Sleep Disorders

25 November 2008

Naps good for memory

Just in time for the holidays, some medical advice most people will like: take a nap - even a 12-minute nap can boost some forms of memory.

Just in time for the holidays, some medical advice most people will like: Take a nap. Interrupting sleep seriously disrupts memory-making, compelling new research suggests.

Chronic lack of sleep leads to serious health problems
Over time, a chronic lack of sleep can erode the body in ways that leave us more vulnerable to heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses. Perhaps more common than insomnia, however, is fragmented sleep, the easy awakening that comes with aging, or, worse, the sleep apnoea that afflicts millions, who repeatedly quit breathing for 30 seconds or so throughout the night.

How the study was done
So he and graduate student Hiuyan Lau devised a simple test: documenting relational memory, where the brain puts together separately learned facts in new ways. First, they taught 20 English-speaking college students lists of Chinese words spelled with two characters, such as sister, mother, maid.

Sleep apnoea suppresses birth of new brain cells
Conversely, Wisconsin researchers briefly interrupted night-time slow-wave sleep by playing a beep - just loudly enough to disturb sleep but not awaken - and found those people could not remember a task they had learned the day before as well as people whose slow-wave sleep was not disrupted.

'Get sleep problems sorted'
None of the new work is enough, yet, to pinpoint the minimum sleep needed for optimal memory. What's needed may vary considerably from person to person.

Smokers don't sleep well: study , Too much/little sleep makes you fat


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Sleep disorders expert

Dr Alison Bentley is a general practitioner who has consulted in sleep medicine and sleep disorders, in both adults and children of all ages, for almost 30 years. She also researches and publishes on a number of sleep-related topics both in formal research journals and lay publications including as editor of Sleep Matters, an educational newsletter on sleep disorders for doctors.

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