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Recall improves if subjects slept eight hours after studying, Boston hospital study finds.

A study at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston found that subjects who slept for eight hours after studying pictures and memorizing the names that go with the images performed significantly better recalling the material if they slept eight hours before taking the test than those who took the test later that same day.

The study was small but the results were significant. Fourteen people were given the test twice, using 20 photos from a database of 600. Once they took the test 12 hours after a day of activities, and the second time they took the test the next day after sleeping. Both tests were spaced 12 hours apart.

“We know that many different kinds of memories are improved with sleep. While a couple of studies have looked at how naps might affect our ability to learn new faces and names, no previous studies have looked at the impact of a full night of sleep in between learning and being tested,” the study's author, Dr. Jeanne F. Duffy, said in a news release. “We found that when participants were given the opportunity to have a full night’s sleep, their ability to correctly identify the name associated with a face — and their confidence in their answers — significantly improved.”

The importance of sleep in retaining learning material has recently become a hot topic, as research is increasingly showing that teenagers need more sleep than they get and that adequate sleep is a key to school performance.

Some school districts have begun juggling starting times to encourage high school students to get more sleep. The Tri-City Herald in Eastern Washington reports that two school districts in the region are switching their starting times next year. Opponents of such moves argue that late start times put more pressure at the end of the day with sports and extracurricular activities.

Advocates of later school times point to a 2014 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which argued that "the evidence strongly implicates earlier school start times (ie, before 8:30 a.m.) as a key modifiable contributor to insufficient sleep, as well as circadian rhythm disruption" for high school students.

"Furthermore," the paper concluded, "a substantial body of research has now demonstrated that delaying school start times is an effective countermeasure to chronic sleep loss and has a wide range of potential benefits to students with regard to physical and mental health, safety, and academic achievement."

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