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Learner memory boosted by napping

22-02-2010

The brain’s capacity to take in new information can be boosted by a daytime nap, suggests the results of a new US study revealed this week. The research is the latest in a long line of scientific investigations into the effects of napping, which have so far failed to determine a conclusive and widely-accepted opinion on how the practice can affect learning, memory and cognitive function.

The study at the University of California at Berkley, presented at the recent AAAS Conference, took 39 participants, tested them in the morning to find largely similar results, and split them into two groups with one staying awake and one having a 90 minute afternoon sleep. All of the participants were then retested in the evening, and the results of the nap group were found to be noticeably higher than the results of those who had stayed awake.

The research team that carried out the investigation claim that the results show that a short nap helps to consolidate newly learned facts and opens a person’s capacity for taking on more information, likening the brain’s activity to that of an email inbox in which ‘space’ is cleared by sleep.

“Sleep not only rights the wrongs of prolonged wakefulness, but, at a neurocognitive level, it moves you beyond where you were before you took a nap,” said Dr. Matthew Walker, who led the study. “It’s as though the email inbox in your hippocampus is full, and, until you sleep and clear out all those fact emails, you’re not going to receive any more mail.”

Earlier studies into the benefits of daytime napping have settled on a variety of conclusions, including that an energy recharging afternoon sleep can give the body a false sense of performance that impacts on regular night-time sleeping. Another study has found that memory forms during the deepest stages of sleep, which is unlikely to be achieved during a nap.

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