Let’s hear it for siesta time. What better news than to hear that taking midday naps are good for your grey matter? Companies that want smarter employees should let them take 90 minute midday nap-time. Researchers at the University of Haifa in cooperation with the Sleep Laboratory at the Sheba Medical Center and researchers from the Department of Psychology at the University of Montreal recently concluded that a daytime nap changes the course of consolidation in the brain in several positive ways. This research mirrors several other recent studies with similar conclusions.
A ninety-minute daytime nap helps speed up the process of long term memory consolidation, a recent study conducted by Prof. Avi Karni and Dr. Maria Korman of the Center for Brain and Behavior Research at the University of Haifa found. The research was published in the scientific journal Nature Neuroscience. "We still don't know the exact mechanism of the memory process that occurs during sleep, but the results of this research suggest the possibility that it is possible to speed up memory consolidation, and in the future, we may be able to do it artificially," said Prof. Karni.
What? Artificially? Why do scientist hate REAL sleep so much? It's obviously a good thing, so why do we have to find a chemical replacement? Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funded researchers recently developed a chemical method of literally squirting sleep up your nose to replace sleep. The problem with trying to replace good old fashion sleep is that it impacts so many of our bodies’ functions that it would be nearly impossible to identify a way to truly replaces all of the many benefits of sleep.
Long term memory is defined as a permanent memory that doesn't disappear or that disappears after many years. This part of our memory is divided into two types – memories of "what" (for example: what you did yesterday, or what that article you read recently was about) and memories of "how to" (for example: how to read French, how to play the piano, etc.
In this new research, it was revealed that a daytime nap speeds up and improves memory consolidation. Two groups of participants in the study practiced a repeated motor activity, which consisted of bringing the thumb and a finger together at a specific sequence. The research examined the "how" aspect of memory in the participants' ability to perform the task quickly and in the correct sequence. One of the groups was allowed to nap for an hour and a half after learning the task while the other group stayed awake.
The group that slept in the afternoon showed a distinct improvement in their task performance by that evening, as opposed to the group that stayed awake, which did not exhibit any improvement. Following an entire night's sleep, both groups exhibited the same skill level. "This part of the research showed that a daytime nap speeds up performance improvement in the brain. After a night's sleep the two groups were at the same level, but the group that slept in the afternoon improved much faster than the group that stayed awake," stressed Prof. Karni.
A second experiment showed that another aspect of memory consolidation is accelerated by sleep. It was previously shown that during the 6-8 hours after completing an effective practice session, the neural process of "how" memory consolidation is susceptible to interference, such that if, for example, one learns or performs a second, different task, one's brain will not be able to successfully remember the first trained task. A third group of participants in the University of Haifa study learned a different thumb-to-finger movement sequence two hours after practicing the first task. As the second task was introduced at the beginning of the 6-8 hour period during which the brain consolidates memories, the second task disturbed the memory consolidation process and this group did not show any improvement in their ability to perform the task, neither in the evening of that day nor on the following morning. However, when a fourth group of participants was allowed a 90 minute nap between learning the first set of movements and the second, they did not show much improvement in the evening, but on the following morning these participants showed a marked improvement of their performance, as if there had been no interference at all.
"This part of the study demonstrated, for the first time, that daytime sleep can shorten the time "how to" memory becomes immune to interference and forgetting. Instead of 6-8 hours, the brain consolidated the memory during the 90 minute nap," explains Prof. Karni who added that while this study demonstrates that the process of memory consolidation is accelerated during daytime sleep, it is still not clear which mechanisms sleep accelerates in the process.
In fact, there have been a whole slew of recent studies showing that daytime napping improves cognitive functioning. In a nutshell, scientists don’t know exactly how it works, but that it does work. If you need to memorize something quickly or if your schedule is filled with different activities which require learning "how" to do things, it is worth making the time for an afternoon nap! If nothing else, it makes for a smart sounding excuse when you’re feeling tired, “I have to go lay down and consolidate some memories, improve my long-term cognitive functioning and improve my task performance."
Posted by Rebecca Sato
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