Sarah has covered news topics for digital and print publications. She holds a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Nevada.
An afternoon nap is no match for a sleepless night, according to a new study from Michigan State University. Researchers found that brief naps, typically between 30 and 60 minutes, had little effect on the mental impairments caused by sleep deprivation.
The participants of the study, which included 275 undergraduates students, completed cognitive tasks in the evening and were then randomly assigned to three groups — those who were sent home to sleep, those who stayed overnight in the lab with an opportunity to take a brief nap, and a final group who were not allowed to sleep at all.
All 275 participants returned the next morning to complete the same set of tasks from the night before.
Despite the nap group’s opportunity to sleep for a short period, the study showed that napping for a full hour did not alleviate the effects of sleep deprivation when compared to the group who didn’t sleep at all.
Brief naps are a promising intervention but have not been widely studied, which is why these researchers focused on two key functions that are affected by sleep deprivation — vigilant attention and placekeeping.
Vigilant attention is the ability to maintain consistent attention over time, while placekeeping allows you to complete a series of steps accurately.
While short naps couldn’t relieve the effects of sleep deprivation, the amount of slow-wave sleep that occurred while napping had the most significant effect on task performance.
Slow-wave sleep, or SWS, is the deepest and most restorative stage of sleep. It is marked by high amplitude, low frequency brain waves and is the sleep stage when your body is most relaxed.
If this stage of sleep can be achieved while napping, that time spent resting could prove to be more restorative — but even the most restorative naps won’t be able to replace a healthy and consistent sleep schedule.