Memories are a funny thing, aren’t they? Sometimes our minds can recall the most intricate details of an event that happened 10 years ago. Other times, we can’t remember where we put our phone 10 minutes ago.
While some age-related forgetfulness is normal, chronic forgetfulness is not—and it can happen at any age. New research has shown that certain lifestyle habits can impede our short-term memory and even increase our risk for neurodegenerative diseases like dementia.
So what common factors are linked to cognitive impairment and how can we improve our memory? The answers may surprise you.
Lack of Sleep
We already know how critical sleep is for our physical well-being—but a recent study conducted by scientists at the University of California, Berkeley shows what a vital role it plays in memory retention.
Since the short-term memory storage area of your brain can only hold a limited amount of information, things like names, dates, and phone numbers are pushed out and forgotten as new information enters. Researchers have found that as we sleep, brain waves carry these short-term memories to the prefrontal cortex (where long-term memories are stored). This process stores memories safely so you can recall them when you need to.
Poor quality sleep disrupts this transmission of information, and can affect your ability to remember things as recent as the day before.
Studies show that getting 7 to 8 hours of deep (non-REM) sleep, per night, can help your brain properly retain and consolidate fact-based memories. Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the easiest ways to start improving your short-term memory.
While getting better quality sleep may help improve your short-term memory, if you have trouble sleeping, be cautious of using common over-the-counter sleep aids that contain Diphenhydramine.
Diphenhydramine is part of a class of drugs considered Anticholinergics, which can inhibit neurotransmitters associated with learning and memory. A large study found that long-term use of these medications can increase your risk for certain types of dementia, including Alzheimer’s.
Instead, try these natural sleep aids:
- Chamomile herbal tea contains flavonoids that can act as a natural sedative
- Cherries, contain natural muscle relaxants like Melatonin
- Bananas, almonds, and walnuts, have sleep-enhancing amino acids, including Magnesium
Age Related Hormone Fluctuations
Estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and the thyroid hormones are all critical to our cognitive functions. Hormonal imbalances and decreases in these levels can have a major effect on brain function, often leading to memory and concentration problems.
Women tend to experience these types of memory lapses when they are pregnant (we call it baby-brain), and when going through Menopause. Men also experience a similar period of forgetfulness as their testosterone begins to decline in their later years.
While we all experience these changes at some point in our life, most scientists agree that it is never too late to improve brain health.
The Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation suggests that simple lifestyle habits can have a profound effect on brain function. Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables and incorporating 150 minutes a week of cardio exercise and weight lifting can dramatically reduce memory loss and cognitive decline.
Brain aerobics are also a good idea to improve memory function and help reduce your chances of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Whenever you are challenging your brain with new and different tasks, you are helping to improve cognitive functions. Try to incorporate mental exercises for 20 minutes a day, at least three days a week. Some ideas are crossword puzzles, word games, sudoku, reading, writing or playing board games.
With the advent of media and information overload, it’s no surprise that short-term memory loss is sometimes attributed to lack of attention span. Microsoft recently reported that our average attention span is only about 8 seconds. Highly digitized lifestyles including web-brows, multi-screen devices, smart phones and social media, all create a “busy brain” that make it difficult to stay focused.
Avoiding a diet high saturated fats and eating fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids can help feed your brain for better memory and protect against memory loss. But if you’re serious about boosting your short-term memory, you should consider improving your clarity and focus as well.
Adding the following nutrients in your daily vitamin plan may be of help:
This cognitive enhancer is an amino acid that can be found in green and black tea. It can help improve a person’s focus and mental clarity especially when combined with caffeine.
This exotic Indian herb is receiving a lot of attention lately, due to recent studies on its ability to enhance concentration, mental clarity and focus.
First discovered in 1979, this compound has been scientifically tested to improve brain function, particularly in attention and working memory.
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