This may be one of the key factors to address if you’re wanting to boost your memory. Sleep provides the brain with the opportunity to perform several vital functions associated with memory, whereas lack of sleep can significantly affect your ability to form memories.1
Sleeping before learning something allows the brain to absorb new information more easily, a bit like a dry sponge that’s able to soak up lots of water. Without the sleep, the brain is more like an already-soaked sponge that can’t absorb anything further.
Sleeping after learning something allows the new memories to be cemented into new neural networks that are being laid down. This has been termed ‘replay’ where the brain undergoes sequences of replaying new information to further embed the new circuitry.
During sleep, it has been discovered that information from the hippocampus, which is like the ‘inbox’ of the brain that receives new information and holds it temporarily, is transferred to the cortex, where long-term memory is created and stored.
Sleep is a complex and intelligent process that not only helps to cement new information but also allows it to be integrated with existing memories and oftentimes to create connections or associations. This is why the wise old advice to ‘sleep on it’ when struggling with a problem is so accurate – sleep really does have the ability to produce solutions!
Physical exercise is important for overall health, but it also plays a role in brain function. Without regular exercise, plaque build-up occurs in your arteries which reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients that your blood carries to your brain, thus comprising brain function. A study conducted in 2016 found that exercising 4 hours after learning something significantly improves memory retention. The researchers suggested that “appropriately timed physical exercise can improve long-term memory and highlights the potential of exercise as an intervention in educational and clinical settings.”2
Stress, anger, anxiety and particularly depression are all factors that can affect memory retention and recall. These states of emotion can, over time, affect the areas of the brain that are responsible to memory. Depression increases cortisol levels in your bloodstream, which elevates the cortisol levels in the brain. Doctors have found that increased cortisol diminishes certain areas of the brain, especially the hippocampus, which is where short-term memories are stored.
Feed your brain
Between 50% and 60% of the brain’s overall weight is pure fat, which is used to insulate its billions of nerve cells. The better insulated a cell is, the faster it can send messages, and the quicker you can think. Thus, eating a good variety of healthy fats is essential to aiding long-term memory. Here are some suggestions on the types of foods to include in your diet:3
Nuts, like walnuts and almonds (along with other foods like avocado) are excellent sources of Vitamin E, which has been linked with the prevention of cognitive decline.4
Broccoli is full of antioxidants and vitamin K, which is known to enhance cognitive function. Since your brain uses so much fuel (it’s only 3% of your body weight but uses up to 17% of your energy), it is more vulnerable to free-radical damage and antioxidants help eliminate this threat.
Blueberries have been found to have the one of the highest quantities of antioxidants (especially flavonoids), amongst other fruits and vegetables, which is linked to improved short-term memory and coordination. Strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries are also full of brain benefits.
Foods rich in fatty acids provide the essential fatty acids like DHA and EPA that are necessary for the brain to repair and build synapses associated with memory. Eggs, flax, and oily fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel and herring are great natural sources of these powerful fatty acids. Eggs also contain choline, which is a necessary building block for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, to help you recall information and concentrate.