Assessing the benefits of napping and short rest breaks on processing speed in sleep-restricted adolescents

J Sleep Res. 2017 Apr;26(2):219-226. doi: 10.1111/jsr.12497. Epub 2017 Jan 24.


Achievement-oriented adolescents often study long hours under conditions of chronic sleep restriction, adversely affecting cognitive function. Here, we studied how napping and rest breaks (interleaved off-task periods) might ameliorate the negative effects of sleep restriction on processing speed. Fifty-seven healthy adolescents (26 female, age = 15-19 years) participated in a 15-day live-in protocol. All participants underwent sleep restriction (5 h time-in-bed), but were then randomized into two groups: one of these groups received a daily 1-h nap opportunity. Data from seven of the study days (sleep restriction days 1-5, and recovery days 1-2) are reported here. The Blocked Symbol Decoding Test, administered once a day, was used to assess time-on-task effects and the effects of rest breaks on processing speed. Controlling for baseline differences, participants who took a nap demonstrated faster speed of processing and greater benefit across testing sessions from practice. These participants were also affected significantly less by time-on-task effects. In contrast, participants who did not receive a nap benefited more from the rest breaks that were permitted between blocks of the test. Our results indicate that napping partially reverses the detrimental effects of sleep restriction on processing speed. However, rest breaks have a greater effect as a countermeasure against poor performance when sleep pressure is higher. These data add to the growing body of evidence showing the importance of sleep for good cognitive functioning in adolescents, and suggest that more frequent rest breaks might be important in situations where sleep loss is unavoidable.

Keywords: napping; processing speed; rest breaks; sleep restriction; time-on-task.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Rest / physiology*
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep Deprivation / physiopathology*
  • Sleep Deprivation / therapy*
  • Time Factors