Nap Your Way To Better Cognitive Performance

Research shows that an afternoon nap of 30 minutes is best but even 10 minutes can help improve attentiveness and mood.

AsianScientist (Mar. 10, 2023) –Afternoon naps have long been a part of some cultures around the world. They beat the post-lunch energy drop and improve the brain’s flexibility to quickly adapt to changing situations. New research suggests that they can even boost cognitive performance.

In a recent study published in Sleep, scientists from the National University of Singapore (NUS) investigated how afternoon naps impact mood, attentiveness, and mental performance. Previous research has shown that learning before sleeping helps to retain information better. The NUS study, instead, looked at the effectiveness of learning after an afternoon nap.

The researchers found that the study participants were able to both imbibe and retain new information after the naps better than non-nappers. It also made them more attentive, less groggy and enhanced their mood. But what about how much one should nap to benefit from it?

In an interview with Asian Scientist Magazine, Ruth Leong, a postdoctoral researcher at NUS and one of the co-authors of the study, empathized that any amount of napping is better than not napping.

“Even the short 10-minute nap shows benefits for just subjective alertness and positive mood.”

For the study, the researchers recruited young adults who slept at least a minimum of 6 hours per night. Before each napping session, they were asked to abstain from medication, vigorous exercise, or stimulants such as nicotine or caffeine. This ensured that the quality of their naps under observation was not impacted.

On different days, the participants napped for 10, 30, and 60 minutes. The naps were accurately measured with polysomnography, a sophisticated test that captures sleep patterns, to eliminate the time taken to fall asleep from the measurements. After being woken up from their naps, the participants were asked to perform a series of simple tasks.

For example, in a task to check how naps affect the creation of new memories, they were shown a set of images and asked to describe them after some time. People who took 30-minute naps fared better than those who took shorter or longer naps as well as those who did not nap at all. The researchers also ruled out sleep inertia — the heavy feeling and disorientation immediately after waking up — as a cause of lower performance after longer naps.

An increase in attentiveness was a more universal benefit experienced by the participants. They had heightened attention for one to four hours. They also reported better moods than those who did not nap. The participants who napped for 10 or 30 minutes also performed better at a task that required sustained attention.

If you’re planning to incorporate daytime naps into your schedule, a 30-minute nap provides the best balance for performance-boosting benefits and practicality. However, do not forget to account for the time it takes to fall asleep. For a 30-minute nap, plan at least 40 minutes away from your desk as people generally take 10 minutes to fall asleep, the study suggested.

Understandably, many people may not have 30 minutes or a dedicated space to nap at work. In a guide on how to nap in Psyche, Leong and her co-author Michael Chee suggest that even napping in your chair or shutting your eyes without sleeping can restore energy and mood.

It is possible that the cognitive benefits of napping outlined in the study are more pronounced among people who nap regularly. Further research is required to check if napping regularly provides these benefits for longer post-nap intervals.

Speaking about the next steps in her research, Leong said that “it would be interesting to measure naps on a large scale. And how these benefits apply to people with different lifestyle habits, different sleep durations, and different occupations.”

Source: National University of Singapore ; Image: Shutterstock

The paper can be found at: Influence of mid-afternoon nap duration and sleep parameters on memory encoding, mood, processing speed, and vigilance

Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.


Sachin Rawat is a freelance science writer & journalist based in Bangalore, India.

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