Taking in the information we receive throughout our everyday lives impacts on what we do, say, and how we act. When that is impaired, our memories for what we have taken in can be affected. Sleep is a huge factor in this, which is why it is important to get a good night’s sleep to be on top form to face the day ahead.
When we are well rested, we are at our best when it comes to thinking; a clear, alert brain enables us to focus, learn and remember information, and also be creative. On the other hand, when we are tired we are less productive and make more mistakes. The quantity and the quality of sleep is important for our memory because getting too little sleep or frequently waking up in the night can lead to a person becoming fatigued, which then impacts of their ability to consolidate and retrieve information.
In terms of memory and how sleep impacts on it, scientific research has found that healthy sleep can have a positive effect on memory, and that it can help protect the ability to gain new memories. Sleep deprivation, even just a small amount of it, can weaken the brain’s capacity to form new memories, and it can also impact on the ability to recall memories. Both our short and long-term memory is impaired by a lack of sleep.
It is not just sleep that is a cause of problems with memory, sometimes a cause could be stress, anxiety, or depression, which are all treatable. When a person has depression, this can make it difficult for them to pay attention and focus, which can then affect their memory. Experiencing stress and anxiety can also impact on concentration as when a person is tense and their mind is overstimulated or distracted, the ability to remember things can be impacted upon. Lifestyle choices/acts, such as drinking alcohol, smoking, and/or taking drugs can also cause memory loss. Excessive alcohol use has been a recognised cause of this for a long time, smoking harms a person’s memory because it reduces the amount of oxygen that goes to the brain, and drugs can change the chemicals in the brain which can then make it more difficult to recall memories.
Health-wise, memory can also be impacted on due to medications, as some medications can impact upon or cause memory loss. A lack of nutrition can also be a culprit; deficiencies in vitamin B1 and B12 can affect a person’s memory. Good nutrition is very important for brain function, and this includes high quality proteins and fats.
There are also other ways in which we can help increase how good our memory is – I remember when Sudoku became a big thing to do about fifteen years ago – it was another thing that could be good to carry out to keep our brain active. There seems to be lots of things like that which are spoken about to help everyone with their brain function, but everyone is different, and if anyone has a concern about their memory, it is always best to see your GP than to carry on struggling.
Sarah Keeping MBPsS MSc PgDip GDip BA (Hons)
Follow Sarah on twitter at @keepingapproach