Boost Your Brain with an Afternoon Nap

Girl taking a nap
The Spanish might have been onto something with their famous afternoon siesta. According to research from the University of California, Berkeley, an afternoon nap can boost your brainpower.

Results from a study conducted by lead investigator Matthew Walker, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, showed that a power nap could help to clear the brain’s short-term memory storage and improve its capacity to absorb new information.

Thirty-nine healthy students were divided into two groups — nap and no-nap. At 1pm, they were given learning exercises designed to specifically target the brain’s fact-based memory. Both groups performed at a comparative level.

At 2pm the nap group was given a 90-minute siesta. At 6pm, similar learning lessons were carried out. During this time the no-nap group became worse at learning, while the group who had napped for 90 minutes between lessons showed an improved capacity to learn and store more information.

The results appear to support earlier work suggesting that fact-based memories are temporarily stored in the hippocampus before being sent to the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which may have more “storage space”, he said.

“It’s as though the email inbox in your hippocampus is full and, until you sleep and clear out those fact emails, you’re not going to receive any more mail. It’s just going to bounce until you sleep and move it into another folder,” Dr. Walker said.

The study also found that the kind of sleep that makes learning easier was the type of deep sleep where there is no “rapid eye movement” (REM), when the eyelids flicker during the dreaming phases of night-time sleep. Non-REM sleep appeared to be essential for the brain refreshment that improved learning, Dr. Walker said.

Other benefits of sleep

Better health

Getting a good night’s sleep won’t grant you immunity from disease. But study after study has found a link between insufficient sleep and some serious health problems, such as heart disease, heart attacks and diabetes. Research has found that about a third of those who sleep for less than five hours a night had hardened arteries, compared to just one in 10 who slept an extra hour.

Lower risk of injury

Sleeping enough might actually keep you safer. Sleep deprivation has been linked with many notorious disasters, like the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger and the grounding of the Exxon Valdez. The Institute of Medicine estimates that one out of five auto accidents in the U.S. results from drowsy driving ― that’s about 1 million crashes a year.

Staying slim

A study found that people who slept for less than four hours a night were 73 percent more likely to put on weight.

Happiness

Getting enough sleep won’t guarantee a sunny disposition. But you have probably noticed that when you’re exhausted, you’re more likely to be cranky. According to the Sleep Foundation people with insomnia are 10 times more likely to develop depression than those who sleep well.
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