Studies show that afternoon naps can improve memory

Photo Illustration by Lindsay Brown

Although camping out at the Richter Library to cram for a test all night is a staple study strategy for UM students, little attention is given to the importance of naps in this stressful routine.

“[Around 10 p.m.] I head to the library, find a chair and start working,” junior Matt Bosakowski said. “The buzz all around is what keeps me awake along with a grande espresso shot, along with a few Red Bulls, and I work through the night.”

Preliminary research has found a link between lengthy afternoon naps and better memory according to a U.S. News and World Report article dated Feb. 21.

According to the article, Matthew Walker of the University of California at Berkeley and his colleagues split 39 participants into two groups to begin research.

At noon, all the participants took part in a memory exercise that required them to remember faces and then link them with names. They also took part in another memory exercise at 6 p.m. after 20 participants had napped for 100 minutes during the break.

Those who didn’t take a nap performed 10 percent worse than those who did. Additionally, they were able to negate the natural decline in learning that happens between noon and 6 p.m.

This seems to suggest that a period of non-dreaming, or non-REM dreaming, helped boost the memory of the participants.

“I regularly [nap],” Bosakowski said. “I read somewhere that it has good effects on the body. I feel fresh, instead of the usual after-lunch grogginess, so I’m better with anything.”

But during midterms, sleep is not the only regular habit that gets discarded for more study time. Eating right and exercise routines also suffer.

“Home-cooked and carefully nutritionally thought-out meals turn into Taco Bell runs. And my daily workouts become less daily. It’s awful,” Bosakowski said.

Forgoing a healthy lifestyle and going for junk food, coffee and energy drinks can have negative side effects on the body and can also undermine all your study efforts.

“Healthy behaviors during midterms and finals help maintain the energy levels necessary to support studying and paper-writing efforts,” said Ashley Falcon, the assistant director of wellness education at the Wellness Center. “They also keep stress levels at bay and keep us healthy, which allow us to focus on the tasks at hand without feeling overwhelmed or burned out.”

Skipping out on healthy habits like sleep, food and exercise often results in stress and being unable to concentrate and making simple mistakes.

“Current research shows that if you sit down to study shortly after a brief, moderately intense cardiovascular workout, your brain is primed to absorb and retain more of what you study than if you didn’t take the time to exercise,” Falcon said.

Research shows that when studying for exams or writing term papers, it’s better to go for quality than for quantity. Coffee and energy drinks can give you a burst of energy, but these bursts are short-lived and sometimes too powerful to allow the student to concentrate. This results in a peaks-and-valleys cycle that prevents the student from producing quality work.

“The question is what outcome do you want?” Falcon said. “If it’s the best chance at getting good grades, then the way to achieve the goal is not to take shortcuts of convenience, but to take care of yourself so that you’re able to do the best you can without any barriers in your way.”

Lila Albizu may be contacted at

February 28, 2010


Lila Albizu

Assistant News Editor

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