A midday nap markedly boosts the brain's learning capacity

February, 2010

Students given a 90-minute nap in the early afternoon, after a rigorous learning task, did markedly better at a later round of learning exercises, compared to those who remained awake throughout the day.

Following on from research showing that pulling an all-nighter decreases the ability to cram in new facts by nearly 40%, a study involving 39 young adults has found that those given a 90-minute nap in the early afternoon, after being subjected to a rigorous learning task, did markedly better at a later round of learning exercises, compared to those who remained awake throughout the day. The former group actually improved in their capacity to learn, while the latter became worse at learning. The findings reinforce the hypothesis that sleep is needed to clear the brain's short-term memory storage and make room for new information. Moreover, this refreshing of memory capacity was related to Stage 2 non-REM sleep (an intermediate stage between deep sleep and the REM dream stage).

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The preliminary findings were presented February 21, at the annual meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Diego, Calif.

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