There are fewer things in life more embarrassing than forgetting something, whether it’s the name of a new co-worker or realizing it’s your wedding anniversary and you didn’t buy a gift. If you’re one of those people who scribbles illegible grocery lists on the back of your hand or depends too much on their Outlook calendar to manage everything from appointments to paying your bills – we get it and we are here to help fuel your brain to retain information and stay on top of your memory game.
The brain is an extremely complicated system that scientists don’t even fully understand, with many working parts and processes that take place. The two key parts of the brain during memory formation are neurons and synapses. Neurons are cells in the brain that can send and receive electrical signals and synapses are the junction between two neurons, which consists of a gap that nerve impulses can pass through. In order to create a memory your brain must first register it, which our brain does by sending signals through our neurons in a particular pattern that is associated with the event or information. This first step is called encoding. The next step, consolidation, is when the brain commits a memory to our long-term memory. This process is done mostly when we sleep, where the brain fires up the same pattern of signals associated with the memory in order to strengthen the synapses that were created earlier. The last step is called retrieval, where the individual then recalls the memory that they created earlier, further strengthening the synapses and solidifying the memory.
Now that we know how memories are created what can we do to strengthen them and make it easier for us to recall them? Memories are easiest to recall when we keep remembering them over and over again since that process further strengthens the synapses and reinforces the memory. Now that we know how they are created and strengthened, here are five tips for improving your memory:
- Get More Sleep: Sleep is an integral part of the memory formation process and one of the most important components of having a good memory. As stated before, sleep is when most of the memory consolidation takes place, converting short-term into long-term memories. You know how poorly you feel when you don’t get enough sleep so it makes sense that your memory would also suffer. So the next time you’re cramming for a test or a project that needs to be finished you’re probably better off getting a little shut-eye, otherwise you probably won’t be able to recall much of what you worked on anyway. Even just a quick nap can help bolster your memory. In one experiment two groups were asked to remember a set of cards while only one of the groups was allowed to nap afterwards. When they were tested the group that napped retained 85 percent of what they were asked to memorize while the group that didn’t nap only remembered 60 percent. You can find tips on how to get better sleep here.
- Exercise Regularly: Regular exercise is an important part of leading a healthy lifestyle and is just as important in maintaining a good memory. Studies on both rat and human brains showed that regular physical activity led to improved memory recall. Another study showed that adults over 50 were able to increase their memories after as little as six weeks of regular exercise. Engaging in exercise is extremely beneficial to your brain in other ways besides improving memory, resulting in a boost to many of our other cognitive abilities. If you haven’t yet it’s time to get off that couch and improve that memory!
- Write Things Out: I have always had a pretty good memory and I attribute that ability to my propensity to write things out. I was the guy in school who stuck with pen and paper even though everyone else had moved on to laptops and Macbooks. That’s not to say you can’t learn by typing things out but I have always found that physically writing things makes them stick, and at least one study agrees with my finding. The study showed that the feedback we get from physically writing is stronger than from typing on a keyboard, which strengthens the learning mechanism. It is believed that since it takes more mental effort and time to write it is therefore more effective at imprinting memories. The next time you really have to remember something try writing it out a few times and you will probably find that you’re able to recall more of what you wrote down than you would have otherwise.
- Drink Coffee- While most research has found little to no effect from consuming caffeine before trying to create new memories, one study has found that taking caffeine immediately after learning something new helped improve memory recall up to 24 hours after. Instead of having coffee before your next long study session try to save it for after, since it may make whatever you learned more likely to stick.
- Eat Blueberries- If you don’t like coffee try some berries instead. Research has been mounting that connects the consumption of blueberries to improved memory and the prevention of memory decline. One long-term study of female nurses over 70 found that those who ate at least two servings of blueberries a week showed a moderate reduction in memory decline. Another study from the University of Reading and Peninsula Medical School found that by supplementing a normal diet with blueberries over a 12 week period resulted in an improvement in spatial working memory tasks after three weeks and lasted for the duration of the experiment. Although more research must be done in this area it can’t hurt to throw more berries in your diet anyway.
When it comes to improving your memory these tips are a great start but aren’t the only ones you will come across after doing some research. For example, one study suggests that in order to remember something you should try to get back in the mood you were in when you first learned or experienced it while another says that walking through a doorway will make you forget about whatever you were just doing. To improve your memory you have to come up with a strategy that works for you. Whether it’s getting a little more sleep and exercise or writing things out, by taking just a few steps in the right direction you will see a noticeable improvement in your ability to recall anything you really have to remember.