Stats Made Easy

Practical Tools for Effective Experimentation

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Trying to remember what the prof taught in stats? A few Zzzs may help!

Sorry, I must have been napping because I just now got around to the May issue of Scientific American which reported that even a six-minute snooze boosts recall. The benefits of sleep for enhancing memory are well known, but how quickly doe s it occur? Olaf Lahl, a psychology professor at the University of Dusselfdorf, gave subjects at his sleep lab two minutes to memorize 30 words. An hour later, after playing solitaire the whole time, the average subject recalled under 7 words. A short nap raised this above 8, while a longer, deeper sleep increased the average recall to more than 9 words. This article by the London Telegraph relays a theory by another sleep researcher Dr Robert Stickgold, from Harvard University. He thinks that “just before sleep, the brain ‘replays’ recent events, producing dreamlike sensations and ‘crazy’ thoughts.” Stickgold speculates that the brain sifts through newly entered material in a period of “thought marshalling” which may be crucial for recall.

I’ve always been a great believer in napping for as short a time as possible – just long enough to actually fall asleep, which takes me about 10 minutes. Then I drink a cup of coffee, and off I go again for many hours. I always thought of this as a “power nap.” The Wikipedia details a number of variations on this: cat-nap (same as power nap, but for slackers!), caffeine nap (drink coffee before laying down!) and NASA nap (good if you are an astronaut!).

The NASA findings favoring short sleeps for thier workers gained the notice of some employers, according to this ABC News report. As co-Director of Stat-Ease, I don’t like this idea very much. Once I literally stumbled across one of our summer programmers laid out on the office floor taking a snooze. Maybe I should be more open-minded about such behavior, but my name goes on the pay checks and I hate to think of getting no work per hour. That is not a good productivity statistic!


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