Every afternoon you find people reaching for coffee, sodas, energy drinks and candy bars to fend off the mid-day slumps. What they really need is a nap, according to new research from Matthew Walker, a psychology professor at the University of California, Berkeley.
Walker studied 39 healthy young adults who were placed into either a nap or no-nap group, according to a report in Live Science.
At noon, all the participants performed a learning task intended to exercise the hippocampus, a region of the brain that helps store fact-based memories. Both groups performed at comparable levels on this test.
Then at 2 p.m., the nap group took a 90-minute siesta while the no-nap group stayed awake. Later that day, at 6 p.m., participants performed a new round of learning exercises. Those who remained awake throughout the day became worse at learning. In contrast, those who napped did markedly better and actually improved in their capacity to learn.
It seems that while you sleep, your hippocampus downloads information into the brain's prefrontal cortex, which may have more storage space. That frees up the hippocampus for new information.
Maybe your manager will understand Walker's premise. The rub is you need to take a pretty long nap, because the downloading process occurs during stage two non-REM sleep - which might be hard to sell to your boss. Even if you use Walker's e-mail analogy:
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.
Now that makes sense.
-- Leslie Stevens-Huffman