feelings.

Talking about where they lost concentration and how they managed to refocus can help them develop these skills for use in daily tasks.

A concentration workout can benefit adults, too, so feel free to give it a try yourself.

Trouble concentrating can relate to things going on around you. Common causes include interruptions from co-workers, distractions from your roommates or family members, or social media notifications.

But it’s also possible for concentration difficulties to relate to underlying mental or physical health conditions. Some common ones include:

  • ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) can create learning and memory challenges for both children and adults. It’s usually characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Treatment can help improve ADHD symptoms.
  • Cognitive dysfunction or impairment can affect concentration, memory, and learning. These issues can include developmental delays or disabilities, brain injuries, or neurological conditions that cause problems with brain function.
  • Untreated mental health concerns such as depression or anxiety primarily involve changes in mood and other emotional symptoms, but they can also make it hard to focus, concentrate, or learn and remember new information. You might also find it harder to concentrate on work or school when under a lot of stress.
  • Concussions and other head injuries can affect concentration and memory. This is usually temporary, but difficulties with concentration can linger while a concussion heals.
  • Farsightedness and other vision problems can cause problems with attention and concentration. If you (or your child) find it harder than usual to concentrate and also have headaches, or find yourself squinting, you may want to get your eyes checked.

If these tips to improve concentration don’t help much, consider getting a professional opinion. Something more significant than ordinary distractions could be affecting your ability to concentrate, even if you aren’t aware of it.

It can help to start by talking to a therapist, especially if you’re feeling stressed or have noticed changes in your mood. Sometimes it takes a trained professional to notice these symptoms.

Many adults living with untreated ADHD have trouble concentrating or focusing their attention for long periods of time. A mental health professional can help diagnose this, or any other condition, and help you get started on treatment.

Therapy, medication, and other treatment approaches can help improve your symptoms once you have a diagnosis.

Some ways to improve concentration may work well, while others may not seem to do much for you. Consider giving a range of approaches a try to see what helps.

Experts still debate the benefits of certain methods, such as brain training. But existing evidence suggests most of these tips can promote at least modest improvements in concentration for many people.

What’s more, these tips are unlikely to decrease concentration or cause other harm, so giving them a try shouldn’t have any negative effects.

Just make sure to talk to your doctor if you’re really having a hard time. Something else could be going on, and it’s important to rule out brain injuries or other serious issues.