THE BLOG
03/04/2008 05:52 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

6 Minutes to a Sharper Memory?

We know now that restful sleep helps us to consolidate our memories, among other great things it does for us. And we also know that naps can have similar, albeit smaller-scale benefits. But a "nap" is generally thought of as being either a 20-minute "power" version or a longer one that allows you to go through a full cycle of sleep (through all the 4 stages, not just the first two). Or is it?

News flash: you can really benefit from a mini, 6-minute nap.

In a new study just published, German researchers have shown that if you nap just six itty-bitty minutes during the day, it will not only make you feel better but will also improve your ability to learn and remember.

Sounds like a new fad diet, doesn't it? But rather than the slogan "slim in 6," we can say "sharper in 6." And unlike a diet that takes so much effort with no guarantees, this is quite real and can help everyone.

Here's how the scientists at the University of Düsseldorf figured it out:

First, they asked university students to memorize a list of 30

words.

Afterwards, the participants were either allowed to play a video

game or to take a nap in a quiet room. The napping times were varied,

though. Some students were allowed to take a 50-minute nap, whereas

others were took 35-minute and 6-minute naps.

When researchers compared

the groups, they found that nap takers consistently remembered more

words. On average, those who napped for six minutes remembered one word

more than the video game players, while people taking the longer naps

remembered two words more.

The fascinating finding here--and the reasons for how six minutes can

be so meaningful--is that most of the memory improvement is linked to

changes in the brain that happen right when you start to doze off. And

these changes remain active for a certain time period, even if your

sleep is disrupted and you wake up shortly thereafter.

With this kind of news, don't you wish you could bottle up a

6-minute nap and stick a label on it that says: "6 Minutes to More Memory!"?  Maybe it would trump the ginkgo biloba market, a popular herbal

supplement for "improving memory."

In fact, I think you'd be rich. Too

bad there's no such thing as a bottled nap. Well, unless you consider

the ingredients you need to have a good one:

*    A quiet, safe, and comfortable place that's free of phones, loud noises, disruptive people, and direct sunlight.

*    A light blanket to keep you warm since your body temp will take a dip.

*    A small alarm clock or wristwatch alarm you can set.

Avoid napping past 3 p.m., and watch what you eat and drink

beforehand. Anything high in fat, sugar, caffeine or other stimulants

can interrupt your sleep. Go for calcium and protein within two hours

of nap time.  Once your nap is over, get up and walk outside if

possible, as this will help wake up fully and set your body's internal

"clock" on schedule.

Think about it: every day you have the opportunity to become a

better, sharper you, ready to learn new things quickly and take on

challenges in just 6 minutes.

Oh, but don't get too excited if you're

sleep deprived. In other words, don't try to make up for lost sleep

with those 6 minutes. They are the bonus 6 minutes after your good

night's sleep. So sleep tight first, and practice the art of napping

second.

This article is cross-posted at Dr. Breus's Blog, The Insomnia Blog.