60-Second Science

To Learn Better, Sleep on It

Naps help move new info from short-term memory storage in the hippocampus to long-term storage in the cortex, said U.C. Berkeley's Matthew Walker at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego on February 21. (In other words, zzzz's help the three R's.) Christie Nicholson reports

Wanna be lazy and productive at the same time? Try a nap—because napping can improve learning. So said U.C. Berkeley’s Matthew Walker February 21st at the meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego.

He followed two groups of adults who went through rigorous memory exercises. Then one group took a 90-minute snooze. In follow up tests, the nappers performed even better than their first tries. The nonnappers got worse.

This evidence supports the hypothesis that sleep, specifically the first 70-to-90-minute stage of sleep—the length of a common nap—clears out the hippocampus, the area for short-term memory. Says Walker: “Your memories do not stay in the same location, that they are actually transferred from one storage site to a different storage site. And the one storage site where they begin is a structure called the hippocampus. And the end site where they may go is up into the cortex, this large hard drive reservoir of information.”

After a nap, “Your hippocampal informational inbox of memory email is now cleared out.” Definitely not a tired argument.

—Christie Nicholson

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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