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Sleep-dependent learning: a nap is as good as a night

Nature Neurosciencevolume 6pages697698 (2003) | Download Citation



The learning of perceptual skills has been shown in some cases to depend on the plasticity of the visual cortex1 and to require post-training nocturnal sleep2. We now report that sleep-dependent learning of a texture discrimination task can be accomplished in humans by brief (60– 90 min) naps containing both slow-wave sleep (SWS) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. This nap-dependent learning closely resembled that previously reported for an 8-h night of sleep in terms of magnitude, sleep-stage dependency and retinotopic specificity, and it was additive to subsequent sleep-dependent improvement, such that performance over 24 h showed as much learning as is normally seen after twice that length of time. Thus, from the perspective of behavioral improvement, a nap is as good as a night of sleep for learning on this perceptual task.

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This research was supported by grants from the US National Institutes of Health (MH 48832, DA 11744 and NS 26985) and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (83-0320).

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  1. Psychology Department, Harvard University, 33 Kirkland Street, Cambridge, 02138, Massachusetts, USA

    • Sara Mednick
    •  & Ken Nakayama
  2. Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts Mental Health Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, 02115, Massachusetts, USA

    • Robert Stickgold


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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Sara Mednick.

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