A night’s sleep is required to fully learn various perceptual skills following training, according to previous studies, but a short nap that includes the two major sleep states may be just as effective, reports a paper in the July issue of Nature Neuroscience.
The authors trained subjects on a visual task where they were required to quickly discriminate the orientation of a target presented among distractors. In previous work, although subjects improved their reaction times in the first few minutes of training, further significant improvement was apparent only after several nights of sleep. In the new study, subjects who took a nap containing both slow-wave sleep and rapid eye movement sleep (REM) showed improvement in the discrimination task relative to subjects who did not nap. The full benefit required both types of sleep - which are characterized by different brain waves and are as different from each other as they are from waking. The performance gain from a nap as short as one hour was equal to the gain from a full night’s sleep. The effects were specific to the trained task in various ways, so it will be important to determine how broadly the benefits of a nap generalize before anyone is able to justify the habit of nodding off at work as ‘learning on the job’.
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Message posted by: Trevor M. D'Souza