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How taking a 90-minute nap can help increase motor skills and memory

Getting eight hours of sleep a night helps us feel rested and ready to face the day ahead, but it’s not the only way to prepare our minds for productivity. According to a recent study published in the journal JNeurosci, researchers at Northwestern University have found that taking a 90-minute nap while the sun is up allows us to learn new motor tasks better through better concentration.

The study authors discovered these results by performing their own experiment: they asked participants to attempt a difficult motor task with and without sleep (the study volunteers played a computer game, which included moving around of a slider with certain muscles of the arm). The researchers tested the group by having them move the cursor in a specific direction using sound controls. They practiced early, then the volunteers played the game blindfolded.

Image: Courtesy of Jamie Street / Unsplash

The only difference between those who performed the tasks more successfully and those who found the project difficult was a 90-minute nap; successful volunteers took a nap before the study.

Larry Cheng, PhD from Northwestern University, noted that these findings may improve rehabilitation therapy for patients who have suffered a stroke or suffer from other neurological conditions. “We used targeted memory reactivation, or TMR, whereby a stimulus that has been associated with learning is re-presented during sleep to cause a recapitulation of awake brain activity,” the researchers said. “Our demonstration that memory reactivation contributed to skilled performance may be relevant for neurorehabilitation, as well as for areas concerned with motor learning, such as kinesiology and physiology.”

“The current results support the conclusion that performance-based motor skills components can be reactivated during sleep, which improves performance after waking up,” Cheng’s team said in a statement. “By extension, the activation of motor control networks during sleep may be an integral part of the mechanism of motor skill consolidation.” Plus, these findings could help learn more about how our brains work after injury. “Nocturnal RTM may even be useful in a clinical setting to complement the daily rehabilitation efforts of patients wishing to reduce motor impairment due to stroke or neurological dysfunction,” the study authors added.

This story first appeared on

(Main and feature image credit: Bartek Szewczyk / Getty Images)

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