Sleep is a fundamental part of health, especially when it comes to the brain. Scientists are now able to use cutting-edge technology to see where in the brain learning takes place and how sleep deprivation interferes with the brain’s neuroplasticity, meaning the brain’s ability to respond and adapt to the stimuli it receives from the environment. In the new study, now published in the Journal of Sleep Research, scientists examined the effects of daytime naps on the brain’s ability to process information that we are not consciously aware of.
The researchers recruited 16 volunteers for the study and gave the study participants two tasks. In the first task, known as the masked prime task, participants were presented with information very briefly so that they didn’t have time to register the information consciously. For the unmasked control task, the participants responded when they were shown a red or blue square on a screen. After completing the tasks, the participants stayed awake or took a 90-minute nap. Then, the participants did the two tasks again. The researchers measured the participants’ brain activity both before and after the name using an electroencephalogram and their reaction time.
The study found that naps increased processing speed in the masked prime task, not in the unmasked control task. This suggests that napping specifically boosts the processing of information that was acquired unconsciously. These findings strengthen the idea that the information we perceive unconsciously is processed during sleep, and that sleep may aid our decision-making when awake. The leader of the new research, Liz Coulthard - a consultant senior lecturer in dementia neurology at the University of Bristol Medical School in the United Kingdom - states to Medical News Today, “The findings are remarkable in that they can occur in the absence of initial intentional, conscious awareness, by processing of implicitly presented cues beneath participants' conscious awareness." The researchers plan to further their research by increasing the sample size and comparing differences between ages.
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