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"Napping Can Prime the Brain for Learning"


Tom Kindlon posted this to co-cure Feb 23

[This is not on ME/CFS specifically and is a separate study to the study I
recently highlighted on banking sleep. But it could also be relevant with
regard to "sleep hygiene" advice e.g. these were 90 minute sleeps during the
day. I've appended a more detailed article below -
http://newsfeedresearcher.com looks like it produces useful, more detailed
pieces. Tom]



February 23, 2010

Vital Signs

Behavior: Napping Can Prime the Brain for Learning


Bring back the siesta.

It turns out that toddlers are not the only ones who do better after an
afternoon nap. New research has found that young adults who slept for 90
minutes after lunch raised their learning power, their memory apparently
primed to absorb new facts.

Other studies have indicated that sleep helps consolidate memories after
cramming, but the new study suggests that sleep can actually restore the
ability to learn.

The findings, which have not yet been published, were presented Sunday at
the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of
Science in San Diego.

"You need to sleep before learning, to prepare your brain, like a dry
sponge, to absorb new information," said the lead investigator, Matthew P.
Walker, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at the
University of California, Berkeley.

The study recruited 39 healthy young adults and divided them into two
groups. All 39 were asked to learn 100 names and faces at noon, and then to
learn a different set of names and faces at 6 p.m. But 20 of the volunteers
who slept for 90 minutes between the two learning sessions improved their
scores by 10 percent on average after sleeping; the scores of those who
didn't nap actually dropped by 10 percent.


Afternoon Nap Might Make You Smarter
(topic overview)

Since 2007, Walker and other sleep researchers have established that
fact-based memories are temporarily stored in the hippocampus before being
sent to the brain's prefrontal cortex, which may have more storage space.
"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 the latest study, Walker and his team have broken
new ground in discovering that this memory- refreshing process occurs when
nappers are engaged in a specific stage of sleep. Electroencephalogram
tests, which measure electrical activity in the brain, indicated that this
refreshing of memory capacity is related to Stage 2 non-REM sleep, which
takes place between deep sleep (non-REM) and the dream state known as Rapid
Eye Movement (REM). Previously, the purpose of this stage was unclear, but
the new results offer evidence as to why humans spend at least half their
sleeping hours in Stage 2, non-REM, Walker said. [1] The latest study, from
the University of California at Berkeley, suggests that the brain may need
sleep to process short-term memories, creating "space" for new facts to be
learned. In their experiment, 39 healthy adults were given a hard learning
task in the morning - with broadly similar results, before half of them were
sent for their siesta. When the tests were repeated, the nappers
outperformed those who had carried on without sleep. Checks on brain
electrical activity suggested that this process might be happening in a
sleep phase between deep sleep, and dreaming sleep, called stage 2 non-rapid
eye movement sleep, when fact-based memories are moved from "temporary
storage" in the brain's hippocampus to another area called the pre-frontal
cortex. [2] Why? The part of your brain where short-term information and
memories are stored is a bit like your email inbox, says the study'''s lead
author, Matthew P. Walker, the head of the Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory
at the University of California, Berkeley. [3] "Sleep is not just for the
body. It's very much for the brain," said study author Matthew Walker, an
assistant professor at the University of California at Berkeley. [4]

"Sleep not only rights the wrong of prolonged wakefulness, but at a
neurocognitive level, it moves you beyond where you were before you took a
nap," said lead researcher Dr Matthew Walker, from the University of
California at Berkeley. [5]

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. Those who napped did markedly better and actually improved in
their capacity to learn. These findings reinforce the researchers'
hypothesis that sleep is needed to clear the brain's short-term memory
storage and make room for new information, said Walker, who is presenting
his preliminary findings on Sunday, Feb. 21, at the annual meeting of the
American Association of the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in San Diego,
Calif. [1] Walker and others have previously studied the harmful effects of
sleep deprivation (such as all-nighters) on sleep and learning capacity.
This study is among the first to demonstrate that the brain's ability to
absorb new information declines over the course of a normal day, and that
naps can reverse this decline, according to Walker, who presented his
findings on Sunday at the American Association of the Advancement of
Science'''s annual meeting in San Diego. [3]

There's one more twist: People's ability to learn declines about 10 percent
between noon and 6 p.m. normally, but the nappers were able to negate that
decline. The structure of the study suggests that a phase of non-dreaming
sleep that the nappers went through is boosting memory, he said. "This is
further evidence that sleep plays a critical role in the processing of
memories," he 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." It's important to sleep long enough to
give the brain an opportunity to go through various cycles of sleep, he
said. [4]

In the study, the researchers asked 39 college students to learn a series of
new names and faces at noon and match the faces and names a few minutes
later. They then performed the same test at 6 p.m. the same day. A group of
students who took a 90-minute afternoon nap at 2 p.m. performed better than
non-napping students, who had a serious decline in their memory test scores.
[3] The longer you're awake, the more difficult it is for your brain to
store new information, whether it'''s faces and names, the details of a
conversation, or mental notes for a big presentation. An afternoon nap seems
to refresh this short-term memory and free up space for new information,
researchers found. [3] A nap during the day doesn't just beat tiredness, but
actually improves the brain's ability to absorb new information, claim U.S.
scientists. Volunteers who slept for 90 minutes during the day did better at
cognitive tests than those who were kept awake. [2]

Scientists believe sleep is needed to clear the brain's short-term memory
storage and make space for new information. [5]

While the findings are preliminary, new research raises the prospect that
sleep, specifically a lengthy afternoon nap, prepares the brain to remember
things. [4] New research from the University of California, Berkeley, shows
that an hour's nap can dramatically boost and restore your brain power. [1]

New research by a team of U.S. experts shows that memories are "downloaded"
in the brain during a specific phase of sleep. [5] The results support
previous data from the same research team that pulling an all-nighter - a
common practice at college during midterms and finals -- decreases the
ability to cram in new facts by nearly 40 percent, due to a shutdown of
brain regions during sleep deprivation. [1]

"Sleep is sophisticated. It acts locally to give us what we need." Walker
and his team will go on to investigate whether the reduction of sleep
experienced by people as they get older is related to the documented
decrease in our ability to learn as we age. Finding that link may be helpful
in understanding such neurodegenerative conditions as Alzheimer's disease,
Walker said. [1] Jessica Payne, an assistant professor at the University of
Notre Dame, said the study findings "really add to something we already know
about why sleep is important." One message from the research, she said, is
that sleep can be valuable for "students and for people who are struggling
with their memory because they're aging." Other recent research has
suggested that sleep can help you think more creatively, have better
long-term memory and preserve important memories. [4] The research was
funded by the National Institutes of Health. Don't email this article to
your boss to justify sleeping on the job quite yet. Neil Kline, DO, a
board-certified sleep physician, says that while "the average reader will
take away from this that taking a nap is a good thing and will improve
memory," Walker's study has some caveats. [3] Dr Matthew Walker, who led the
study, reported at the AAAS conference in San Diego, said: "Sleep not only
rights the wrong of prolonged wakefulness, but, at a neurocognitive level,
it moves you beyond where you were before you took a nap. "It's as though
the e-mail inbox in your hippocampus is full, and, until you sleep and clear
out all 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." [2]

In the recent UC Berkeley sleep study, 39 healthy young adults were divided
into two groups - nap and no-nap. [1]

"The sleep-wake cycle is not as rigid as we might think - we have the
capability to sleep in different ways." He said that while the brain effect
reported in the study might be spotted in a laboratory setting, the picture
became more clouded in the "real world". "The size of these effects are much
more difficult to assess - if I have to learn something, for example, it's
easier to do this when I'm feeling awake and alert than when I'm sleepy."
[2] Getting lots of sleep - and even nodding off for an hour or two - boosts
brain power dramatically, according to scientists. The more hours people
spend awake, the more sluggish their minds become, evidence shows. [5]
Professor Derk-Jan Dijk, the director of the Surrey Sleep Research Centre,
said that there was no clear evidence that daytime napping offered a
distinct advantage over sleeping just once over 24 hours. [2]

The wealth of study into the science of sleep in recent years has so far
failed to come up with conclusive evidence as to the value of a quick
"siesta" during the day. [2]

"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."
[4] Then the researchers took part in another memory exercise at 6 p.m.,
after 20 had napped for 100 minutes during the break. Those who remained
awake performed about 10 percent worse on the tests than those who napped,
Walker said. [4] "I can't imagine Mother Nature would have us spend 50
percent of the night going from one sleep stage to another for no reason,"
Walker said. [1]

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. [4] At
noon, all the participants were subjected to a rigorous learning task
intended to tax the hippocampus, a region of the brain that helps store
fact-based memories. Both groups performed at comparable levels. [1] Two
hours later the nap group took a 60-minute siesta while the no nap group
stayed awake. [5]

The results were presented at a conference in California. A UK-based expert
said it was hard to separate the pure "memory boosting" effects of sleep
from those of simply being less tired. [2]


1. PhysOrg Mobile: A midday nap markedly boosts the brain's learning
capacity http://www.physorg.com/news185948338.html
2. BBC News - Nap 'boosts' brain learning power
3. Will an Afternoon Nap Make You Smarter? - Health News - Health.com
4. Afternoon Nap Might Make You Smarter - BusinessWeek
5. The Press Association: 'Lots of sleep' boosts your brain


Eastern High Sierra
Thanks, islandfinn! I read your post with pleasure, as I have always been a big fan of napping, even before I got sick. I enjoyed the articles, hoping lots of sleep hygienists were reading them too, and then I went and had my nap with a clear conscience.