Tips and tricks for boosting mental storage and recall.

 

Have you ever found yourself disconcerted with your ability to recall routine pieces of information, like forgetting essential items on your grocery list? Even worse, have you mixed up appointments times or even missed a meeting all together because it “slipped” your mind, and you then beat yourself up over it for days because forgetting important dates is completely out of your character?

Age related memory loss is natural, but simply because it is “normal” does not make it any less frightening. To understand why memory erodes, we must first take a look at how memories form.

There are three stages of memory: sensory, short-term, and long-term. Memories begin to form with your senses – the perception of a visual pattern, a touch, smell, sound, or taste. This flicker of a moment when your brain is processing a sensational experience is the sensory stage.

These sensations are then transferred and stored in short-term memory. Short-term memory has a limited capacity and memories in this stage last from either a few seconds to a couple hours before they are filtered, and if deemed important, transferred to long-term memory or else merely dismissed, a process known as consolidation. If an experience makes it to long-term memory, it will be preserved for an indefinite amount of time along with an unlimited amount of other memories.

If a memory is “forgotten” or a piece of information is unable to be recalled, the error in storage could have originated in any of these three stages of memory formation. The experience may not have been fully registered (sensory), it could have been dismissed instead of retained (short-term), or there might be an issue with retrieval (long-term).

Knowing that there are three components to memory formation presents multiple opportunities to target and increase brain functioning and memory storage and retrieval. Read on to learn a few life hacks for improving your memory at each stage.

Sensory

  • Tip: Exercise your synapses
    • Our brain registers and communicates experiences through the connections between neurons, called synapses. If our synapses weaken, so will the transmission of information.
      • Life hack: Play brain games like Sudoku or Luminosity, which activate the synapses and help your brain with the encoding process of memory formation.
      • Life hack: Use as many of your senses as possible when you want to remember something. The more opportunity to engage your brain and senses when learning, the more likely you will be able to recall the information later.
    • Tip: Be conscious of your experiences
      • Studies abound have found a direct link between conscious awareness and memory. When multitasking, our brains are only partially paying attention to each task, disrupting the registration of the various experiences into short-term memory. How can we remember something if we don’t even notice it happening?
        • Life hack: Sloooow doooown. A trick is to say out loud something you would like to remember, which forces your brain to pay attention to what is happening. For instance, if you want to be able to find your keys in the morning, say “I am putting my keys by the kitchen phone,” when you get home at night and set them down.

Short-Term

  • Tip: Move your body
    • A study conducted by the University of California at Irvine found an immediate correlation between 6 minutes of light exercise and the consolidation of memories.
      • Life hack: Take the stairs; go on a walk; try yoga; go to the gym; stretch in the morning or even at your desk. Simply put, get moving.
    • Tip: Cut your brain some slack
      • The less information your brain needs to process, the more space and energy will be free for remembering what is really important. When you are trying to balance your work calendar, personal appointments, and your kid’s sports scheduled, you’re utilizing and draining brain power.
        • Life hack: Take advantage of planners, address books, and grocery lists to relieve your brain of the job of remembering routine things. Minimize clutter and make designated places for books, shoes, eye glasses, etc. in your home so items are easily located when you need them again.
      • Tip: Drink more water
        • Our brains rely heavily on hydration to function properly. As reported by Psychology Today, “the ability to perform mental arithmetic, like calculating whether or not you’ll be late for work if you hit snooze for another 15 minutes, is compromised when your fluids are low.” One study even found that show a positive correlation between drinking water and memory recall in school aged children.
          • Life hack: Make drinking water part of your morning routine. While we sleep, our bodies go an average of 8 hours without any water. Keep a glass of water on your nightstand or next to your bathroom sink and make it a habit to down a glass before you do anything else.
          • Life hack: Purchase a water bottle or drinking vessel that has a straw. When using a straw, a vacuum effect is created, and liquid intake is maximized and it takes fewer drinks to down a bottle or glass.

Long-Term

  • Tip: Practice spacing out your learning
    • The psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus studied memory extensively and paid particular attending to the “forgetting curve” and the “spacing effect” – we forget exponentially and remember more when repetition is spaced.
      • Life hack: If you want to imbed a piece of information into your memory, like a name, the best tactic is to repeat it as soon as you learn it, every 10-15 minutes for the first hour, and then at an increasingly lower frequency thereafter to minimize decay of the memory.
    • Tip: Get. Enough. Sleep.
      • Recent research found that the coupling of slow-wave oscillation brain waves (which happen once per second) and sleep spindle brain waves (occurring 12 times per second) during sleep is how our brains convert short-term memory into long-term memory. Furthermore, the research found that the ability of these two waves to synchronize decreases with age, possibly explaining age-related memory loss. These findings are vital to our understanding and treatment of memory loss, but also help to reiterate the importance of sleep and memory and brain functioning.
        • Life hack: Sleep more. There are plenty of tactics and research available to help with restlessness and sleep quality, from acupuncture to weighted blankets. Our friends at Weighting Comforts offer an assortment of weighted blankets designed to reduce anxiety and sleeplessness along with a 30 day Better Sleep Guarantee with your purchase. Whatever your method may be, make sleep a priority, create an action plan to combat any sleep issues you may encounter, and consult a professional if alternative methods fail. Your sleep is paramount to your mental health and brain functioning, treat it as such.

 

Featured image artist unknown.

 

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