Memory is an inconstant thing. For example, you may remember something important that happened ten years ago, but not what you ate for dinner last Tuesday. Or maybe you’re just forgetful about the little things, like misplacing your keys, reading text messages but forgetting to reply, or losing track of your appointments.
Everyone forgets things from time to time, but if you are often forgetful – with important things just out of reach in your mind or your words right on the tip of your tongue — it can feel debilitating and beyond frustrating.
Although some memory loss and forgetfulness is normal with ageAccording to the National Institute on Aging, certain things can exacerbate your forgetfulness, regardless of your age.
“There are a number of common habits that can make us more forgetful,” said Michele Goldman, psychologist and Hope for Depression Research Foundation media advisor.
Below, experts explain several things you might not realize that are affecting your memory. If you’ve been feeling more forgetful lately, keep reading to see if you’ve developed any of these habits.
Not getting enough sleep
Sleep has many health benefits, including improved memory. Not getting enough sleep can affect your ability to learn new things up to 40%, and it can affect the hippocampus part of your brain, which is responsible for creating new memories.
“Sleep allows our brains to restore themselves,” Goldman said. “Certain stages of sleep, including REM sleep, are specifically associated with memory consolidation, or the process of transforming newly learned information into long-term memory.”
The Sleep Foundation recommends adults have about seven to nine hours of quality sleep per night. Not getting enough sleep or having poor quality sleep can make us more forgetful because “new information we learn isn’t stored in our long-term memory and is more likely to be forgotten or lost,” Goldman said. .
Julia Kogana Florida health psychologist and creator of the Master Stress Method, says sleep is tied to attention and concentration — two key things when it comes to memory.
“If we skip over sleep, we’re less likely to be alert, focused, and energetic,” she said. “If we lack attention, we are unlikely to be able to retain information well. Therefore, those who regularly skip sleep are more likely to be forgetful since the attentional parts of their brains, particularly in the prefrontal cortex , will not be as sharp.
Kogan said forgetting is often “an attention issue.” She explained that being attentive and focused is an important part of memorizing information.
“If we’re not paying full attention to it, getting distracted, or not in a mental state to retain information, we’re not going to fully attend to the information, resulting in what looks like an oversight,” Kogan added.
Distraction can also occur when multitasking. “Working on various tasks at the same time can actually lead to lower productivity and more forgetfulness,” Kogan said.
She recommends focusing on one thing at a time. One way to do this is to block out time at work by breaking tasks down into manageable activities with small breaks.
“It might feel like 45 minutes of a specific task with no breaks or other tasks, followed by a 5-10 minute break,” Kogan said.
Not exercising or moving your body
“Exercise is important for your overall health, including your memory,” said Valentina Dragomirpsychotherapist and founder of PsihoSensus Therapy and PsihoSensus Academy. “Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and helps protect brain cells. There is also [research] it shows sedentary habits are linked to thinning in certain areas of the brain which are important for memory.
“Regular exercise – not necessarily strenuous exercise – helps reduce the risk of a number of common diseases linked to memory loss, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, to name a few. just a few,” Goldman added.
Take certain medications
Have you recently started taking a new medication? It could also affect your memory.
“Medications like antidepressants, allergy medications, blood pressure stabilizers, etc. can affect memory due to their sedative properties,” said Sanam Hafeez, neuropsychologist, faculty member at the University of Columbia and Founder and Director of Comprehensive Psychological Consultation Services, PC
Other drugs that can make you more forgetful include benzodiazepines, cholesterol-lowering drugs, antiepileptic drugs, narcotic pain relievers, blood pressure medications, incontinence medications, antihistamines, and more.
“Some drugs only impair your memory while you take them, and others may have longer-lasting effects,” she noted. Talking to your doctor and finding the best medication for you and your lifestyle will help.
“Alcohol can damage brain cells and lead to memory problems,” Dragomir said. “According to research, long-term alcohol consumption leads to a decrease in brain size.”
Kogan said that those with an alcohol use disorder or those who use alcohol are more likely to experience short and long term memory loss.
“When you drink, alcohol impacts the hippocampus, which is largely responsible for learning and memory,” Kogan explained. “Alcohol can impact how the hippocampal nerves communicate, leading to forgetfulness.”
She added: “People who drink heavily tend to lack certain vitamins and other nutrients, which can also lead to forgetfulness.”
Smoking is another habit to quit if you want to improve your memory. “Smoking damages brain cells and prevents the formation of new ones in the hippocampus, which leads to forgetfulness,” Dragomir said.
She also cited a study in the Journal of Neuroscience it shows “chronic exposure to nicotine may alter brain mechanisms related to learning and memory.
“Smoking can impair lung and heart function, which slows oxygen transport to the brain,” Hafeez added. “Less oxygen to your brain can lead to decreased brain function, leading to memory loss.”
The THC in marijuana can also impact learning and memory.
“Marijuana has been shown to produce short-term problems with working memory in particular, as well as with attention,” Kogan said. The more you smoke, the more serious the problem. “In heavy users, marijuana has been shown to cause learning and memory problems for weeks after cannabis use.”
Not eating certain foods
Food can also impact our brains. “What we ingest impacts how we feel physically, mentally and emotionally,” Goldman said. “A diet that lacks balance can have a negative impact on the body.”
If you are looking foods to boost brain function, Harvard Medical School suggests opting for leafy vegetables, oily fish, berries, tea and coffee, and nuts. Hafeez also recommends “consuming a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods.” These include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and healthy fats, among others.
Organization is important when it comes to memory.
“We’re much more likely to forget things when our external environment is in disarray,” Goldman said. “A chaotic, cluttered, or disorganized environment works for some, but not for most individuals.”
She recommends finding a system that works for you. “Keep a notebook, create a schedule, get a schedule – whatever the system, be consistent and follow it.”
Part of organization is finding a place for everything, including the often misplaced keys. “Set specific locations for items to reduce the chance of losing them; for example, the keys go on a hook by the door, they are not distractedly put down when we come in and drop off our things,” Goldman added.
Having an untreated mental health problem
“Anxiety and depression can impair concentration, making it harder to pay attention to small details,” Goldman said. “It can be hard to stay organized; we could be easily overwhelmed and lack focus.
Trauma survivors in particular “tend to have impaired memory,” according to Goldman. “The nervous system is on overload trying to provide safety and protection, which means non-life-threatening details are more likely to be overlooked.”
“Because stress, anxiety, and depression can impact attention, learning, and memory, it’s very important to address these concerns in order to sharpen our memory,” Kogan added. “Those struggling with anxiety and depression should seek evidence-based treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or acceptance and commitment therapy.”
Don’t sharpen your mind
One of the best things you can do to fight forgetfulness is to boost your brain. “Keeping your brain active by learning new things, playing games, reading, or doing other challenging activities is one way to keep your brain ‘muscles’ in shape,” Goldman said.
The American Psychological Association recommends taking “mental snapshots” of things in life, like where you parked, to remind you when you forget. He also suggests training your brain using mnemonic devices and disappearance clues or using technology to help you remember things.
“Think of your brain and your memory as something that needs to be used and exercised like any other part of the body or it will atrophy,” Hafeez said.
When to See a Doctor for Memory Problems
Call your healthcare provider if your memory loss does not improve after these changes or if you have these symptoms:
- Asking the same questions over and over again.
- Get lost in places you know well.
- Having trouble following recipes or instructions.
- Become confused about time, people and places.
- Not taking care of yourself, eating poorly, not bathing or behaving in a dangerous way.
Being forgetful can be annoying, but it doesn’t have to define your life. With a few lifestyle changes and mental exercises, you can improve your memory in no time.
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