Neurophilosopher has a great review of a recent study on how short naps help improve memory, and how this is supported by the brain.
Participants were asked to learn an action task and were split into two groups. One group was allowed to have an afternoon nap, while the others remained awake.
Afterwards, those who had slept during the afternoon could perform the task better than those who hadn’t.
EEG recordings of the brain suggested how the learning boost occurred:
This study confirms that the consolidation of motor memories is associated with a particluar stage of sleep (NREM), and that this in turn is correlated with electrical activity in an anatomically discrete region of the brain (the motor cortex).
One interpretation of the findings is that power naps trigger accelerated memory consolidation. An alternative hypothesis is that a good night’s sleep consists of multiple stages which are devoted to the consolidation of memories encoded during waking hours; thus, a full night’s sleep may not be necessary for this consolidation to take place; as long as a sleep episode – be it a a short night’s sleep or an afternoon power nap – includes the corresponding stages (NREM), newly-encoded memories will be consolidated.
For more details and link to the full paper, check out the article over at the Neurophilosophy Blog.
Link to Neurophilosophy article ‘Power naps enhance memory consolidation’.