The Secret to Improving Your Memory, According to Science

If you want to improve your memory, you need to know how your brain works. You might be surprised to hear that your lifestyle habits might be making it difficult for you to correctly record each piece of information, experience, or learning.
The Secret to Improving Your Memory, According to Science

Last update: 07 October, 2021

It would appear that the secret to improving your memory is really simple. It’s to take breaks. As a matter of fact, the brain has more limited energy resources than you probably think. Therefore, it tires quickly and its levels of attention begin to drop after about 30 to 45 minutes. After all, you’re not a machine, you’re made of cells, nerve connections, tissues, and a heart that pumps blood, oxygen, and nutrients around your body.

It’s pretty easy to become exhausted. Furthermore, there are certain regions of the brain that need your help to carry out such basic tasks as consolidating memory. However, we all tend to be experts in pushing our bodies to the limit. We’re addicted to multitasking, staying up late studying before exams, and being accustomed to harmful lifestyle habits.

If you want to improve your memory, you need to delve a little deeper into the world of neuroscience. Indeed, knowing how your brain works will allow you to reach your full potential and, more importantly, live better.

“Memory, of course, is unreliable, sometimes evil but it is the source of our identity.”

-Tennessee Williams-

girl thinking about the secret to improve your memory

The secret to improving your memory

Magnesium, zinc, B vitamins, vitamin D… The brain needs multiple nutrients (including glucose) to function normally. In fact, this organ consumes almost 20 percent of your total energy. However, beyond a good diet, the secret to improving your memory is your lifestyle.

This is extremely important. Indeed, according to neuroscience, the way you organize your days and even the way you studied at school doesn’t harmonize with the way the brain learns, memorizes, or processes information.

For example, stress is a highly harmful element for the proper functioning of the brain and its cognitive processes (attention, reflection, memory, etc). Likewise, exhaustion and a poor night’s sleep are other variables that must be taken into account.

Short breaks restart your brain

Michaela Dewar, a researcher at the University of Edinburgh in the United Kingdom, conducted a study with other experts to understand how to improve memory consolidation processes. What they found was that something as simple as taking breaks of between nine and 15 minutes improves memory, both in healthy people and in those with neurological damage.

However, there’s one small detail that’s important here. The rest must be real rest. In other words, you should go to a dim, quiet space and not have any distractions around you. This includes not having your cell phone nearby.

Small breaks of a few minutes optimize brain function. It’s like doing a simple mental reset.

The connection between the hippocampus and the cerebral cortex is key

The hippocampus is the area of your brain that’s responsible for consolidating your short-term memories in the long term. Declarative, episodic, spatial memory, etc. are processed in this region. Furthermore, for this consolidation to be possible, there must be an adequate connection with different regions of the cerebral cortex.

Currently, we know that, for optimal connectivity, we must rest. Therefore, factors such as exhaustion, negative valence emotions, or stress make it difficult to link one area to the other.

The hippocampus and a small area of the lateral occipital complex coordinate to reproduce everything you experience. This consolidates your memories while you’re relaxed or asleep.

Something as simple as taking a short break while having tea in a quiet place allows you to retain the information that you’ve just processed more successfully.

girl in front of a lake thinking about the secret to improve your memory

“Recharge” your mind

It’s true that, for a long time, it was taken for granted that the key to consolidating memories was a good night’s rest. However, we now know that short day breaks also optimize data and information retention.

Needless to say, in this age of hyper-connectedness and constant hyperstimulation, people have forgotten how to rest. For example, you probably have a hard time sitting down and not thinking about anything. You no longer know how to go anywhere without your mobile, checking it every few minutes for updates. In fact, your gaze, your mind, and your attention are always on the screen. All these dynamics hinder the correct consolidation of memories.

The secret to improving your memory requires you to rest for between ten and 15 minutes leaving your mind completely blank. Without doing anything and in a quiet place. In fact, knowing how to rest is decisive for your cognitive function, balancing your emotions, and renewing your energy.

Finally, recharging your mind is far more important than recharging your mobile. Indeed, your lifestyle plays an extremely important role in the way your memory functions. Rest isn’t wasting time. In fact, allowing yourself small breaks is investing in your health and well-being.

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  • Tucker, M. A., Humiston, G. B., Summer, T., & Wamsley, E. (2020). Comparing the Effects of Sleep and Rest on Memory Consolidation. Nature and science of sleep12, 79–91.
  • Wamsley, Erin. (2019). Memory Consolidation during Waking Rest. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 23. 10.1016/j.tics.2018.12.007.