Try Napping to Boost Memory: Why Naps Work

tldr: I started performing better on exams once I started napping to de-stress before test time. 
Naps are a game changer. If you haven't committed yourself to regularly napping, you might be missing out. I used to be too anxious to fall asleep before exams. Every time I wanted to try napping before a test, I was afraid to waste time doing that when I could be doing more studying. Each exam was important, so deciding to experiment before any of them was risky business. Finally decided to try it, never looked back! Here, I share my nap struggle + 4 tips to achieve optimum napping!

Pretty much everyone at grad school knew they could find me taking a nap somewhere in the library at some point. When you're studying from 6AM-10PM+ every day, naps are a game changer. Once I figured out a routine that worked, naps helped me crush grad school. The best part is that you can apply this Nap Philosophy (Napology?) to other areas of your life as well, it's not exclusive to grad school.

I used to meditate regularly, and before yoga became trendy, I did my own combined version of that (lots of deep stretching to meditation, trip-hoppy music -->segue into sitting silently and meditating/NREM for 1-1.5 hrs -->snap out of it feeling great and rejuvenated with more stretching), which I've been doing since before I was a teenager. 

I come from a family of functioning insomniacs, so already, not getting X hours of sleep wasn't a big deal to me. However, what was different for me was when I stopped meditating regularly. 

As the everyday stresses of adult life piled on, I stopped setting aside time for myself to just be. When bills and student loans are constantly in the back of your mind, you put even more pressure on yourself to succeed and do well in school. In your mind, every exam is a big deal because every single point matters. Every question you get right could make the difference between letter grades. 

So, with this mindset, when you are getting ready to go into an exam, taking a nap is the last thing you'd consider doing. You're so stressed out and tired, what if you accidentally fall asleep and no one wakes you and you miss your exam?! Or, you've already made it this far studying, just push through and try to cram a few more things in before showtime. 

If you're like me and you realized you have test anxiety, there gets to a point where no more studying can really make a huge difference. You know your stuff. You help others learn. You are an ace in class. You excel when it's hands on. It's just, for whatever reason, when you realize a test actually matters, you psych yourself out and put so much unnecessary pressure on yourself to "prove" that you know your material, you end up doing worse when the results come out! So what else can you do?


Yes, you heard me! Nap! Naps are AMAZING.

Napping is great for memory consolidation and for relaxing your heart rate.
Read below for 4 tips!

The key is to not FORCE yourself to fall asleep. I know it sounds a little counter-intuitive, but hear me out: 
If you are someone who has test anxiety or naturally overperforms at work because you place a lot of responsibility on yourself, then FORCING yourself to fall asleep will just make you grumpy if you can't do it. You might start being frustrated at yourself for wanting to nap and being unable to carry it out, and then you'll start being frustrated at "losing time" and frustrated at actually allowing yourself to feel frustrated. 

So what can you do? 

Tip #1: Don't be hard on yourself. 

You know you shouldn't be, but this is where we all really need to practice self-care. Just remind yourself that you are willing to try different ways to find the one that works for you, and it's better to start now than never.

Tip #2: Try different methods until you find one that really sticks. 

What I started doing is mentally and emotionally preparing myself with ACCEPTANCE: If I'm studying really hard and I get sleepy for whatever reason, no matter how long I've been studying, my body is telling me that it's nap time and the window is now. ALLOW YOURSELF to accept that you deserve a nap. Don't care what other people think because you are doing this for your health and mental alertness. 

Once you prep yourself to accept that you will allow yourself to nap when it's a good stopping point, falling asleep will be much easier because you've already removed the guilt barrier. 

After I've read a medical text or gone through presentations, lecture notes, or practice exams, I'll give myself a break to de-compress and de-stress in the form of napping. 

I started doing this to encourage memory consolidation and to give my brain a head start on working through problems subconsciously. 

It's like the saying, "Sleep on it!" I'll usually wake up rejuvenated and ready to tackle the next problems, and I'll often find clarity on some things that were confusing before because I gave myself time to pause and reflect (in a very efficient way). 

Tip #3: Find a napping song. Your nap song. 

I'm serious about this one. If I'm not suddenly sleepy after a carbo lunch or dinner, my other thing is studying until I reach a good stopping point. Then, there's ONE song I play to help me meditate/nap. It becomes a sense memory sort of thing. I become really comfortable the moment I hear the song, and my muscles relax, I feel my heart rate slow, and eventually...I'm napping! 

A good napping song is one that will be 15 mins or more. This is where YouTube is a gold mine. I suggest searching for terms like "432hz" or "binaural beats."

I'll share the one I use:

This song was originally from someone called "Embassidor Ehani," but it was mysteriously taken off YouTube after like 8 million views. Thankfully, passionate fans of the same video were able to re-upload it after being unable to find the original. This is my nap song. It's soooo calming. I played it via our bluetooth chandelier for Ryan the other day and it made him sleepy hahaa.

Because I know how long it is, I can also time how long I've been napping without worry. Sometimes, I'll actually wake up around the 20 or 30 min mark instead of the full 40, but if I do wake up before the song is over, I know that I could get in another few mins if I wanted to (and it feels like I'm "gaining" time that I've set aside).

Tip #4: Use earplugs to help you block out external noise. 

It's weird at first, but you'll get used to it. 
If I'm not in the mood to listen to nap music, I'll gradually fall into a "nap mood" after being able to silently concentrate in "my own world" for so long (or when your eyes need a break from all that screen time)!

Similarly, I started sleeping with ear plugs in at night. I got this tip from a med student (who is now a 4th year!) who studied in the cubicle next to me, and he crushes his exams. He reassured me that I'll still hear my alarm. Wouldn't you know it, I started having amazing sleeps because outside noise was no longer waking me up/irritating me! And I still woke up to my alarm(s).

Once I started napping before exams on exam day, I started performing much better. I walked into the tests super calm because I gave myself time beforehand to relax. It was also a confidence boost because I gave myself that time to nap because I am confident in what I learned. 

We had evening classes, so I'd do my usual routine of getting to campus early in the morning, running through practice exams again and again, and then I'd set aside time to nap at some point before the test. You have have to reassure yourself that you know this stuff and now it's time to relax beforehand. You got this! Your mind will still think about the material while you're resting, so give yourself a break!

Napping is a lifestyle. Try it if you haven't yet. You may find yourself becoming more efficient or giving yourself a happy boost during the day, if anything! 

Are you a fellow napper? Do you have any nap tips or tricks of your own? I wanna hear about them! Feel free to share!

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