Napping is a cross-cultural phenomenon which occurs across the lifespan - Dr Kimberly Cote Professor, MSc, PhD, Psychology
As the new year begins many of us started to focus on learning a new skill or starting a new job or in many cases both.
How many times has the overwhelming sense of what we have to learn led us to looking for productivity hacks? Do some of us do the ‘look, cover, write’ method? Are there ways to speed up the transition to be the ideal humans we aspire to be? Getting out of your comfort zone doesn't mean you must forgo comfort and learning new skills doesn't mean you must sacrifice your rest. In fact, having a nice cosy nap can speed up your memory retention and make it more effective.
Having a nice cosy nap can speed up your memory retention and make it more effective.
To some of you reading this it must seem like a contradiction. Spend more time resting so I can be smarter. Well, bare with me while I put forward the case for your afternoon naps, they no longer need to be cheeky naps or guilty pleasures.
When we are starting a new job or acquiring a new skill we have a lot of learning to do. To really learn something effectively we need to be able to remember it and then apply it. Nothing is worse than spending time learning something new but then struggling to remember it when you need it the most. Or you learn something, but miss the opportunities you could have used it.
Napping during the day can improve how much you remember, how long you remember it for, and your ability to apply this new information in more out of the box ways.
Napping enhances memory
Our memory recall works by transferring new recent memories into long-term permanent memory stores in our brain, most of which happens when we are sleeping. Sleep is an important step in our learning process. Short naps can help with improving the memory of information (declarative memory) and longer naps can help with improving your ‘muscle memory’ (procedural memory).
The relationship between napping and memory has been identified by many studies such this one by Ju Lynn Ong, et al. who that found “participants who had a 90-minute afternoon nap in addition to a habitual, nonrestricted night of sleep encoded 21% more word pairs on average than those who stayed awake during the nap period. “
If our learning is 21% more effective, does that mean we can spend 21% less time learning? I'm not sure it works exactly that way but it can help you understand how effective prioritising your naps can be.
If you've started a new job you have lots to take in, whether it is your new team's names, new processes, and what the company does. Make the most of this intensive flood of information by scheduling naps during your working day. This will help you more effectively store and understand all the information you are absorbing.
The same goes when you are learning a new skill, we often feel the need to grind through and dedicate as much time to it as possible. In fact, taking a nap helps you pick it up faster and apply more creativity.
Taking a nap helps you pick it up faster and apply more creativity
Napping enhances creativity
Research led by the University of Bristol looked at whether a short period of sleep can help us process unconscious information and how this might affect behaviour and reaction time.
They found that even during short bouts of sleep we process information that we are not consciously aware of.
Sleep has 2 main phases; REM (rapid eye movement sleep) and non-REM. Together they consist of 5 stages you cycle through while asleep. During REM information flows more freely between different brain networks. We take all the information we have previously learned and we start to link it to the new information in ways we couldn’t do while awake. The brain starts to explore new and abstract associations between the information we have stored. You wake up with new connections between what you know allowing you to see things from new perspectives.
There is a reason the phrase ‘just sleep on it’ is a common solution to problems you can’t solve. There are numerous anecdotal stories of great discoveries coming to people while they napped. Dmitri Mendeleev is said to have dreamt of the periodic table after years of trying to find connections between the elements, and Paul Marcatney claims to have woken up with the song 'Yesterday' in his head and rolled over to his piano next to his bed to play it before he forgot it.
One study showing the benefit of napping in creative problem solving got two groups to solve a complex problem which had a hidden rule found. They found 60% of the group that had a nap in-between solving the problem found the hidden rule. Only 20% of the control group found the hidden rule.
Next time you have a problem to solve try prioritising your naps.
Don't nap in the 5hr window before you go to bed - to make sure you can still hit the hay at night.
Schedule naps into your day and prioritise them - it's too easy to get caught up in what you are doing and you miss an opportunity to cement your learning.
Make it a habit to get the most out of napping - great naps take practice
Nap in a bed - studies have shown that compared to napping in a seat you have a much better rest (improvement in alertness and mood) from napping in a bed
There is always time - Even short naps up to 10 min have shown to be effective for memory improvement and mood.
Nap after a learning session - Regular breaks are important, nap breaks can help you retain the information you learned quicker.