Still, experts at UK were not convinced and divided over the findings published in the Journal of Neurophysiology.
Two groups of rats were studied, putting one in a water maze where they could not see or smell the exit. The rats were repeatedly put in the maze again once they had slept with some being allowed to sleep for six hours longer than others.
Researchers found the rats which had more sleep produced more cells in the hippocampus part of the brain, which is responsible for spatial learning as it is in humans, and were better at finding their way out.
The second group were also put in a maze, but were allowed to see and smell the exit - the door was scented with citrus - which was moved every fourth trial.
Lead researcher Ilana Hairston said, "This may be significant in human learning as well and implies that it may be possible to optimize the way information ins presented to rested versus fatigued individuals to take advantage of the specific neural substrates that are unaffected by sleep loss."
Professor Jim Horne, director of the Loughborough Sleep Research Centre, said it would be wrong to assume rats and humans would react in similar ways.