by Carolyn Gregoire for The Huffington Post
We know that naps are a great way to relieve stress while boosting mood and productivity. And new research suggests that a little midday shut-eye can bring a dramatic improvement in our ability to retain information.
Researchers at Saarland University in Germany found that an hour-long nap improves memory performance fivefold.
For the study, which was published in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, the researchers tested the memory of 41 volunteers who had been asked to remember specific words and word pairs. Then, half of the participants took an hour-long nap while the others watched a DVD. Afterward, they were retested for their memory of the words.
In addition to revealing that those who enjoyed a little snooze performed five times as well as those who hadn’t, the results showed that the volunteers’ post-nap memory was just as good as it had been before the nap.
Then, the researchers examined brain activity to determine how naps seemed to improve memory. The hippocampus – a brain region known to play a role in memory consolidation – transfers learned information into memory storage after the information is learned.
Electroencephalogram (EEG) tests revealed that the brain’s activity during sleep seems to supercharge the hippocampus’s ability to consolidate information.
“The hippocampus, when awake, re-activates the neural firing pattern that was also active during learning,” Dr. Axel Mecklinger, a neuropsychologist at Saarland and the study’s lead author, told The Huffington Post in an email. “This replay may produce ‘tags’ which are then used for consolidation during sleep.”
The researchers still don’t know, however, why some memories are strengthened during a short nap while others aren’t.
“Further studies will be required to unravel by which mechanisms the brain distinguishes between information that is retained or forgotten by sleep,” the study’s authors wrote, noting, however, that “a short nap at the office or in school is enough to significantly improve learning success.”
Of course, the average American worker would be hard-pressed to find the time and space in their workday to take a snooze break – are you listening, corporate America?