Do you want to improve memory? In our guide, we looked at how to improve memory retention, including the brain’s ability to store and access information quickly. Learn what memory is and the various science-based ways to improve memory long-term.
Can memory be improved?
Memory is a powerful faculty of the brain that has been studied for centuries, with many aspects of memory retention still not widely understood by experts.
Put simply, memory is the storage and retrieval of information in the brain. The parts of the brain that play the most important roles in this process are the hippocampus, neocortex, and amygdala.
Memories can range from sensory information and basic information - including what we see, hear, and touch, as well as names, places, and words - to long-term information, such as faces, locations, and events that happened to us in the past.
It can be incredibly frustrating - even disheartening - when we forget simple things frequently, or have to watch loved ones lose their memory functions to conditions such as dementia.
While memory degradation is a natural process that happens due to aging and other factors, it is possible to improve brain memory to strengthen individual memory processes and prevent memory decline to some degree.
Do you tend to forget simple things? Do you want to improve your cognitive ability for work or study? Or do you want to prevent memory loss early on?
Learn how to improve memory in our comprehensive, science-based guide for memory retention.
Memory Retention Explained
Memory retention is our brain’s ability and capacity for storing and retaining information long-term, and subsequently remembering, or retrieving, that information when we need it.
This process can be broken down into three parts: the initial processing of information, the storage (or saving) of that information, and the retrieval of that information.
Alongside the three memory processes, there are three types of memories that our brains can process, or be categorized under. These are the sensory memory, short-term memory, and the long-term memory.
- Sensory memories are information that we might store for only a few seconds. Typically, this is what we immediately sense through sight, hearing, or touch, and then forget.
- Short-term memories, also known as active memory, are events or senses that we just experienced and are actively conscious of. We might remember this information for a maximum of 30 seconds.
- Long-term memories are any information that we store and remember for long periods of time - anything from several minutes to multiple decades.
Lastly, we can further break these memories down into episodic memories - events that happened to us (fond or sad memories) - and semantic memories, which can be categorized as general information, such as names, words, and facts.
Much like a hard drive, our memory is a means of saving information and accessing information. Unfortunately, the brain is not always as reliable, or as fast!
Why is My Memory so Poor?
Do you struggle to remember words, names, or where you placed things? Or do you easily forget information that you are supposed to remember?
Poor memory can be attributed to a number of reasons.
The most obvious cause can be age. Memory performance starts to decline when we reach our 50s and 60s. This is mostly natural, however, and does not necessarily mean you are developing dementia.
Other reasons for poor memory can include lack of sleep, a poor diet, alcohol abuse, medication side effects, depression, stress, and anxiety.
Can Memory Be Improved?
It is possible to improve memory. Similar to our muscles, the brain can be trained and exercised to improve its performance. It is important to use and challenge our brains as much as possible to strengthen memory processes and overall intellectual capacity.
By challenging and training your brain, you will also improve other cognitive functions that the brain is responsible for. These include problem-solving skills, creativity, quick thinking, thought control, information absorption, awareness, concentration, and focus.
How to Improve Memory
To improve memory retention, we have to exercise the brain frequently and lead a healthy lifestyle. Mentally exercising the brain ensures that the brain is constantly challenged, improving memory retention and cognitive performance overall.
On the other hand, leading a healthy lifestyle - through plenty of sleep, good nutrition, and necessary supplementation - ensures that the brain can operate at peak performance on a daily basis.
If you struggle with poor memory, want to increase memory capacity, or just want to prevent memory decline early on, use the following science-based methods to improve memory naturally and effectively.
Train Your Brain
Challenging our brains on a regular basis is one of the proven methods for improving brain health and cognitive performance, which includes memory retention. Just like the muscles of the body, we can train the brain to be “mentally stronger” and perform better.
Cognitive psychologists are unanimous in the opinion that brain exercises have the power to improve memory, concentration, problem-solving skills, and creativity. These brain exercises include anything from crosswords, jigsaws, and optical illusions to riddles, math problems, and strategy games like chess.
For memory retention in particular, there are exercises and games (available online or as apps) that can improve this specific cognitive function.
As an example, a memory game might show you an image for a limited time, after which your memory is tested on the various details that you are able to remember.
Similar to brain exercises or brain-teasers, exercising your creativity is another method for improving cognitive performance overall, according to experts and numerous studies.
Whether you consider yourself a creative person or not, it is important that we express ourselves through creativity on a regular basis - whether that is through writing, painting, playing an instrument, or cooking.
Being creative does not mean that you have to be artistic. It can simply be an activity that allows you to express yourself through something that you create from scratch.
The benefits of being creative include heightened levels of imagination, problem-solving, and information absorption. The good thing about being creative is that you are also exercising your brain and its capacity for saving and retrieving information.
Do you read on a regular basis?
This does not have to mean consuming multiple books per month or being a voracious reader. You can be a regular reader if you read a lot of blogs, news articles, comics, self-help guides, or magazines.
The point of reading is to absorb information, whether it is informational, fictional, or mostly visual. This has been proven to stimulate the brain in more than a few ways: from the initial storage of this information to sparking up our imagination, before recalling this information later on as saved knowledge.
In the same way that brain exercises challenge the brain, so can reading - especially if the reading material is mentally challenging. This might be an informational book (for studying) or a classic novel that might be difficult to read, therefore challenging you.
We can therefore improve memory retention through regular reading.
Learn a New Language
Learning a new language is another method that is universally backed by experts for its power to improve the various cognitive functions of the brain.
It does not need to be said that learning a new language involves a lot of memorization. This, as a result, is significantly beneficial for improving memory on the whole, taking into account each step of the memory process: absorption, retention, and retrieval.
Learning a new language comes with adopting new words, phonetics and pronunciation, as well as a whole new set of grammar rules to remember. This is particularly challenging for most people, and is therefore one of the best ways to improve memory and also cognition.
If you are a monoglot and want to improve your memory, there isn’t a better reason to start learning a new language!
Get Adequate Sleep
Without adequate sleep, the brain cannot function at its best - or even properly. This, as a consequence, can significantly reduce our ability to concentrate, study, manage physical tasks, and remember information.
Both our mental and physical energy levels are affected by a lack of sleep. And if you have ever struggled to remember something simple that you would have usually remembered instantly, it might be a lack of sleep - or even not enough high-quality sleep - that could be a big reason why.
It is important that adults receive at least eight hours of sleep a night. But, as just mentioned, it’s also important that the sleep we are getting is of high quality.
This means getting enough deep sleep, advancing through the natural sleep cycles without disturbance. Disturbances can be noises that wake us up briefly, or even unpleasant dreams.
To ensure a good night’s sleep every night, we must keep to a regular sleep schedule, including a period before bedtime during which we give ourselves time to wind down.
Bright lights, over-stimulation, and even eating food can all affect our ability to fall asleep and achieve a good night’s sleep.
Nutrition and Hydration
Likewise with sleep, our brains cannot function properly without high-quality nutrition. A good way to think of food is “fuel” for the brain. And if the fuel is substandard, or not enough, then the brain will struggle to operate.
At the same time, if the food we eat is of low quality, then it can even work against us, harming brain health and, subsequently, our cognitive performance on a daily basis.
It is no secret that we should all aim to eat a nutritious, balanced diet, while avoiding foods that are unhealthy. Unhealthy food includes processed foods, junk food, high-sugar foods, refined carbs, and saturated fats.
In fact, by adopting a healthier diet - and lifestyle, in general - we can improve physical and mental performance, including cognitive functions such as the ability to process and remember information.
Healthy eating includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, unrefined carbs and unsaturated fats, high-protein foods, and adequate hydration. The reason many of us tend to forget to hydrate on a regular basis could be due to dehydration itself!
Be Aware of Medication Side Effects
Did you know that certain medications can interfere with our cognitive ability to remember information? The side effects of some medications can be particularly detrimental to our cognitive functions.
Before taking any medication, it is always important to check what the side effects might be. The reason for this is that some side effects can have a negative impact on brain performance, including the ability to concentrate, focus, and remember information quickly.
Medications such as antidepressants, inhibitors, and sleeping pills can all affect and pose a risk to brain performance. One major side effect of these medications in particular is drowsiness, which will immediately result in reduced focus and memory.
Several studies also claim that certain medications might interfere with memory, affect memory retention long-term, or increase the risk of memory loss to a certain extent. These include antidepressants, sleeping pills, antihistamines, statins, anti-seizure medications, antianxiety pills, and narcotics.
To improve memory, both short-term and long-term, it is important to check medication for any possible side effects that can harm cognitive performance.
Reduce Stress Levels
Have you ever tried to remember where you placed something, specifically at a time when you had to leave the house in a rush?
You might recall that the stressfulness of the situation did not help your ability to remember where you left that item!
Stress has been widely proven by psychologists to cloud the brain and negatively affect brain performance overall. When we are stressed, we are distracted and overstimulated by negative emotions, the result being a significant reduction in cognitive ability and daily productivity.
Stress can cause feelings of anxiety, anger, as well as brain fog - the inability to focus, concentrate, or think. Brain fog, as a result, can also seriously hamper our memory faculties. If we can’t even think, there is an even lower chance that we will be able to remember detailed information.
This makes it important to manage stress - not just for improved memory retention, but for mental wellbeing and enhanced cognitive performance as a whole.
We can reduce stress long-term by consciously managing our reactions to stressful situations, as well as recognizing stress triggers and learning to avoid them.
Additionally, quick and effective ways to reduce stress include exercise, meditation, sunlight and nature, and listening to calming music.
Another way to manage stress, anxiety, and even depression is to practice mindfulness. As mindfulness can clear our heads, enhance cognition, and increase happiness and contentment overall, this is also beneficial to brain health and memory retention.
But what exactly is mindfulness?
Mindfulness, also referred to as being present or living consciously, can be described as maintaining a conscious awareness of our feelings, thoughts, and emotions.
For example: if we are consciously aware of being angry the second something makes us angry, we can then harness the ability to control our reaction to that emotion, instead of reacting impulsively and negatively.
Mindfulness, with regard to being present, can also mean to release ourselves of our past worries, as well our future desires.
This can allow us to truly enjoy life as it is happening in real-time, as too often our thoughts, emotions, and general mood are governed by what we experienced in the past or what we desire of the future.
Mindfulness can be practiced and achieved through meditation and actively assessing your thoughts and emotions on a regular basis. If it helps, you can also write these down as a means to release or let go of negativity.
However you choose to practice mindfulness, it is one of the best proven ways to reduce brain fog and “mental noise”, while improving mental functions and memory.
Take Brain Boosting Supplements
Our brains operate through various processes that govern what we think, feel, and how we behave and act at any given moment - even when we are asleep. It makes sense, then, to support these natural processes through whatever methods that we can.
These methods include sleep, nutrition, and supplementation.
While it is possible to receive nutrients that we need to support brain health from the food that we eat, it is not always possible to account for every function the brain has to fulfill. The result might be a chemical imbalance, or deficiency, that can affect our mood and ability to concentrate.
This includes memory retention!
Brain-boosting supplements, better known as smart drugs or nootropics, have become increasingly popular for their potential to increase cognitive performance when taken regularly.
Users of nootropics - which now has a diverse audience, from students to workers - claim to enjoy both a happier state of mind coupled with increased productivity.
As a result of these nootropics, user experiences include longer periods of concentration and focus, reduced levels of stress and anxiety, increased motivation, and improved memory retention - specifically the ability to retrieve and remember information instantly.
While it might sound unnatural or unachievable, this enhanced state of mental performance is achieved by supplementing various organic ingredients that have been clinically tested, over several decades, to support the brain and its various functions.
Therefore, nootropics are essentially “super” drugs that simply combine these brain-boosting supplements into a single, convenient pill or tablet.
If you are considering trying nootropics, however, it is best to choose a nootropic that has been proven to work with little to no negative side effects. One of the most popular nootropics on the market is Opti Nutra’s Mind Lab Pro, which has been FDA-approved for its ability to boost cognitive performance and increase memory retention.
Memory Tips and Tricks
While the above methods will help to increase memory retention, memory retrieval, and memory capacity, it is also important to know some general memory tips and tricks for remembering information and absorbing information.
If you struggle to remember something, such as a particular item on your shopping list, get into the habit of writing things down. This can include chores that need to be done, as well as information that you need to study and remember for an exam or test.
A way to support this is by revising and testing yourself to “jog” your memory.
It is also effective to repeat information over and over, either mentally or verbally. This will support the brain’s initial process of storing information for retrieval later on.
Another effective method for remembering information is to attach meaning to the information. For example, if you need to remember to do something for a specific person, think of reasons for why it is important, or what the consequences will be if you forget.
Lastly, you can also group, or categorize, different pieces of information together to make them easier to remember. As an example, this can be a list of things that should be done urgently and a list of things that are not urgent and can be done at a later time.
Signs of Dementia to Be Aware Of
If you experience difficulty storing information and remembering information on a regular basis, do not start to panic about dementia just yet. Everyone is forgetful from time to time for different reasons, and this does not necessarily mean you are developing dementia.
It is still important, however, to be aware of any early signs of dementia.
These can include:
- Forgetting simple things
- Difficulty with tasks that are usually familiar to the person
- Difficulty solving problems
- Difficulty remembering one’s memories
- Confusion over time or location
- Frequent pauses in the middle of speech or writing
- Poorer judgment than usual
- Withdrawal from usual hobbies or social activities
- General confusion, suspicion, or anxiousness
If you do suspect sign of dementia in yourself or others in your family or friends group, it is best to consult a doctor.
Memory decline is frustrating, even discouraging. But it can be even more frustrating when we frequently forget simple things that we should not easily forget, such as names, places, or where we left certain items, in our day-to-day lives.
The upside to this is that memory can be improved. This includes improving the immediate storage of information, retaining information for extended periods of time, and then remembering or accessing information quickly when we need it.
We can improve memory retention through brain exercises and brain training, leading a healthy lifestyle (good sleep and nutrition), and brain supplementation, also known as nootropics or smart drugs. These methods all have the ability to improve the cognitive functions of the brain naturally.
The science-based methods that we listed above can benefit students and their capacity to absorb and revise information, workers who have mentally demanding jobs, and anyone who wants to prevent memory degradation, and improve memory retention, at any age.