All-night study sessions are common among college students, but it turns out you may do better on that test if you simply go to sleep instead.
That is the finding of a recent UC Berkeley study that examined the effects of sleep on memory and learning.
Researchers divided 39 participants into a nap and no-nap group and gave them memory tasks designed to tax the hippocampus, an area that researchers believe is the temporary storage site for fact-based memories.
The study found that participants who took a 90-minute nap prior to the memory task performed better than they had earlier in the day, while the participants who stayed awake performed worse.
This suggests that it becomes more difficult to learn throughout the day, as a person stays awake longer and takes in new information, said Bryce Mander, one of the researchers on the study.
“A good metaphor might be your e-mail inbox,” Mander said. “It is like your brain’s inbox is filling up and if you have sleep after you learn, the sleep empties the full inbox, providing you with more space to learn new things.
As a student assistant with Health Education and Promotion (HEP), Amelia Goodfellow has worked hard to educate UC Davis students about the benefits of napping through HEP’s annual nap campaign. Along with her fellow student assistants, Goodfellow recently developed a “Nap Map” which pinpoints the best napping spots on campus based on a five-part criteria that included comfort, safety and accessibility. The Nap Map can be found on the HEP website.
“We want to get the message out there that naps really promote students’ health and academics,” she said. “Regular naps can improve concentration and GPA, and are a good supplement to a person’s normal sleep schedule.”
As part of the next step in the nap campaign, Goodfellow and her coworkers are planning a “Nap-in” on Mar. 10 from 3 to 4 p.m. in the MU’s King Lounge. The first half hour of the event will consist of a workshop on the benefits of napping. During the second half, attendees will be able to take a nap with the help of guided imagery and meditation exercises. All attendees will also receive a nap kit that includes eyeshades, earplugs and tip cards for the best ways to nap.
Goodfellow said that HEP eventually hopes to pass a policy through ASUCD that would implement a permanent napping time in one of the campus’s lounge areas. Nap areas would include closed blinds and lockers for students’ belongings among other things.
“It will be difficult because lounge space is limited and students are concerned about having places to study,” she said. “However, one trend that HEP has noticed is that spaces like Griffin Lounge are already used quite a bit by napping students. We hope the nap-in will test out how successful something like that might be.”
UC Davis students had differing responses when asked about their opinions on naps.
“Sometimes naps are absolutely necessary when you can’t go on,” said Veronica Eddy, a senior communication major. “Otherwise, I avoid them as they throw off my sleep schedule.”
Senior psychology major Natalie Gandolfo said she recently re-discovered the rewards of midday naps.
“For a long time I quit taking naps because I really thought they were a waste of time,” she said. “I was drinking a lot of coffee throughout the day to keep myself awake and alert. Then I randomly took a short nap a couple weeks ago and I felt amazing afterwards.”
Goodfellow said she often hears students complain that naps make them groggy or unable to sleep at night, but she said this is likely because they are napping for too long.
“Naps should be kept to 20 to 30 minutes at a time,” she said. “This is based off the body’s natural circadian rhythms. From 20 to 30 minutes, you are in lighter sleep stages that will leave you feeling refreshed. Waking up during deeper sleep stages may leave you feeling more groggy and irritable than if you hadn’t slept at all.”
Though the participants in the UC Berkeley study slept for 90 minutes, Mander said the study was not intended to promote napping, but rather to show the overall benefits of sufficient sleep has on a person’s memory.
“Short naps are great for counteracting daytime sleepiness and staying alert,” he said. “However, sleep aids memory in a different way. The deep sleep stages you wish to avoid with daytime naps to optimize alertness are actually important for learning.”
Mander said the best thing for students to do is to make sure they are getting a sufficient amount of sleep each night so that they are alert and prepared to learn.
“Napping is a supplement to normal night-time sleep, not a replacement for it,” Goodfellow said. “If students are finding they need more than 30 minutes or cannot wake up from short naps, that is usually a sign that they are not getting enough sleep.”
ERICA LEE can be reached at email@example.com.