Take a nap to get smarter

| February 24, 2010 | 3 Replies

This is a post to complement Huffington’s “sleep challenge.” U.C. Berkeley reports this good news for afternoon nappers:

In the recent UC Berkeley sleep study, 39 healthy young adults were divided into two groups — nap and no-nap. At noon, all the participants were subjected to a rigorous learning task intended to tax the hippocampus, a region of the brain that helps store fact-based memories. Both groups performed at comparable levels.

Image by Woogies1 at Dreamstime (with permission)

Image by Woogies1 at Dreamstime (with permission)

At 2 p.m., the nap group took a 90-minute siesta while the no-nap group stayed awake. Later that day, at 6 p.m., participants performed a new round of learning exercises. Those who remained awake throughout the day became worse at learning. In contrast, those who napped did markedly better and actually improved in their capacity to learn. Matthew Walker, assistant psychology professor, has found that a nap clears the brain to absorb new information.

These findings reinforce the researchers’ hypothesis that sleep is needed to clear the brain’s short-term memory storage and make room for new information . . .

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Category: Health

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich and his wife, Anne Jay, live in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where they are raising their two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (3)

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  1. Zeke says:

    Good news! Now I have a comeback for when my roomate bitches about me napping so much.

  2. Erika Price says:

    One methodological query: what did the no-nap participants do in the meantime? If napping is better than an analogous period of down-time while awake, then these results are definitely striking. If the no-nap group did anything cognitively taxing, however, it's not really a fair comparison.

    I'm sure many people would intuitively settle in on a nap schedule if their schedule afforded the possibility. My instinct is that there are individual differences ignored here- some people need lots of sleep, some need very little, some people like to nap, others prefer to sleep in big chunks- and these differences are ignored by the workaday world, too. We cram ourselves into one-size-doesn't-fit-all lifestyle scripts: go to sleep now, wake up eight hours later, eat at this time, work all day, etc.

    If only our schedules were more fluid and less segmented! If only work schedules were not rigid eight-hour commitments for most people. If only we could work out our own schedules, based on the needs of our own bodies.

    That said, I know a fair share of college undergraduates and Master's students who are blessed with schedules amenable to napping, late nights and noontime wake-ups. After college, though, that option disappears for most.

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