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Another Reason to Nap

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If you enjoy an afternoon nap, here’s good news. A study published in the Journal of Sleep Research suggests that napping may improve your memory. Here’s what the researchers found.

Although memory impairment is common as we age and usually is not a sign of a serious neurological disorder, it can be frustrating and socially embarrassing. The minor memory lapses that occur with age-associated memory impairment can’t be eliminated completely; however, a number of strategies can improve overall memory at any age.

For example, a good night’s sleep has been shown to boost your memory, and now a small study reported in the Journal of Sleep Research (Volume 17, page 3) suggests that even a short daytime nap can help, too.

German researchers conducted two experiments involving 26 university students ages 20 to 29. In the first experiment, the volunteers were asked to memorize 30 adjectives within two minutes and then to recall as many as possible after either a one-hour nap or one hour of waking activities. Each participant was tested in both the napping and waking conditions, and the experiments were repeated one week after the first testing sessions.

The results showed that the students performed significantly better after napping, and their performance was not affected by the time spent in slow-wave sleep (deep sleep). The second experiment tested participants for word recall after no nap, a long nap (35 minutes), and a short nap (six minutes).

Bottom line: The students performed the best after the long nap, but even the very brief nap significantly boosted memory processing compared with no nap at all. It may be that sleep onset itself activates memory consolidation and once the process is triggered it remains effective, even when sleep time is cut short.

Posted in Memory on November 2, 2009
Reviewed January 2011


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