A Nap Can Make You Smarter
By Sylvia Booth Hubbard
Instead of being viewed as lazy or slackers, workers who catch 40 winks in the afternoon may be gaining a bit more respect — or at least a bit more understanding. Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, found that napping an hour can dramatically restore and boost your brain power. Amazingly, they found a nap can actually make you smarter.
On the other hand, the more hours we spend awake, the more sluggish our minds become. These findings should give pause to college students who pull "all nighters" cramming for finals. The new study found this practice decreases the ability to learn by nearly 40 percent.
"Sleep not only rights the wrong of prolonged wakefullness, but at a neurocognitive level, it moves you beyond where you were before you took a nap," Matthew Walker, an assistant professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and lead investigator, said in a statement.
In the study, 39 healthy young adults were divided into two groups — nap and no-nap. Both groups were given rigorous learning tasks at noon to stress the hippocampus, a region of the brain that helps store fact-based memories. Results in both groups were similar.
At 2 p.m., the first group napped for 90 minutes while the no-nap group stayed awake. At 6 p.m., both groups were subjected to a new series of learning exercises. Those who napped performed markedly better and actually improved their ability to learn.
Walker said researchers believe sleep is needed to clear the brain's short-term memory storage and make room for new information.
"It's as though the e-mail inbox in your hippocampus is full and, until you sleep and clear out those fact e-mails, you're not going to receive any more mail. It's just going to bounce until you sleep and move it into another folder," Walker said.
In addition to boosting your brain power, one study showed that napping can reduce the risk of a fatal heart attack by 37 percent.
Use these five tips for an effective, refreshing afternoon nap:
• The best naptime is 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. when you experience a natural dip in energy.
• Get comfortable. If you have a couch or comfy chair, use them, says Salary.com. Otherwise, stash a yoga mat and pillow behind your desk.
• Draw the shades and wear a sleep mask to stimulate melatonin, a sleep-inducing hormone, advises Body Ecology.
• Your body temperature may fall during sleep, so cover yourself with a light blanket.
• Set an alarm to make sure you don't oversleep.
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