Taking a mid-day nap boosts brain power

Monday, April 19, 2010 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
Tags: naps, brain power, health news

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(NaturalNews) Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, found that people who take naps during the day are helping to improve their overall brain function. Among the 39 healthy adults who were evaluated in the study, those who slept for an hour and a half during the day performed better on a post-nap cognitive exam than did those who remained awake.

All participants were initially assigned a "hard learning" morning task for which all performed roughly the same. Half the group then took a nap while the others stayed awake. Following the nap, all were given a repeat exam and, this time, the group that napped performed better than the group that stayed awake.

Scientists have long been trying to figure out whether or not mid-day naps are beneficial. This study seems to suggest that naps help a person to process short-term memories into long-term ones, clearing the temporary storage portion of the brain so that new information can take its place.

The team came to this conclusion by analyzing the nappers' brain electrical activity. They observed that sleepers were in a sleep phase somewhere between deep sleep and dreaming sleep. During this time, temporary memories move from the hippocampus to the pre-frontal cortex.

Dr. Matthew Walker, lead author of the study, explained the situation in terms of an e-mail inbox that becomes full. Until a person sleeps, or takes a nap, all the new information received since the last sleeping period remains in hippocampus. Once it is full, no new information can be readily processed, inhibiting that person from fully functioning throughout the entire day.

"Sleep not only rights the wrong of prolonged wakefulness, but at a neurocognitive level, it moves you beyond where you were before you took a nap," he explained to the group in attendance at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Diego.

Not everyone agreed with the results, however. Professor Derk-Jan Dijk, the Director of the Surrey Sleep Research Centre in the U.K., believes that there is not necessarily a clear advantage to sleeping more than once in a 24-hour period. He explained that, outside of the lab in the real world, it is difficult to assess whether or not taking a mid-day nap provides the type of cognitive benefit observed in the laboratory. It may simply help someone who was tired to have more post-nap energy and brain functionality.

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