Want to take a nap after class? Researchers say it might help with memory retention

If you love taking naps after a long day of learning, there’s now University of Alberta research that suggests it’ll help memory retention.

U of A research on the 'slow-wave activity' of the brain showed stimulation of memory retention

Students probably shouldn't sleep in class, but new U of A research suggests sleeping after class might help remember what you learned. (Getty Images/Image Source)

If you love taking naps after a long day of learning, there's now University of Alberta research that suggests it'll help with memory retention.

"It's thought that the actual patterns that are being played out by the brain during slow-wave sleep may replicate the actual patterns that are experienced during, let's say, a learning episode," University of Alberta psychology professor Clayton Dickson told CBC's Radio Active Wednesday.

"By replaying that, you sort of rehearse what you just learned."

Anastasia Greenberg led the research while completing her PhD in neuroscience with Dickson.

They researched "slow-wave activity," a deep stage of non-dreaming sleep, in the brain that happens right before REM sleep, and found that the slow brain waves stimulate memory retention.

The researchers, in partnership with the University of Lethbridge, stimulated slow-wave sleep and modified the patterns using electrical fields. Their research showed the electrical fields had a profound effect on the activity in the entire brain.

The study, titled "New Waves: Rhythmic electrical field stimulation systematically alters spontaneous slow dynamics across mouse neocortex," was published in the journal NeuroImage. Greenberg was the study's lead author.

Marketable device?

Dickson said he's not sure whether the research will help people with neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's or dementia because it's not clear if the memories that were studied are intact to begin with.

However, he said it could be useful for students, especially when they finish a study session and need to remember a lot of information for an upcoming test. He does acknowledge, however, that could be a slippery slope.

Dickson said further research needs to be done, but a variation on the projects used in the research could be marketed to the public in the future.

You sort of rehearse what you just learned.- Clayton Dickson, professor of psychology, University of Alberta- Clayton Dickson, professor of psychology, University of Alberta

"Anyone who would like to try to improve their memory would be very excited by this, because it's a cheap and probably fairly easy way to try and boost memory," Dickson said.

"Eventually, it might be the case that this could be a marketable type of device."

The device would, in theory, control the type of sleep a person would have — so if they were taking a nap after cramming for exams or finishing a class, they could induce slow-wave activity in the brain to help memory retention.

But before students give this a try, Dickson said more research needs to be done.