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Research from the University of California, Berkeley has found that an hour’s nap can dramatically boost and restore your brain power. Even more, the nap not only refreshes the mind, but can even make you smarter. As a great believer in and enjoyer of naps, this research is perfect for me. And for any of you trying to revise this Spring, you can also take a leaf out of the university's books.
In their study, 39 health young adults were divided into two groups - nap and no-nap. At noon, all the participants were subjected to a rigorous learning task and both groups performed at comparable levels.
At 2pm, the nap group took a 90-minute siesta while the no-nap group stayed awake. At 6pm, participants performed a new round of learning exercises and it was found that those who had remained awake throughout the day wee worse at learning, while those who had napped did markedly better and actually improved in their capacity to learn.
The same research team also found that the more time we spend awake, the more sluggish our minds become, so pulling an all-nighter decreases the ability to cram in new facts by nearly 40%.
Staying awake increases the amount of information we take in, and napping and sleeping clears the brain’s short-term memory storage, sending it to a different part of the brain with more storage space, so it can absorb new information.
Matthew Walker, the lead investigator states that: “It’s as though the e-mail inbox in your hippocampus is full and, until you sleep and clear out those fact e-mails, you’re not going to receive any more mail. It’s just going to bounce until you sleep and move it into another folder.”
So next time your parents catch you nodding off in the midst of your books or crawling back into bed in the middle of the day, just let them know it's your new, and very efective, method of learning.
Other ways you can help yourself revise
Caffeine cut backs
Caffeine in general is not recommended for teenagers, but if you do like a caffeine hit avoid energy drinks and have a cup of coffee instead. It will keep you energised during the day, and while drinking too much is bad for you, a couple a cups a day has often shown to be beneficial.
Dark chocolate, which also contains caffeine, not only reduces your blood pressure, but also keeps your brain alert and focused as the cocoa increases the blood flow to your brain.
You may think that fitting some time into your revision diary to exercise is rather a chore, but there are plenty of studies out there that suggest that exercise improves memory. For example, one study, published in 2013, found that a single 30-minute session of moderate-intensity exercise could improve memory, planning, and reasoning, and shorten the amount of time needed to complete cognitive tests. Similarly, research on 21 young adults identified increases in memory accuracy and recall speed following a half-hour workout, regardless of whether the exercise was aerobic or strength training.
Researchers think that exercise increases electric activity in the brain and the growth of hormones that boost the communication between brain cells, both of which stimulate the growth and development of blood vessels, which can lead to better cognitive functions, like reasoning and problem solving as well as forming and organising your memories.
So if you want a break from all that information, how about scheduling in a 30-minute running session?
Ok, maybe don't play too hard, but planning to see friends or family on your breaks means you have something to look forward to and can act as a reward for all that hard work. If you pursue hobbies you'd do normally and schedule in activities like playing sport or going to the cinema, it also gives your brain a bit of time off so you won't suffer from information overload. If you are feeling a bit stressed, you could think about trying yoga or meditation.
A bad diet will only make you feel sluggish, while there is plenty of evidence that fruit and veg, such as blueberries, broccoli, tomatoes alongside oily fish, nuts and whole grains can boost yor brain power.
If you've a morning exam and want to stay full until lunch time, think about eating a slow-release card, such as porridge before you head off to school or college.
Plenty of water
A study from the University of East London found that, controlling for ability from previous coursework results, those who entered the exam hall with a bottle of water scored an average of 5% higher than those without. Water is a really cheap way to gain slightly better results. The NHS recommends we aim to drink around 1.2 litres of fluid a day - water being the liquid of choice to keep your body functioning on top form.
Sleep lots and wake up early
Sleep is a way for the brain to store new information into long-term memory and as you sleep the brain replenishes the neurotransmitter that organise neural networks that are essential for remembering, learning and problem solving. The longer you sleep, the more time your brain will have to process the information you learnt the previous day and those full eight-hour nights will pay off when it comes to exams.
Getting up early also helps as it means you make the most of the day and, if you feel you've done enough, you can take the evening off. It also means that when you come to do exams, which often fall in the morning, you'll be in the right routine already on not about to nod off at your desk.