Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Best Part Of The Day

Today's blog is about naps.

Because this is a blog about competing, and that in itself is very much about learning and thinking, it kind of makes sense that I like talking about the brain a bunch.  And neuroscience is developing at a crazy pace--thanks to the principles behind Moore's Law, which is specifically about integrated circuits, but at heart it's about science and development.  The more you learn and develop, the more knowledge and tools you have at your disposal to learn and develop further, so the rate of gain increases.

Anyhow, it's a testament to how crazily complex our brain is that we've still got such a long way to go in really puzzling it out.  The best thing about studying the brain is that it tells us cool stuff about ourselves (and we are our favorite topic).  So today we're talking about sleep, and specifically, naps.

First, as you continually train at a skill over the course of a day, your improvement rate tends to go down, and towards the end you often perform worse (even if it's not, strictly speaking, a physical skill).  Empirical studies show that you can mitigate deterioration of ability within the same day, or even turn it into upward trending improvement, by taking naps.  This particular study is talking about perceptual learning but there's some science backing up simple fact-based learning as well.

At this rate, this little guy will conquer the world.
So what appears to be better for persistent, sustained learning is splitting training up into two smaller chunks per day with some sleep in between.  Wake, train, nap, train, and bedtime (I guess with some eating or something in between.  Maybe time with loved ones?  I dunno).

That second sciencey article also has a key point to remember; the phase of sleep that appears important to this is Stage 2, which sits in between deep sleep and REM (dreaming) sleep.  So you need to nap long enough.  In that study, the participants took 90 minute naps and experienced increases in learning.

As I've mentioned before, resting and recovering is a key component of improving yourself.  You need to rest fully in between sessions at your gym, and the same appears to be true for mental skills.  Your brain runs on finite resources, and without replenishing them you are spinning wheels and wasting time.

There's a fine line here, though.  There are people who want to keep pushing and learning, and feel like time they spend not training is time wasted.  They are driven by the admirable desire for self-improvement.  Sitting down and resting, for these people, actually takes more self-discipline than continuing to train.  When you present them with science on why they should do this, they can be skeptical.  Sometimes less is more, but there are people who deep down don't believe it.

The opposite of these people are the ones who want to be good rather than get good.  They don't want to spend effort, so they constantly look for shortcuts.  If you tell them there's a faster and smarter way to get results, the start clapping giddily to themselves, and then bail if the results aren't as fantastic as they imagined.

It is probably better to be in the first group than the second, because when the time comes for hard work you're more likely to buckle down and do it.  And, even if your rate of improvement is lower, at the end you may still get to your destination.  Not developing drive and discipline to work through tough situations because you want quick fixes is much worse.  That's not to say working at full steam all the time is okay, because that's how you injure yourself, develop unhealthy obsessive behaviors, and burn out on something you love.

There is a balance.  If your goal is to learn and improve no matter what, then you should ask "what gives me high quality improvement?" and go with that.  That's your guiding star: what actually works.  If that means nonstop training eight hours a day and you're insanely determined, then you will train eight hours a day.  But if it means that naps will do the trick instead, take naps.

Thanks for reading.

PS: This weekend is APEX, a giant gaming tournament at Rutger's University in New Jersey.  It's featuring the whole Super Smash Brothers franchise, along with Super Street Fighter 4: Arcade Edition, Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Soul Calibur V, King of Fighter XIII, Pokemon Black/White, Persona 4, and Tekken Tag Tournament 2.  It's gonna be a heck of an event, and I'm going to be entering in both the Melee events.  There may or may not be an update on Friday, depending if I can find myself some internet.  If not, I'll see you guys next week!


  1. For replenishing returns, do you have to take a nap, or is it enough to simply take a break from the game without the time spent unconscious(e.g. dinner, getting drinks from the corner store, watching Superman vs Goku, etc.)?

    1. nvm i don't know how to click on hyperlinks X_X