Taking a 90-Minute Nap Can Help Increase Your Motor Skills and Memory

Researchers noted in the journal JNeurosci that a quick rest can improve focus.

Getting eight hours of sleep overnight helps us feel refreshed and ready to face the day ahead, but that isn't the only way to prime our minds for productivity. Per a recent study published in the journal JNeurosci, researchers out of Northwestern University found that napping for 90 minutes while the sun is up allows us to better learn new motor tasks due to improved focus.

The study authors uncovered these findings by performing their own experiment: They tasked participants with attempting a difficult motor task with and without sleep (the study's volunteers played a game on the computer, which included moving a cursor with particular arm muscles). The researchers tested the group by prompting them to move the cursor in a specific direction using sound commands. They practiced at first—then the volunteers played the game while blindfolded.

woman napping on sofa
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The only difference between those who performed the tasks more successfully and those who found that project challenging was a 90-minute nap; successful volunteers took a snooze ahead of the study. Larry Cheng, a PhD graduate from Northwestern University, noted that these findings can improve rehabilitation therapy for patients who have experienced strokes or have other neurological conditions. "We used targeted memory reactivation or TMR, whereby a stimulus that has been associated with learning is presented again during sleep to bring on a recapitulation of waking brain activity," researchers said. "Our demonstration that memory reactivation contributed to skilled performance may be relevant for neurorehabilitation, as well as fields concerned with motor learning, such as kinesiology and physiology."

"Present findings support the conclusion that execution-based components of motor skill can be reactivated during sleep, resulting in enhanced performance after awakening," Cheng's team shared in a statement. "By extension, activating motor control networks during sleep may be an integral part of the mechanism for consolidation of motor skills." Plus, these discoveries might help uncover more about how our brains work post-injury. "Nightly TMR may even be useful in a clinical context to supplement daily rehabilitation efforts for patients hoping to decrease motor impairments due to stroke or neurological dysfunction," the study authors added.

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