One Stop Shopping to Boost Your Memory: Take a Nap

Improve your memory with a little afternoon snooze.

Posted Mar 31, 2010

It’s no surprise to me that another study confirms what I’ve long known to be true:  naps are magic bullets to dramatically boost and restore brain power.

Naps are exercise for the brain.

Here are the highlights from UC Berkeley’s recent findings:

The more hours we spend awake, the more sluggish our minds become: pulling an all-nighter decreases the ability to cram in new facts by nearly 40 percent, due to a shutdown of certain brain regions during sleep deprivation.

Sleep is needed to clear the brain’s short-term memory storage and make room for new information.

Fact-based memories are temporarily stored in the brain’s hippocampus region before being sent to the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which may have more storage space. So if your “inbox” in your hippocampus is full, until you sleep to move those facts onward, you cannot take any more facts in! 

Sounds pretty simple. But here’s the really cool part: Clearing out this clutter in the hippocampus to make room for new facts happens during Stage 2 non-REM sleep, which takes place between deep sleep (non-REM) and the dream state known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM). For a long time we didn’t know the scientific reason for this stage, but this helps explains why we spend at least half of our sleeping hours in Stage 2.

The Berkeley researchers are now going to find out whether the reduction of sleep experienced by people as they get older is related to the documented decrease in their ability to learn as we age. The older we get, the more challenging it becomes to pack a lot of new information into our heads. And it becomes more challenging to get that restful sleep, too, given the number of sleep-disrupting health conditions that can afflict us in our later years.

But what if the brain’s waning in those golden years could be forestalled just by getting more restful sleep during the night—and taking a nap during the day? 

Another win for the nappers.  After all, age should be about wisdom—new and old.

Sweet Dreams,

Michael J. Breus, PhD, DABSM

The Sleep Doctor™