Sleep, as I have said on many occasions, helps your brain consolidate new memories. I have reported before on a number of studies showing how sleep helps the learning of various types of new information. Most of those studies have looked at procedural learning (learning new skills), or verbal learning. A new study adds to these by looking at face-name associations.
The small study, involving 14 young adults, found that that they were significantly better at remembering faces and names if they were given an opportunity to have a full night's sleep hours after seeing those faces and names for the first time.
Participants were shown 20 photos of faces with corresponding names and asked to memorize them. After a twelve-hour period, they were then shown the photos again with either a correct or incorrect name. They were also asked to rate their confidence in their answer. Each participant completed the test twice — once with an interval of sleep in between and once with a period of regular, waking day activities in between.
After a night's sleep, participants correctly matched 12% more of the faces and names, and were much more confident of their answers.
Of course, this is not a huge difference, given the small number of face-name pairs, and the sample is small. I would have also liked to see further testing 12 hours later, so that we could compare the effects of a day followed by a night, versus a night followed by a day (this would have required more stimuli and more participants, of course).
So, not madly exciting, but taken in context of other research, it adds to the growing evidence that sleep helps you consolidate new learning of all kinds.