New research supports the fine art of the power nap, in that may be able to help your mind focus, classify data, form new memories, and clean out junk it doesn't need.
In a small study presented Wednesday at an annual meeting of neuroscientists, researchers found that when subjects rested, the two sides of the brain worked differently. The right side communicated busily with itself, while the left side remained relatively quiet. This was true regardless of whether the subject was right- or left-handed.
The right hemisphere "is doing important things in the resting state that we don't yet understand," says Andrei Medvedev, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Center for Functional and Molecular Imaging at Georgetown University in the US. "The brain could be doing some helpful housecleaning, classifying data, consolidating memories," Medvedev says. "That could explain the power of napping."
To find out what happens in the resting state, the team connected 15 study participants to near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) equipment, which uses light to measure changes in oxygenated hemoglobin inside the body. The purpose of the device is to "help delineate global networks inside the brain, how the components all work together," he said. "The better integrated they are, the better cognitive tasks are performed."
So how long should a power nap be? That depends, but Medvedev told Relaxnews in an email that resting state periods were usually recorded for about five minutes. Sometimes subjects actually fell asleep, others time they just rested.
The study results, which Medvedev presented at the Neuroscience 2012 meeting in New Orleans, are preliminary and have yet to be peer-reviewed by other experts in the field.