October 31, 2020

Splitting sleep between the night and a daytime nap reduces homeostatic sleep pressure and enhances long-term memory

Daytime naps have been linked with enhanced memory encoding and consolidation. It remains unclear how a daily napping schedule impacts learning throughout the day, and whether these effects are the same for well-rested and sleep restricted individuals. We compared memory in 112 adolescents who underwent two simulated school weeks containing 8 or 6.5 hour sleep opportunities each day. Sleep episodes were nocturnal or split between nocturnal sleep and a 90-min afternoon nap, creating four experimental groups: 8h-continuous, 8h-split, 6.5h-continuous and 6.5h-split. Declarative memory was assessed with picture encoding and an educationally realistic factual knowledge task. Splitting sleep significantly enhanced afternoon picture encoding and factual knowledge under both 6.5h and 8h durations. Splitting sleep also significantly reduced slow-wave activity during nocturnal sleep, suggesting lower homeostatic sleep pressure during the day. There was no negative impact of the split sleep schedule on morning performance, despite a reduction in nocturnal sleep duration. These findings suggest that naps could be incorporated into a daily sleep schedule that provides sufficient sleep and benefits learning.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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