Can a Midday Nap Make You Smarter?
Study Shows Adults Who Nap Learn Better, Perform Better
Feb. 22, 2010 -- Devote your lunch hour to a restful nap, and you may
perform and learn better in the afternoon, a new study suggests.
Nappers performed better than non-nappers on a test, says study researcher
Matthew Walker, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at University of
California, Berkeley. He presented his findings this week at the annual
meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San
''The brain's ability to learn information is not stable across the day,"
Walker tells WebMD. The area of the brain that stores memories may get
''clogged up'' as the day goes on, akin to a full email in-box on your
computer, he says.
Napping at midday, when the brain's ability to learn may have deteriorated,
may clear the brain's memory storage area and make room for new information,
Nap or No Nap: The Study
Walker and his colleagues gave 39 healthy young adults, average age 21, a
difficult learning task intended to tax the brain's hippocampus, a region that
helps store memories based on fact. The test -- learning 100 face-name pairs
and then matching them up -- was given at noon.
Then, at 2 p.m., the nap group was given the chance for a 90-minute siesta;
the no-nap group was asked to stay awake.
At 6 p.m., Walker gave them the test again. "People in the group which
didn't nap had a slight reduction of about 10% in their learning capacity
during the day,'' Walker tells WebMD, ''whereas the people who had a nap in
between the first time they tried to learn relative to the second time they
tried to learn actually improved their ability to learn by 10%."
The total time the participants slept during the 90-minute window didn't
matter much in their later performance, Walker found. But the greater the
amount of stage 2 non-REM sleep, a lighter form of
non-dreaming sleep, the better their
performance, he found.
Naps and Learning: Implications
The study results suggest that sleep before learning may be important, too,
just as experts have known that sleep after learning is crucial to solidify
information learned, Walker says.
In previous research, Walker and others found that fact-based memories are
stored temporarily in the brain's hippocampus, then sent to the area known as
the prefrontal cortex -- which he suspects has more storage space.
''Perhaps what happens is that the hippocampus is actually the short-term
way station for memory in the brain," Walker tells WebMD. The hippocampus is
good at getting hold of information, but at some point needs to ''download” the
information to the pre-frontal cortex, he says.
The nap before learning may help clear out the hippocampus and send the data
on to the prefrontal cortex, allowing new information to soak in, Walker