Who doesn’t love a good nap? While naps are considered important for children in early phases of development, they are equally important for adults. When you’re tired from a long morning of work, there’s nothing like a bit of shut-eye to help recharge your batteries.
Napping during the day can boost your memory, according to researchers at Saarland University in Germany – as little as an hour-long nap can improve your memory by up to five times it’s normal efficiency, boosting productivity and learning potential, although researchers don’t know exactly why.
Naps = Better Memory
A team of researchers at Saarland University’s Experimental Neurophyschology Unit in Germany discovered that napping can have some pretty epic effects on your memory(1).
To determine just what effect napping could have on the human brain, 41 people were gathered to participate in the study. Each of the participants were shown 90 single words and 120 unrelated word pairs. These word pairs had no relation to each other, making them harder to remember than the more common pairs. This forces the brain to access the specific part of the hippocampus where that word pair is stored, ensuring that the brain is storing a NEW memory and not just recalling an older one.
Immediately after being shown the words and word pairs, the participants were tested to determine their ability to recall what they had been shown. Following the test, half of the participants were sent off to take a nap, while the other half were set to watch a DVD.
The napping participants were told to rest for up to 90 minutes. During their nap, they were hooked up to an EEG machine, which was set to measure the amount of activity taking place in the subjects’ hippocampus. It is believed that the hippocampus plays a central role in the consolidation and storage of new memories.
After the 90 minutes were up, both groups (DVD watchers and nappers) were again tested to determine their ability to recall the words and word pairs they had been shown earlier. What startled the researchers was the fact that those who napped didn’t just have better recall, but their recall was FIVE TIMES better than the subjects who watched the DVD.
Compared to the participants who were set to watch the DVD, the subjects who napped for between 45 and 60 minutes performed roughly 500% better on the memory tests.
During the naps, the researchers monitored the “sleep spindles”–electric activity taking place in the hippocampus. The higher the number of sleep spindles measured by the EEG, the better the subjects were able to recall the information they had seen.
What this means is that taking a nap can improve your ability to remember links between things that seem to be unrelated. For example, you may be better able to remember a company name, the name of a person, or other terms that have no logical link (words like “apple corner” and “balloon skunk”). The increase in hippocampus activity caused by taking a nap helped to boost associative memory and recall.
Ideal Amount of Time to Spend Per Day Napping?
Research shows that longer naps can help enhance your creativity as well as improve your overall mood and boost your productivity.
Slow-wave sleep – the kind of sleep you get when you nap for approximately 30 to 60 minutes at a time – is excellent for maximizing your decision-making skills, but longer naps – 60 to 90 minutes – “plays a key role in making new connections in the brain and solving creative problems”, according to webMD.
So don’t worry about appearing lazy if you find yourself needing to catch a quick power nap in the middle of the day – you’re helping your body recover from stress, as well as improving your overall productivity, mood, and decision-making abilities.