Home > Attention, Memory > Nodding off while doing homework? Stop what you’re doing, and take a nap.

Nodding off while doing homework? Stop what you’re doing, and take a nap.

November 20th, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

There’s no doubt that a large percentage of college students are sleep-deprived. When you have an exam to study for, a paper to write, two quizzes to study for the next day, you’re going to stay up late. You’ll sleep at 2:00 A.M. the earliest. 3:00 A.M. if you’re pushing it. Sleep is probably the last thing on your mind, but also the first thing your body wants and needs. It’s hard to go to sleep knowing you have these assignments to finish for the next day, but a quick nap might just be the rest you need!

We spend one-third of our lives sleeping (or at least attempting to fall asleep). There are five stages of sleep: stage 1, 2, 3, 4 and rapid eye movement (REM). Stage 1-4 sleep is called non-rapid eye movement (NREM). We won’t talk much about the differences in these sleep stages, but it’s said that the more hours of sleep one gets, the more REM sleep one gets. REM sleep is when most dreams occur during sleep. If we don’t get enough sleep, level of concentration and attention decreases, memory systems don’t work as efficiently, and motor and cognitive functions are negatively affected.

At Waseda University in central Tokyo, Japan, Morita et al. investigated the effects of a daytime nap on learning motor skills. They had all the participants learn how to juggle with three balls by following a training video. Then, half of the participants didn’t do anything and the other half took a 2-hour long nap. After this nap, all the participants were told to juggle again. They were looking at how juggling performance changed within the group and whether there was any difference in performance between the group that took the nap and the group that didn’t.




The nap group’s performance in juggling exceeded the performance of the group that didn’t take a nap. In general, sleep is always beneficial to the body, the mind, and the two functioning together. In this study, the nap provided the participants time to remember the motions of the three ball juggling. This was a test of procedural memory. When first learning how to do a certain activity, it is a very controlled process. The act of learning is a procedure and usually takes time. However, the more practice one gets, the more the activity becomes an automatic process from a controlled process. With the help of a nap, it solidified these memory traces of juggling in the mind. Also, the nap allowed for attention to be focused. Memory and attention, in this case, come hand in hand because things that are attended to and are processed for meaning usually stick in your mind.

The results of this study can also be applied to learning a new play or a move in sports. When practicing a new play, it takes a few rounds for people to start getting it. Then, it becomes a relatively automatic move after days of practice because the specific memory traces are being revisited over and over again. But, the move isn’t practiced for hours on end. Between practices, you do homework, have meals, talk to people, and sleep! Sleep is really what helps in consolidating the memories of what you learn in the classroom, what you learn on the field, and what you learn about people.

So, when you’re thinking of learning to do something new, don’t spend all night practicing. It won’t help at all. Start practicing, take a nap, and go back to it! If it doesn’t work, well, at least you got to sleep for a bit!


To read the original paper, click here:



Morita, Y., Ogawa, K., Uchida, S. (2012). The effect of a daytime 2-hour nap on complex motor skill learning. Sleep and Biological Rhythms, 10, 302-309


Sleep, Sleep Disorders, and Biological Rhythms. (n.d.). Retrieved November 19, 2014, from https://science.education.nih.gov/supplements/nih3/sleep/guide/info-sleep.htm


Oelschlager, J. (n.d.). Sleep and College Life. Retrieved November 18, 2014, from http://www.fit.edu/caps/documents/SleepandCollegeLife.pdf

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  1. December 2nd, 2014 at 20:29 | #1

    I can really relate to this post because, as a college student, I often stay up late doing work and take naps in-between when I can no longer focus on my work. But since this study is tests procedural memory, I wonder if it applies to semantic memory which I would rely on for tests. Does solidifying memories these types of memory differ? Would take a nap in the middle of studying really help me remember the information before the nap better? I have very little knowledge as to what is going on in sleep, but I watched a science show that said while we sleep, we may be practicing motor skills in our head, such as simulating skiing down a hill in one’s dream. If that is true, is the consolidation of the memory for juggling which has do do with simulating practicing during one’s dream applicable to non-procedural memory? Also has retroactive interference been factored into the study? For those that performed better after a nap, it may be due to less forgetting due to retroactive interference.

  2. Emily Moslener
    October 20th, 2015 at 23:59 | #2

    This post really caught my attention mainly because I love taking naps. There are often times when I will be doing homework or studying for hours but there gets to be a point where I stop being productive because I am so tired. When this happens, I am usually tempted to take a quick power-nap but I often feel guilty about doing so because it is wasting precious time that I could be working. After reading this post though, I feel better about taking breaks in order to get a little bit of sleep. The idea of napping makes sense. Our bodies need rest and when we become too exhausted we become much less productive. Also, when we become too tired, it becomes harder for us to focus (at least it is for me). I know that if I am trying to study while I am tired, it becomes very difficult to focus on the task at hand, but after a nap, it is much easier to focus. The inability to focus results in a decrease in what we are able to absorb and commit to our long term memory.

  3. October 21st, 2015 at 21:06 | #3

    The first thing that comes to mind when reading this blog post is the potential problem that retroactive interference poses for the group that didn’t take a nap. I’m curious as to what the researchers had the controlled group do during the 2 hours in which the other group was napping; whether they just sat in a room staring into blank space for the 2 hours, or if they were free to leave as long as they returned 2 hours later. Retroactive interference is the phenomenon that takes place when new information/stimuli negatively affects the retrieval of old information. Now to go a bit into depth about how retroactive interference could play a large role in the decreased performance of the controlled group, something as simple as a conversation and the contents of the conversation, could negatively affect the group’s juggling performance after 2 hours. Furthermore, it can be assumed that the nap group wasn’t presented with any new information/stimuli while sleeping and thus, they would have no new information that could potentially interfere with their newly acquired ability to juggle. Simply put, depending on the method of this study, the controlled group could have been affected by new information during the 2 hours, causing them to effectively forget how to juggle, or at least juggle as well; while the group that took a nap was more easily able to absorb the newly learned information. However, as someone who thoroughly enjoys napping I find this article really interesting, and reassuring of the amount of naps I take!

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