AN afternoon nap could be the key to improve learning for students and schoolchildren, according to new research.
A study suggests that receiving rewards as they learn can help cement new facts and skills in their memory, particularly when combined with a 90-minute daytime nap.
The findings, published in the journal eLife, reveal that memories associated with a reward are preferentially reinforced by sleep. Even a short nap after a period of learning is beneficial.
Lead researcher Dr Kinga Igloi, of the University of Geneva in Switzerland, said: “Rewards may act as a kind of tag, sealing information in the brain during learning.
“During sleep, that information is favourably consolidated over information associated with a low reward and is transferred to areas of the brain associated with long-term memory.
“Our findings are relevant for understanding the devastating effects that lack of sleep can have on achievement.”
Some 31 healthy volunteers were randomly assigned to either a sleep group or a “wake” group and the sensitivity of both groups to reward was assessed as being equal.
Their brains were scanned while they were asked to remember pairs of pictures. Volunteers were told that remembering pairs in fours would earn a higher reward.
Following a 90-minute break of either sleep or rest, they were tested on their memory for the pairs and asked to rate how confident they were about giving a correct answer. The participants were also tested three months later.
Both groups’ performance was better for highly rewarded picture pairs, but the sleep group performed better overall.