The research is in. A short power nap that allows the mind to revitalize itself in just a brief respite from the waking world can improve alertness and cognitive function, according to a report in Academic Medicine, the journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges.
Sleep medicine researchers from Stony Brook (N.Y.) University studied the effects of a 20-minute nap in a reclining chair among first-year internal medicine residents working the day shift at the Northport (N.Y.) VA Medical Center. The nap group slept an average of 8.4 minutes and demonstrated fewer “attention failures” during the post-nap period. In comparison, a control group that merely rested in the chair (with researchers chatting with them so they wouldn't fall asleep) had more post-resting attention failures.
Attention failures were measured by devices worn by the residents that recorded “slow eye movements,” which are an indicator of such failures, the report stated. Three residents dropped out of the study because they were unwilling to continue wearing the devices while seeing patients. Cognitive function was also measured by a test that required participants to hit a computer key or refrain from hitting the key as a response to a letter flashed on a screen. The sleep group recorded shorter “hit reaction times” after napping, while the control group showed little change after resting.
The researchers said more study is needed to test the benefits of a short, midday nap on patient safety and on the quality of both care and education. Outliers suggests further study can look at the effect of midday naps (possibly longer than a mere 20 minutes) on the writing of witty headlines and snappy lead paragraphs.