Sleep longer, take naps to do bet­ter at work

Khaleej Times - - FOCUS ANALYSIS - Christo­pher Ber­g­land —Psy­chol­ogy To­day Christo­pher Ber­g­land is a world-class en­durance ath­lete, coach, au­thor and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist

Re­cent sleep re­search has un­earthed some fas­ci­nat­ing cor­re­la­tions be­tween the du­ra­tion of time some­one spends sleep­ing and his or her cog­ni­tive func­tions. One of the most ex­ten­sive stud­ies ever con­ducted on the link be­tween sleep du­ra­tion and cog­ni­tion re­cently re­ported that sleep­ing more or less than seven to eight hours per night im­pairs spe­cific cog­ni­tive abil­i­ties. Sur­pris­ingly, the brain re­searchers from Western Univer­sity in Canada found that over­sleep­ing can be just as detri­men­tal to cog­ni­tion as sleep­ing too lit­tle.

This mas­sive world­wide sur­vey also iden­ti­fied that get­ting too much sleep isn’t a prob­lem for most of us; on av­er­age peo­ple around the globe only sleep about 6.3 hours per night. Un­for­tu­nately, this cre­ates a sleep deficit that can cause the body, brain, and mind to func­tion at a sub­par level.

The good news is that an­other study by re­searchers at the Univer­sity of Bris­tol in the UK re­ported that tak­ing a power nap can im­prove do­mains of cog­ni­tive func­tion as­so­ci­ated with pro­cess­ing in­for­ma­tion be­low con­scious aware­ness. This study, Nap Me­di­ated Ben­e­fit to Im­plicit In­for­ma­tion Pro­cess­ing Across

Age Us­ing an Af­fec­tive Prim­ing Paradigm, was re­cently pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Sleep Re­search. The pri­mary goal of this study was to iden­tify if a rel­a­tively short pe­riod of sleep helps peo­ple process un­con­scious in­for­ma­tion and how this might im­prove au­to­matic re­ac­tion times.

For this pi­o­neer­ing re­search on how short bouts of sleep im­prove mem­ory con­sol­i­da­tion of im­plicit tasks, the re­searchers hid in­for­ma­tion by “mask­ing” it and then pre­sent­ing it to study par­tic­i­pants without their con­scious aware­ness. Al­though the “masked” in­for­ma­tion was hid­den from con­scious per­cep­tion, this re­search shows that it was be­ing ab­sorbed on a sub­lim­i­nal level some­where in the brain.

Six­teen healthy par­tic­i­pants prac­tised a masked task (un­con­scious pro­cess­ing) and a con­trol task that in­volved con­scious in­for­ma­tion pro­cess­ing. One group stayed awake af­ter prac­tic­ing both tasks while the other group took a 90-minute nap. Then, par­tic­i­pants were mon­i­tored us­ing an EEG as they per­formed both tasks again while re­searchers mon­i­tored pre-and-post nap brain ac­tiv­ity.

The group that stayed awake through­out the ex­per­i­ment did not show sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments on ei­ther task. In­ter­est­ingly, the re­searchers found that tak­ing a nap im­proved the pro­cess­ing speed of the masked task — which re­quired learn­ing on an un­con­scious level — but not the con­trol task, which in­volved ex­plicit mem­ory and con­scious aware­ness. This sug­gests sleep-spe­cific im­prove­ments in sub­con­scious pro­cess­ing and that in­for­ma­tion ac­quired dur­ing wake­ful­ness can be pro­cessed in deeper, qual­i­ta­tive ways dur­ing short bouts of sleep.

Al­though the lat­est study by co-au­thor Liz Coulthard of the Univer­sity of Bris­tol Med­i­cal School doesn’t ex­plore the spe­cific neu­ral mech­a­nisms in­volved in sleep-driven im­prove­ments to im­plicit in­for­ma­tion pro­cess­ing, in my mind the find­ings on nap-me­di­ated un­con­scious learn­ing dove­tail with an­other re­cent study from Ja­pan on how the brain ac­quires im­plicit mo­tor con­trol. A study by Takeru Honda and oth­ers at the Tokyo Met­ro­pol­i­tan In­sti­tute of Med­i­cal Sci­ence found that peo­ple who prac­tised

Get­ting too much sleep isn’t a prob­lem for most of us; on av­er­age peo­ple around the globe only sleep about 6.3 hours per night.

an ex­plicit hand-reach­ing mo­tor task they were con­sciously aware of could quickly mas­ter pok­ing tar­gets on a com­puter screen with their in­dex finger. How­ever, im­plic­itly mas­ter­ing this skill on an au­to­matic, un­con­scious level when their per­cep­tion was pur­posely dis­torted took prac­tice and time.

When study par­tic­i­pants put on a pair of “prism glasses” that mis­di­rected con­scious per­cep­tion from where a tar­get was ac­tu­ally lo­cated, it took the un­con­scious mind about 10 tries to fig­ure out how to au­to­mat­i­cally com­pen­sate — without thought — and im­plic­itly hit a mov­ing tar­get in the bulls­eye. The pa­per, Tan­dem In­ter­nal Mod­els Ex­e­cute Mo­tor Learn­ing in the

Cere­bel­lum, in­di­cates that cere­bel­lar func­tions are in­volved in both im­plicit (un­con­scious) and ex­plicit (con­scious) mo­tor learn­ing.

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