Not enough sleep
Sleep deprivation can make you more forgetful. During sleep, the human body regenerates itself and consolidates all the new information you learn throughout the day into long-term memory. So it’s not surprising that little sleep or poor quality sleep can reduce your ability to learn new information by up to 40%. But why?
Research shows that sleep deprivation can affect the area in the brain called the hippocampus, which is involved in making new memories. Lack of sleep can also affect attention via messing with the prefrontal cortex. And when you can’t focus, it’s more difficult to get new information into the brain, so the memory gets worse too.
Fortunately, getting enough sleep can restore your memory.
A messy home or workspace
Organization is a key element of memory. Anyone who has ever spent an hour searching for the car keys only to find them on the laundry basket in the bedroom will know what I mean. Forgetting about tasks and misplacing items in a messy and disorganized living space or workplace is hardly surprising, but so many of us persist in blaming our brains for something that is not their fault.
And don’t get us wrong, we’re not telling you to dust the entire house every day and keep the house spotless. But we do urge you to organize your closet, kitchen, bathroom, and entrance so that every item has a designated place.
This piece of advice can also be extended further to your daily planning, and it goes a long way. Write a daily schedule, leave post-it notes around the house, start a simple notebook with to-do lists, or add calendar notifications on your phone to organize your time - whatever works best for you. And remember - having all these tasks written down isn’t a remedy for your forgetfulness, it’s a tool that will help your brain be more organized.
Juggling too many tasks at the same time
Focusing on too many things simultaneously is generally not a good idea. As a chronic multitasker myself, I stand by this statement wholeheartedly. However, few people realize that multitasking can have a detrimental effect on memory. As Julia Kogan, a psychologist, told Huffington Post, “Working on different tasks at the same time can actually lead to lower productivity and more forgetfulness.”
This is because dividing your attention between two or three tasks simultaneously means that you’re never fully focused and ready to fully receive and store the new information in your brain. So instead of chopping up veggies for dinner, listening to the news, and talking to the bank on the phone, it’s much better to do all of those tasks separately if you actually want to remember anything (and keep your fingers intact too).
You worry too much
Although any undiagnosed or untreated mental health issue can mess with your brain’s ability to remember, something as simple and seemingly benign as worrying can have the same results. Like sleep deprivation, stress reduces the brain’s cognitive capacities by narrowing down your attention span. Sadly, attention is a necessary element of memory, and also the weakest link of cognition. Ultimately, stress can lead to a vicious cycle of misremembered tasks that result in more worry and stress.
You probably saw this one coming. Excessive alcohol consumption and smoking can both result in memory problems. But let’s look at both of these habits separately.
When it comes to alcohol, it can actually directly damage brain cells, which leads to a wide range of cognitive issues, including memory problems. Problems can appear in both long-term memory and short-term memory, depending on the area of the brain that gets damaged.
Some people can even experience amnesia after drinking because alcohol messes up nerve communication in the hippocampus. And last but not least, long-term drinking is linked to shrinking brain size, which is exactly as creepy as it sounds.
What about smoking? Well, it’s just as bad. According to a study in the Journal of Neuroscience, nicotine affects learning and memory. Smoking also prevents your brain from getting enough oxygen and nutrients, essentially starving the brain. This, in turn, reduces your cognitive capacities, including memory.
You’re not moving enough
We’ll keep this one brief because you probably already realize the importance of exercise for your overall health. However, it needs reiterating that exercise does increase blood flow to the brain and reduces the risk of diseases linked to memory loss (diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol are just a few examples).
Therefore, it’s a great idea to stay physically active for your brain’s sake too. The kind of exercise you engage in is up to you, it doesn’t have to be strenuous. Walking, swimming or gentle yoga will all be equally helpful.
You avoid these foods
We’re not here to criticize your daily food habits and tell you what NOT to eat. But we’d like to point out that the brain-to-gut connection is something to consider, especially if you are looking for foods to boost your cognition. According to Harvard Medical School, fatty fish, leafy greens, berries, walnuts, and tea and coffee are all especially beneficial for your brain health. Other experts also add other nuts, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes to that list.
All these foods are packed with anti-inflammatory compounds that preserve brain cells and keep your brain energized.
Listening to loud music
This last habit may surprise you because music is generally believed to have a beneficial effect on health, but there’s actually evidence suggesting that loud music can negatively impact your memory. The connection is not direct - listening to loud music was found to contribute to hearing loss, and that is eventually believed to cause memory problems in research. The solution is easy enough - just reduce the volume a little and continue enjoying your favorite tunes without the added risks.
Is it more than just forgetfulness?
As mentioned in the introduction, forgetfulness can sometimes be a symptom of a more serious health condition like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. So let’s take a minute to distinguish between occasional forgetfulness and clinically-significant memory issues.
Consider talking to your doctor if you or someone else has noticed any of the following signs:
- Getting lost in familiar places.
- Repeating the same question several times.
- Trouble following directions and step-by-step instructions, such as recipes, etc.
- Neglecting personal hygiene or forgetting to eat.
- Acting impulsively.
- Confusion about places, times, or not recognizing people.
- Difficulty handling money responsibly or paying bills.
In summary, forgetfulness may be part of everyone’s life, but it doesn’t have to interfere with it. Making minor adjustments like investing a bit more time into organization or getting more sleep may help your memory tremendously.
H/T: Huffington Post, Bustle