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Study: Naps improve brain power

Those who believe napping is slothful need to wake up to reality: It’s healthful, essential even.

Contrary to popular opinion, the latest clinical research clearly indicates that regular napping improves mental performance on a number of levels, most importantly with memory.

UCSD students who recently participated in the university’s first ever “Nap-In” were clued in on snoozing’s “virtues” by Sara Mednick, assistant professor of psychiatry at UCSD School of Medicine who is author of “Take a Nap! Change Your Life!”

Mednick noted that napping has gotten an undeserved bad rap.

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“Research actually shows napping is so good for you,” Mednick said, “and two studies actually highlight it has health benefits as well.”

Research findings on napping’s positive impacts:

  • It restores alertness, memory and mood in young and old.
  • It improves memory consolidation better than caffeine.
  • Shorter naps (20 minutes) don’t interfere with nighttime sleep.
  • If done before activities such as studying and athletics, it can heighten energy levels and improve performance.

Americans generally are sleep-deprived, noted Mednick, with 40 percent of the population sleeping less than seven hours a night, when they should be getting more. Sleep deprivation has harmful health consequences, including higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, stress and depression.
Many famous people, such as scientist Albert Einstein, were renowned nappers. So are some top-notch, modern-day athletes, such as cyclist Lance Armstrong. “He naps 90 minutes a day as part of his training,” Mednick said.

Conversely, a lack of snoozing is detrimental. “When you don’t nap, there’s a decrease in people’s performance,” said Mednick, adding that a nap’s length isn’t proportional to its benefits. “It doesn’t matter how long you’re napping,” she said, “it’s the quality of your nap.”

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Lab studies comparing the educational impact of napping versus a full night’s sleep turned up surprising results. “It showed naps are as good as a night’s sleep for learning,” Mednick said.

“It’s also additive. A nap and a night of sleep showed double the amount of learning.”

Addressing college students at the Nap-In, Mednick pointed out that they might be better served taking a nap than using caffeine to stay awake and study. “Our ability to remember is improved with a nap,” she said, “whereas with caffeine, people actually make more errors. Which would you rather be: wired or smart?”

UCSD’s Nap-In, in which students brought mats, pillows and teddy bears to doze at Price Center Ballroom, was held as part of LiveWell UCSD, a Student Affairs initiative.

LiveWell spokesman Jerry Phelps, a UCSD clinical psychologist and assistant clinical professor, noted that events such as the Nap-In support one of the university’s overall missions: proactively promoting healthy lifestyles.

Phelps added that fundraising is ongoing to create a UCSD Wellness Center. “Hopefully, we’ll have one in four or five years,” he said. “Right now, we’re virtually a wellness center. We just hired a vice chancellor of student wellness, and we are housed in our Student Services Center.”

For more information about LiveWell UCSD, visit

wellness.ucsd.edu

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