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Naps Promote Learning of Movement Skills

Posted Aug 27 2009 10:42pm


Whether you are learning to play the piano or learning to throw a football to a fast-breaking receiver, the necessary muscle movements have to be memorized. Converting the memory of movements into long-lasting form takes several hours or more for the brain to "consolidate" the learned movements. This process can be interrupted by trying to learn a different movement during this vulnerable period. For example, consolidation of the memory for a few chords on the piano can be disrupted by trying to learn finger movements on a computer keyboard during this vulnerable period.

Another feature of motor learning is that delayed gains in skill performance can occur after a latent period of several hours after an effective learning experience. This delayed performance gain depends on the first post-training night's sleep (I have explained the role of sleep on other kinds of memory in my book on improving memory).

Now comes a study that shows that daytime naps condense the time course of motor memory consolidation. In the experiment, subjects learned a five-element finger-to-thumb opposition sequence with their non-dominant hand. Then the experimenters tested the effect of a post-training nap. Compared to no-nap controls, a 90-minute daytime nap immediately after training markedly reduced the susceptibility to post-training interference effects and produced a much earlier expression of delayed gains within 8 hours post training. Thus, both memory-enhancing effects were produced by the nap.

Would a shorter nap produce the same effect? We don't know. It wasn't tested. Another untested possibility is that the daytime nap might enhance the memory consolidation that is normally produced by a night's sleep after a motor learning experience, especially if the task is rehearsed that same day after the nap.

Source
Korman, M. et al. 2009. Daytime sleep condenses the time course of motor memory consolidation. Nature Neuroscience. 10 (9): 1206-1213.
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