All-nighters spent studying for exams and late night parties often leave college students sleep deprived. Recent research outlines the various benefits of napping and the ideal timing to get the most out of a nap.
Scientists at NASA set up simulation studies to quantify the benefits of a nap. During a simulated flight, the eye activity of pilots was measured so scientists could count the number of times an episode of microsleep occurred. “Microsleep” is a period of a few seconds when an individual experiences a loss of attention due to fatigue.
When pilots were allowed to nap for a 40-45 minute period, their performance increased by 34 percent. Additionally, the short naps increased the alertness of pilots by 54 percent.
By the end of the flight, the naps helped to reduce the average number of microsleeps to 34 in those who napped versus 120 microsleeps for the group that did not nap. A second similar study by NASA found that shorter 25-minute naps could also improve reaction time of pilots and reduce errors during the flight. These results are significant in demonstrating that short naps can result in a wide variety of cognitive benefits.
Furthermore, naps have been shown to help teenagers learn more efficiently and memorize facts better. In a study conducted by scientists at the University of California, Berkely, students were asked to memorize a list of 100 names and faces at noon and then to memorize 100 different names and faces at 6 p.m.
Those students who took a 90-minute nap after the first memorization session improved their scores by an average of ten percent, while those students who did not nap had a decline in their scores by an average of ten percent. These findings suggest that naps help prime the brain for more efficient memorization.
The duration of a nap also plays a critical role in the benefits gleaned from it. Researchers at the University of Hertfordshire found that naps as short as six minutes could improve cognitive skills, but 90-minute naps are ideal because they allow for the completion of a full sleep cycle. 20-minute naps are also effective because the individual will wake up during a period of light sleep. However, those who take 30-minute naps often wake up feeling groggy because they wake up from deeper sleep.
Through a myriad of studies at various institutions, naps have consistently been shown to improve memory, alertness, and general cognitive skills. Napping may be the solution for the sleep-deprivation of thousands of people around the world.