Daytime nap boosts learning ability


People who nodded off for an hour after lunch performed better in learning tests than those who stayed awake all afternoon, the scientists found.

A study of students revealed that their brains were refreshed by napping only if they entered what is called stage 2 non—REM sleep, which takes place between deep sleep and the dream state, known as REM or rapid eye movement sleep.

The research follows a recent study by the same group that showed that staying up all night reduced students' ability to cram new facts by nearly 40 per cent, a consequence, they said, of brain regions effectively shutting down through sleep deprivation.

“Sleep not only rights the wrong of prolonged wakefulness but, at a neurocognitive level, it moves you beyond where you were before you took at nap,” said Matthew Walker at the University of California, Berkeley.

The findings may explain why our ability to learn falls as we age, since people tend to sleep less as they get older.

Walker's team recruited 39 students for the study and divided them into two groups. At midday, all of the volunteers took part in a learning test designed to exercise a region of the brain called the hippocampus, which is involved in storing memories.

Two hours later, one of the groups settled down for a siesta while the other group stayed awake. Later that afternoon, at 6pm, both groups took part in a second round of learning tests. Those who napped for an hour not only performed better than the group that stayed awake, they scored better than they did in the first round of tests.

The findings suggest that sleep clears the brain's short—term memory and makes room for new facts to be remembered. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010

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