Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Forty Winks

A study presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Diego and reported by the media relations department at the University of California at Berkley gives a big boost to nappers everywhere. The study was conducted by Matthew Walker, an Assistant Professor of Psychology at UC Berkeley who, together with his colleagues, looked at the impact of a 90 minute nap on 39 healthy young adults.

The study subjects, who were divided into two groups, were given a learning task that was intended to subject the hippocampus (the part of the brain that stores facts) to a large amount of information. The two groups performed similarly on the learning task. Mid-afternoon of that same day, one group took a nap for an hour and a half and the other group stayed awake. Finally, in early evening, both groups were given more information to learn.

The results were clear. The group that had been given the chance to nap not only did better than the non-napping group, but also improved their own capacity to learn. "It's as though the e-mail inbox in your hippocampus is full and, until you sleep and clear out those fact e-mails, you are not going to receive any more mail. It's just going to bounce until you sleep and move it into another folder," Walker said in the U.C. Berkley report.

Next up for Walker and his team is an examination of whether the diminished amount of sleep that older individuals get compared to younger people is a factor in the difficulty some older individuals have in learning new information.

So, next time you feel badly for sacking out in the afternoon -- or next time you criticize someone for taking a nap while you are hard at work -- take a step back and think about a nap as a chance to clear your brain to allow it to better process new information. Maybe countries with afternoon siestas have a point!

Photo credit: mikecpeck via Flickr

No comments:

Post a Comment