Short naps may greatly boost memory
When we’re feeling sluggish and tired in the middle of school of the workday, we often reach for a coffee, or some other kind of stimulant. However, according to a new study done by German researchers at the Saarland University, naps have the power to recharge our brains to significantly improve brain function.
Researchers recruited 41 people to learn a list of 90 single words and 120 unrelated word pairs. The unrelated word pairs were needed to eliminate the possibility that people were familiar with the words, and push them to access the specific memory of the word in the hippocampus. After participants learned the words, they were immediately tested on them. Then, half of the group were asked to take a nap of up to 90 minutes, and the rest were asked to watch a DVD.
The brain activity of the napping group was measured, with the team focusing on the burst of activity in the hippocampus region of the brain that plays an important role in the consolidation of memory. These bursts of activity are called “sleep spindles.”
All participants were then asked to take another memory recall test afterwards. Researchers found that people who napped after learning the words performed around five times better when it came to remembering the word pairs, compared to people who watched the DVD. They also found that the napping group performed just as well on the memory tests completed immediately after learning.
With these findings, researchers suggested that a short nap can significantly improve associative memory – the ability to remember a link between unrelated items. They also concluded that better learning and memory was linked to a greater number of sleep spindles, supporting their theory that it plays a key role in associative memory.