Day-time naps help us acquire information not consciously perceived, study finds

October 4, 2018, University of Bristol
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

The age-old adage "I'll sleep on it" has proven to be scientifically sound advice, according to a new study which measured changes in people's brain activity and responses before and after a nap. The findings, published in the Journal of Sleep Research, support the advice which suggests that a period of sleep may help weighing up pros and cons or gain insight before making a challenging decision.

The Medical Research Council-funded study, led by University of Bristol researchers, aimed tounderstandwhethera short period of sleep can help us process unconscious information and how this might affect behaviourand reaction time.

The findings further reveal thebenefits of a short bout of sleep on cognitive brain function and found that even during short bouts of sleep we process information that we are not consciously aware of.

While previous evidencedemonstratesthat sleep helps problem solving,resulting inenhancedcognition upon awaking; it was not clear whether some form of conscious mental process was required before or during sleep to aid problem solving. In this study, researchers hid information by presenting it very briefly and "masking" it—so it was never consciously perceived—the masked prime . The hidden information, however, was processed at a subliminal level within the brain and the extent to which it interferes with responses to consciously perceived information was measured.

Sixteenhealthy participants across a range of ages were recruited to take part in an experiment. Participants carried out two tasks—the masked prime task and a control task where participants simply responded when they saw a red or blue square on a screen. Participants practiced the tasks and then either stayed awake or took a 90-minute nap before doing the tasks again.

Using anEEG, whichrecordsthe electrical activity naturallyproduced in the brain, researchers measured the change in and response pre-and-post nap.

Sleep (but not wake) improved processing speed in the masked prime task—but not in the control task—suggesting sleep-specific improvements in processing of subconsciously presented primes.

The findings suggest that even a short bout of sleep may help improve our responses and process information. Therefore, the results here suggest a potentially sleep-dependent, task-specific enhancement of processing that could optimise human goal-directed behaviour.

Importantly, while it is already known that the process of acquiring knowledge and information recall, memory, is strengthened during sleep. This study suggests that information acquired during wakefulness may potentially be processed in some deeper, qualitative way during sleep

Dr. LizCoulthard, Consultant Senior Lecturer in Dementia Neurology at the University of Bristol Medical School: Translational Health Sciences, said: "The findings are remarkable in that they can occur in the absence of initial intentional, conscious awareness, by processing of implicitly presented cues beneath participants' conscious awareness.

"Further research in a larger sample size is needed to compare if and how the findings differ between ages, and investigation of underlying neural mechanisms."

Explore further: Why people with insomnia don't know they're asleep

More information: 'Nap-Mediated Benefit to Implicit Information ProcessingAcross Age Using an Affective Priming Paradigm' by E Coulthard et al in the Journal of Sleep Research [open access]

Related Stories

Why people with insomnia don't know they're asleep

March 29, 2018
When you can't get to sleep at night, you might explain it to someone as your brain not being able to shut off.

Cueing newly learned information in sleep improves memory, and here's how

March 8, 2018
Scientists have long known that sleep plays an important role in the formation and retention of new memories. That process of memory consolidation is associated with sudden bursts of oscillatory brain activity, called sleep ...

Information processing breakdown in sleep-deprived rats

September 25, 2017
Sleep deprivation may disrupt the brain's ability to integrate information over time, potentially contributing to the decline in cognitive performance observed during extended time awake, suggests a study in rats published ...

Learning while sleeping? Our learning capabilities are limited

August 7, 2018
Led by Philippe Peigneux, a group of researchers found that learning capabilities are limited during slow wave sleep. Using magnetoencephalography (MEG), they showed that while the brain is still able to perceive sounds during ...

Insufficient sleep, even without extended wakefulness, leads to performance impairments

May 21, 2018
Millions of individuals obtain insufficient sleep on a daily basis, which can lead to impaired performance and other adverse physiological outcomes. To what extent these impairments are caused by the short sleep duration ...

Can weekend sleep make up for the detriments of sleep deprivation during the week?

May 23, 2018
In a recent Journal of Sleep Research study, short, but not long, weekend sleep was associated with an increased risk of early death in individuals under 65 years of age. In the same age group, either short sleep or long ...

Recommended for you

How returning to a prior context briefly heightens memory recall

December 11, 2018
Whether it's the pleasant experience of returning to one's childhood home over the holidays or the unease of revisiting a site that proved unpleasant, we often find that when we return to a context where an episode first ...

The importins of anxiety

December 11, 2018
According to some estimates, up to one in three people around the world may experience severe anxiety in their lifetime. In a study described today in Cell Reports, researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science have revealed ...

Neurons in the brain work as a team to guide movement of arms, hands

December 11, 2018
The apparent simplicity of picking up a cup of coffee or turning a doorknob belies the complex sequence of calculations and processes that the brain must undergo to identify the location of an item in space, move the arm ...

The richer the reward, the faster you'll likely move to reach it, study shows

December 11, 2018
If you are wondering how long you personally are willing to stand in line to buy that hot new holiday gift, scientists at Johns Hopkins Medicine say the answer may be found in the biological rules governing how animals typically ...

Using neurofeedback to prevent PTSD in soldiers

December 11, 2018
A team of researchers from Israel, the U.S. and the U.K. has found that using neurofeedback could prevent soldiers from experiencing PTSD after engaging in emotionally difficult situations. In their paper published in the ...

Study: Age, race differences determine risk of stroke in women and men

December 11, 2018
A new study found that, between the ages of 45 and 74 years, white women were less likely to have a stroke than white men, but at age 75 and older, there was no difference in stroke risk between white women and men. In contrast, ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.