Traditionally seen as the preserve of older people or the very young, experts now say that a midday snooze can reverse information overload, enhance information processing and aid learning.
These findings from Harvard University have important implications for learning real-life skills, including those involved with sports, playing a musical instrument and IT workplace situations such as complex software coding.
The studies suggest that the brain uses sleep to restore overused brain circuits and consolidate the memories of actions and skills learned during the day.
They have found that any amount of sleep, even a short nap, appears to improve our ability to process information and to learn.
As part of the research, volunteers were trained to perform a complex visual task and were then divided into three groups where some had no sleep, others a 30-minute "power" nap and another group a one-hour snooze. The longer they slept, the better they performed.
Researchers believe that the brain continues to learn after training has stopped and this learning only occurs during sleep.
Previous studies by the Harvard group have traced overnight memory consolidation and improvement of concentration to slow wave sleep which happens in the first quarter of a regular night's sleep. A nap of an hour has a slow wave sleep effect which could be the solution to IT workplace burn-out.
An alternative approach to improving concentration is self-hypnotism.
According to the website www.self-hypnosis.co.uk self-hypnotism will improve your self confidence, help you to manage anxiety, sleep better, enjoy public speaking and create concentration and focus.
The website gives advice on how to perform self-hypnosis at work. It recommends going to the toilet, a quiet room or even taking in some fresh air in the local park. Sit down, close your eyes and recall a time when you felt relaxed and then focus on relaxing all the parts of your body.
Try this for 10-20 minutes and you should experience an increase in mental agility, creativity and problem-solving skills.
Where should you power nap?
- Try to find a quiet room
- Put your head down on the desk
- If your employer has yet to invest in Japanese-style "sleep pods" then maybe it is time to bring the benefits of power-napping to their attention.
This was first published in July 2003