It always feels good to come home after a hard day’s work, lay back on the recliner and take a nice hearty nap. Not only do naps feel good, it is great for your brain’s memory according to a recent study. University of Haifa’s Behavior and Brain Research Center conducted a study lead by Professor Avi Karni and Dr. Maria Korman. They found that a daytime nap changes the course of memory formation in the brain for the better.

The study involved 2 groups of participants: one group which took a nap for 1 hour & 30 minutes after learning a specific sequence involving bringing the thumb and forefinger together. The other group stayed awake after the learning process. The research process examined how quickly and accurate the subjects were able to repeat the sequence involving the thumb and forefinger.

What were the results? The group that took an hour and 1/2 nap in the afternoon showed significant improvements in overall memory performance later that evening. The research suggests that a daytime nap enhances the overall level of performance in the brain! After a nights sleep, the subject’s brains were on the same level, but “the group that slept in the afternoon improved much faster than the group that stayed awake,” noted Professor Karni.

A second experiment was conducted as well to verify results. The second study demonstrated that another aspect of memory is definitely accelerated by sleep. It was previously shown that 6-8 hours after completing an effective memory practice session, there can be interference in the neural process of memory consolidation. When one learns or performs a second, different task, one’s brain will not be able to successfully remember the first trained task. The group that took a snooze were able to remember the trained task and the second different task!

There was also a third group of participants in the study that learned a different thumb-to-finger sequence 2 hours after practicing the first task. They were not allowed to take a nap. When the second task was introduced at the beginning of the 6-8 hour period, the second task the group didn’t show any improvement or boosted brain task-performance during the evening or the next day. However, when the fourth group of participants took a 90 minute nap between learning the first set of movements and the second. This group showed a significant improvement in their task-performance the following morning!

“This part of the study demonstrated, for the first time, that daytime sleep can shorten the time “how to” memory becomes immune to interference and forgetting. Instead of 6-8 hours, the brain consolidated the memory during the 90 minute nap,” said Professor Karni. She also said, “That while this study demonstrates that the process of memory consolidation is accelerated during daytime sleep, it is still not clear which mechanisms sleep accelerates in the process.”

What has this study shown me? If you want a good memory, take a snooze during the day! This makes perfect sense to me because when you take a nap your brain shifts down from the beta brainwave pattern to some deep alpha & theta patterns which have been proven to accelerate learning processes and improve long-term memory. Theta waves can literally bind memories in your brain for the long-term, which is really cool.

A note to all students: if you have a big test or examination coming up, remember to keep sleep in proportion with your study time. Rather than staying up all night cramming, it is better to study for a little while and then get some quality sleep because the sleep will help your brain form memories of what you just crammed! When scientists are able to identify these mechanisms, new methods could be used to accelerate the development of memory consolidation. Until these are found, if you need a good memory especially for learning “how to do” something, snooze on it!