8 Evidence-Based Reasons Why You Should Take a Lunch Break

Young adult creative team of people during a lunch break in their coworking space

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If you’ve ever eaten at your desk or skipped lunch entirely in order to get more work done, you are not alone. There’s a growing trend of workers skipping their breaks to focus on their work instead.

Many people see that time as a way to get ahead on projects or catch up on emails. Others feel pressured to skip lunch by their coworkers or supervisor. But does forgoing your lunch break actually allow you to get more done? And is it worth it in the long run? 

Research suggests the answer to these questions is a resounding “No.” Instead, regular lunch breaks improve work-related performance and can make you happier, healthier, and more creative. Here are eight evidence-based reasons you should be taking a lunch break every day. 

Increases Productivity

Humans are not machines. We have a limited amount of mental energy and focus each day. Sure, you can always pour another cup of coffee, but eventually, you will reach a point where your productivity starts falling off. This is why breaks, particularly during lunch, are so important.

Lunch breaks allow you to detach from stress and recharge. They also give you an energy boost that helps you tackle the rest of your day. Meanwhile, continued stress saps your energy and makes you less productive.

By providing an opportunity to socialize, lunch breaks also can facilitate bonds between coworkers, which leads to improved work performance. For instance, firefighters who ate together during their lunch breaks were more cooperative and performed better as a team.

Improves Mental Health

Taking time to eat your lunch away from your desk isn’t just helpful for productivity. It also benefits your mental health as well. 

What's more, when you do not get relief from work-related stress, this lowers your emotional resilience, which can lead to workplace challenges. For instance, when you are stressed or struggling, you may be more likely to overreact to a harmless comment from your coworker or lose your patience with your spouse and children when you get home from work.

But a lunch break offers a way to disengage from work stress, which is key to maintaining a healthy mental state, boosting energy levels, and maintaining a positive state of mind. In fact, one study found that nurses that took meal breaks more often experienced better mental health and less fatigue.

Promotes Self-Care

When you engage in self-care, you are taking steps to improve your mental, physical, and emotional health and well-being. It can involve something as simple as eating a healthy meal, reading a book, or meditating for five minutes.

Stepping away from your desk to enjoy your lunch is an act of self-care that can extend to other areas of your life. You’re basically saying to yourself that your mental and emotional state matters. In doing so, you’re putting your health above your work. For instance, a study of palliative care nurses found that taking regular meal breaks was an effective strategy for improving resilience, promoting mental health, and increasing overall well-being.

Taking that time each day to detach from work also gives you the energy to do the activities or hobbies you love when you’re not at work. And, it empowers you to make the right decisions for your health. For example, if you come home from work stressed and tired, you’re less likely to stick to your meal plan or have the energy to play with your kids.

Increases Creativity

Creativity involves incorporating seemingly unrelated information to form new ideas, concepts, or solutions. So how can something simple as taking a lunch break lead to enhanced creativity?  

When you’re not actively trying to solve problems at work, your unconscious mind begins to look for solutions. Have you ever tried to think of the name of an old friend, given up, and then hours or days later, it suddenly popped into your head? Creativity works similarly.

Taking a lunch break allows your mind to search for new solutions, insights, or designs. Breaking for lunch also can restore your energy and the focus you need to come up with unique ideas or approach your work from a different angle.  

Prevents Burnout 

That feeling of work burnout is all too common—the loss of motivation, lack of energy, and anxiety about work. It usually comes after an intense period of ongoing work without enough rest and recovery.   

Regular lunch breaks may be the answer to burnout. A survey of North American workers found that those who took a daily lunch break were more satisfied with their job and more likely to continue working at the same company.

When you remain at your desk for lunch, your coworkers or supervisor may think it’s OK to approach you with work-related matters. Unfortunately, this can result in you taking on more work than you intended causing stress and fatigue.  By taking a break and enjoying your lunch, you can return to your work with more enthusiasm and energy.

"If you can, spend a few minutes of your break outdoors," says Tara Tomaino, RD, a registered dietitian and nutrition director at The Park. "Taking some time outside during the workday can help reduce stress levels. A porch, patio, or deck can be a great place to have lunch if you work from home.

If you want to boost stress reduction even further, Tamaino suggests adding a little movement to your lunch break. A short walk outside before or after eating your lunch can reduce cortisol levels, she says.

Helps Promote Positive Eating Behaviors

Not taking a proper lunch break can lead to poor eating behaviors. In fact, one study found that students who had shorter lunch breaks were more likely to eat unhealthy foods.

"It is important to take a lunch break for the sole purpose of eating during the day," says Tomaino. "Many people work through their lunch or forget to eat. Skipping meals, especially lunch can make it even harder to get through those afternoon work hours. Food provides our body, and more importantly—our brain—with the energy it needs to think critically and complete tasks."

Allows for Rest

While your body needs rest, your brain does, also. Therefore, proper rest is crucial to performing your best at work. In fact, researchers discovered that workers in Finland who took lunch breaks that involved detaching from work had higher energy levels and greater motivation for their work.

You need that break during the day where you can step away from your work and recover. Without this, you are constantly draining your energy without ever replenishing it.

Reduce Back Pain

As it turns out, constantly sitting at a desk all day isn’t good for your back. Regular breaks where you get up from your desk can help reduce back pain and prevent fatigue.

According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, taking a break from sitting to stand up and stretch is one of the keys to preventing back pain and keeping your spine healthy. A lunch break provides the perfect opportunity to do this.

A Word From Verywell

The next time you feel guilty or pressured into working through your lunch break, stop and consider all the benefits you are missing out on. Instead, recognize that your lunch break is a necessary part of your work day.

Your productivity, mental health, well-being, and body will thank you. And, if you are having trouble finding a work-life balance in your life, you may benefit from speaking with a mental health professional. They can provide tips on how to incorporate a lunch break into your day without feeling guilty.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How much time should you spend at lunch?

    Studies suggest that you should spend at least 30 minutes having lunch. This will give you enough time to detach from work and recharge. If you can manage more than 30 minutes, this will allow you to eat and socialize or move around after your meal.

  • Should you take a lunch break even if you work remotely?

    Lunch breaks are helpful for anyone looking to boost productivity and get the most satisfaction and enjoyment out of their work. Even those that work remotely should plan to incorporate lunch into their daily work routine.

  • What are the risks of not taking a lunch break?

    By not taking a regular lunch break, you risk burning out, developing mental health and stress-related issues, and creating poor eating habits. If you are having a hard time incorporating a lunch break into your day, you may benefit from speaking with a mental health professional or a life coach for tips on how to reorganize your schedule and prioritize lunch.

14 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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