When trying to memorize new material, it’s easy to assume that the more work you put in, the better you will perform. Yet taking the occasional down time — to do literally nothing — may be exactly what you need.

Just dim the lights, sit back and enjoy 10-15 minutes of quiet contemplation, and you’ll find that your memory of the facts you’ve just learned is far better than if you had attempted to use those moments more productively.

During this time, however, we should be careful not to exert ourselves too hard via daydreaming. In one study, for instance, participants were asked to imagine a past or future event during their break, which appeared to reduce their later recall of the newly learned material. So it may be safest to avoid any concerted mental effort during your down time.

Heightened nocturnal activity may also be a reason why we often learn things better just before bed. A 2010 study by Lila Davachi at New York University found that it was not limited to sleep, and similar neural activity occurs during periods of wakeful rest, too.

It would seem that neurological damage may render the brain especially vulnerable to that interference after learning a new memory, which is why the period of rest proved to be particularly potent for stroke survivors and people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Thomas Baguley at Nottingham Trent University in the UK points out that some Alzheimer’s patients are already advised to engage in mindfulness techniques to alleviate stress and improve overall well-being.

Beyond the clinical benefits for these patients, experts agree that scheduling regular periods of rest, without distraction, could help us all hold onto new material a little more firmly. After all, for many students, the 10-30% improvements recorded in these studies could mark the difference between a grade or two.

In the age of information overload, it’s worth remembering that our smartphones aren’t the only things that need a regular recharge. Our minds clearly do, too.