Napping appears to have significant beneficial effects on long-term memory-retention over cramming

Priyanshi Patel ’22

Figure 1: Studies show that naps may be a beneficial alternative to staying awake and cramming information.

Currently, there is extensive research on the cognitive effects of daytime naps, but not whether naps are a practical way to assist learning. Naps can reduce the likelihood of forgetting episodic memory consisting of life events and experiences. Prior research surrounding memory improvements have led to the idea that naps may be used as a pedagogical tool.  However, there is little evidence to support the advantages of napping over cramming in regard to the retention of learned information. Dr. James Cousins and colleagues considered the statement that a nap may be better than taking a break when building their research question: Is a daytime nap better than cramming in information? Naps have previously been compared to brief periods of restful wakefulness, during which minimal stimulation enhances memory performance. However, when students have to study for an exam, they have the incentive to stay awake and cram, instead of resting. Rehearsal of learned material has also been shown to enhance memory. This study aims to determine which is a more productive use of time: cramming or napping. 

The team recruited 90 undergraduate students from the National University of Singapore to test their hypothesis that the nap group would have better memory relative to the wake group due to enhanced consolidation and/or encoding of information associated with sleep, and this better memory would be modest compared to the cram group. Consolidation is the process of transforming new memories from a fragile state, in which they can be easily disrupted, to a more permanent state in cognitive storage. The students learned detailed facts about arthropods during a five-hour continuous session. Midway through the session, participants either took a nap, took a break, or crammed the information. Then, all participants continued learning for two more hours before they were tested. Recall tests were administered 30 minutes and one week after learning.

The nap and cram groups showed almost equal amounts of improvement to learning, with the nap group doing slightly, but insignificantly, better. The recall test given 30 minutes after learning the information demonstrated that cramming and napping lead to significantly better memory than taking a break. The recall test given one week after learning indicated that napping maintained its enhanced effects on memory over taking a break, but cramming did not. Although napping had beneficial effects on memory, the protocol of the experiment was not meant to determine whether consolidation, encoding, or other memory processes were responsible for these effects. The results of this study suggest that an hour-long mid-afternoon nap between learning periods can be a beneficial alternative to cramming and is a viable means to assist long-term retention of relevant factual information. 

Works Cited: 

  1. J. Cousins, et al., The long-term memory benefits of a daytime nap compared with cramming. SleepJ: Sleep Research Society 41:1, 1-7 (2019). doi: 10.1093/sleep/zsy207 
  2. Image Retrieved from:  https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/feeling-the-strain-of-looming-exams-royalty-free-image/187327282

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