Nappers are often perceived as lazy and unambitious because many people consider naps to be a waste of time. Why would someone want to throw away valuable waking hours napping when that time could be used to complete work or spend time with friends and family?
New research published by Studte et al. in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory in February of this year, however, suggests that taking a nap for 45 minutes a day can increase cognitive function. Researchers in Germany asked 41 volunteers to memorize 90 words and 120 word pairs. After completing a memory test with these words, the 41 participants were divided into two groups: the control group with 19 people and the nap group with 21 people. Following the test, the control group watched a movie for two hours. The nap group, however, was allowed to sleep for up to 90 minutes, after which they viewed the movie for 15 minutes in order to overcome grogginess. Both groups were then asked to complete another memory test with the words they had memorized two hours earlier. Both groups performed worse than before, but the individuals that napped performed much better than non-nappers, specifically on the word-pair section of the test.
When the participants in the nap group were sleeping, scientists had them wear electroencephalograms, machines that measures the electrical activity of the brain. The researchers discovered that during the nap, the nappers experienced more sleep spindles, which are essentially bursts of energy in the hippocampus, the part of the brain involved in memory consolidation. Participants scored higher on the word-pair section of the test because the hippocampus helps retain associative memory, which is involved in linking unrelated words together.
It is important to note the limitations of this study. The sample size was rather small — only 41 people. In addition, the results of this study were barely statistically significant, so for conclusive results, more studies would need to be conducted. This study, however, adds to the growing evidence that naps actually have many benefits.
Before your next exam, it might be a good idea to take a nap. If the trends from the research study hold true, you might be able to remember a little more after the nap than you would have before. Even if you don’t have exams, taking a short nap during community hour could help you gain much-needed energy after a poor night’s sleep.
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