The Effect of Brief Naps on Alertness and Cognitive Performance

October 13, 2006 at 4:26 pm 16 comments

If you don’t get enough sleep at night, a quick 10 minute nap may help improve your alertness and cognitive performance. However, shortening it to a 30 or 90 second nap won’t cut it.

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Psychology researchers performed a study with 16 subjects, each restricted to 5 hours of sleep at night. The subjects were split into 4 groups — no nap, 30-s nap, 90-s nap, and 10-min nap. Subjects that took naps for 90 seconds or less were not found to perform any better on alertness and cognitive tasks. However, subjects that took a 10 minute nap significantly improve performance in multiple post-nap tests. This seems to suggest that only stage 2 sleep helps you recuperate from lack of nocturnal sleep.

Tietzel, A. J. & Lack, L. C. (2002). The recuperative value of brief and ultra-brief naps on alertness and cognitive performance. Journal of Sleep Research, 11, 213-218. [PDF]

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Entry filed under: Nap, Psychology, Sleep.

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16 Comments Add your own

  • 1. julieluongo  |  October 14, 2006 at 10:06 am

    30 and 90 second naps? How would you take a 30 second nap? Set your stopwatch.

    Reply
  • 2. zsharek  |  October 14, 2006 at 12:11 pm

    I would be interested to see if the effectiveness of naps increases linearly (or not) as nap time increases.

    Or if taking 10 min naps every hour is more effective than an hour long nap.

    And I really don’t understand how you can take a proper 30 second nap.

    Reply
  • 3. inadvertentgardener  |  October 14, 2006 at 1:04 pm

    If you could take a true 90-second or 30-second nap, you probably have something else very, very wrong with you.

    Interesting research, though — I’ve long thought that naps were a huge benefit to the average human, and have long raged against the fact that we’re not allowed to put our heads down during the day and catch a few winks.

    Genie
    The Inadvertent Gardener

    Reply
  • 4. Eugene  |  October 15, 2006 at 1:17 am

    You may be interested in Steve Pavlina’s extended Polyphasic Sleep experiment, which seems to support a much stronger argument about REM sleep.

    Reply
  • 5. Audrey  |  October 17, 2006 at 12:29 pm

    so taking a 10 minute nap during an exam might actually help you figure out the answers to a few more questions!

    Reply
  • 6. Jonathan  |  November 22, 2006 at 9:35 am

    I find that if I am driving say, and very tired, that a very short rest–I am not sure 30s qualifies, but certainly 3-5m–can make me feel more comfortable, more alert, and much less “at the edge of falling asleep.” The effect is dramatic. In a pinch, I don’t even need need to fall asleep, just “rest my eyes.” That is not as good, but can also help.

    I believe I have read of other research that shows a diminishing utility–or at least a diminishing time-spent/effectiveness ratio–for naps longer than 10-15 minutes.

    Reply
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