It's common knowledge that sleep is the powered-down time that gives the brain a chance to go over what was learned the day. It's a necessary function that allows the body, as well as the mind, to rejuvenate for optimal performance the next day. Without it, we would cease to function.
But what about the power of a quick nap? Can a catnap give the same benefits as quality sleep when it comes to learning retention - even to a degree? Three New York-based researchers took it upon themselves to see how naps affect the learning process.
After recruiting fifty-one college students, they selected twenty-one Chinese characters and divided them into seven groups which each consisted of three characters that had common traits. The students were exposed twice to the characters and then divided into four groups who were assigned either the task of taking a nap or staying awake and watching a video, or a mixture of both.
One group was instructed to take a nap immediately for 90 minutes after the learning exercise. The second group had to watch a video that lasted 90 minutes. The third had to watch a 90-minute video and then take a 90-minute nap. The last group had to watch a three-hour video.
After each had finished, the participating students were tested on their recall and relational memory by their ability to match English meanings to the Chinese characters learned in the exercise.
Interestingly, they found that the participants who watched the three-hour video had much better recall of the English meanings for old characters than the group who napped after watching a 90-minute video. However, the both groups that took naps had significantly better recall of English meanings to characters they had not previously seen. They also had significant advantage over the non-napping groups in understanding and expressing general concepts.
The researchers concluded that regardless of when napping takes place, it is beneficial when it comes to the retention and understanding of things learned. They stated:
The present study shows a beneficial effect of daytime napping on extracting a general concept from disparately leaned but semantically related stimuli [i.e., relational memory].
So the next time you're learning something and have the head room, try taking a nap and you may find that you're enhancing your learning process.