Trying to ace the next test but can’t seem to remember important things? Try taking a mid-afternoon nap. Research raises the idea that sleep, specifically a long afternoon nap, prepares the brain to remember things. Much like that of a computer rebooting itself to get it to work more smoothly.
Study author Matthew Walker, an assistant professor at the University of California at Berkeley says, “Sleep is not just for the body. It’s very much for the brain,”.
Walker and colleagues separated 39 young adults into two groups. At noon, all the participants took part in a memory exercise that required them to remember faces and link them with names. Then after 20 had napped for 100 minutes they took part in another memory exercise at 6 p.m.
The findings were that those who stayed awake performed about 10 percent worse on the tests than those who napped.
People’s ability to learn starts to decline at about 10 percent between noon and 6 p.m. normally, but the nappers were able to slow down that decline. The study suggests that a phase of non-dreaming sleep that the nappers went through is boosting memory.
“This is further evidence that sleep plays a critical role in the processing of memories,” Walker said. “It provides more evidence that it’s not just important to sleep after learning, but you need it before learning to prepare the brain for laying down information.”
But it’s important to sleep long enough to give the brain an opportunity to go through various cycles of sleep. Using electroencephalogram tests to track electrical activity in the brain, the researchers determined that memory-refreshing seems to occur between deep sleep and the dream state, called rapid eye movement or REM.
“The brain’s ability to soak up information is not always stable,” Walker said. “It seems as though the brain’s capacity may be a little like a sponge. It may get waterlogged with continued learning throughout the day.”
Other recent research has suggested that sleep can help you think more creatively, have better long-term memory and preserve important memories.