Are you notorious for losing your keys? Or forgetting that you made plans with friends? Do you blank on peoples' names like its your job? Not everyone is blessed with the world's best memory, but if you once had an ironclad brain, and now have a head like a sieve, it could be that a few of your daily habits are ruining your memory.
That's because how you treat yourself, how you think, and even little things — like how often you multi-task at work — can truly impact your recall, and even lead to issues with memory and brain fog. "Your memory is not just an abstract idea — it is a real thing stored in a physical place in your brain," Kelsey Allan, a wellness expert with SleepTrain, tells Bustle. "So the way you treat your body, whether through healthy habits or unhealthy habits, can directly improve or harm your memory."
Avoiding mistakes and bad habits is a great place to start, but you can also take steps to improve your memory with healthier habits. "The best way to keep your mind healthy as you age is to keep your body healthy, too, "Allan says. "You can always exercise your brain with crossword puzzles and Sudoku, but some of the most effective means of improving memory are more physical behaviors, such as sleeping for seven to nine hours per night, or having a regular fitness routine."
Basically, if you can stay healthy, your memory will stay healthy, too. Below, some habits and mistakes you should try to avoid.
1. Overloading Your Brain
Is your to-do list a mile long? Do you answer emails, while also talking on the phone, and typing up a paper? If so, don't be surprised if your memory fails you. "We only have so much bandwidth when it comes to memory," Klapow says. "So if we are trying to complete too many things at once, or have too much going on, our memory can be impacted."
2. Not Treating Your Anxiety
A brain full of anxiety is not one that has much time for anything else. "It basically takes mental energy and resources, so if you're anxious about an upcoming event, a problem in your life, or a difficulty at work, your memory can be negatively impacted," Klapow says. "What people find is that when they are able to calm down, to decrease the stress response, the clarity in their brains increases and memory improves."
3. Living A Toxic Life
Nobody's perfect, but the more toxic habits you partake in, and the more toxic your environment, the worse off your memory will be. "Alcohol, drugs, poor quality food, poor air quality, heat, dehydration — all of this functions to make our brains run less optimally. The result? Diminished memory functioning," Klapow says. "Anything that takes away from the health of our central nervous system, including our brain, can serve to diminish our ability to remember."
4. Not Getting Enough Sleep
Be honest... how many hours of sleep do you actually get each night? "While the average person needs seven to eight hours of sleep per night, nearly 80 percent of Americans don't reach a full seven hours," says Chris Brantner, founder of SleepZoo.com. And that can truly take a toll on your brain.
"Sleep is necessary for processing and consolidating memories," he says. "So without enough sleep, you aren't spending enough time going through your full sleep cycles, and your memory can be affected. Not to mention, you won't be as clearheaded during the day, which affects your ability to pick up information to later commit to memory."
5. Not Getting Enough Good Sleep
You can go to bed on time, and lie there all night. But if you aren't actually getting down into those deep, restorative sleep cycles, it can start to affect how you feel. Things like watching TV before bed, or looking at your phone, are two habits that can be disruptive. So put keep them far away from your bedroom — even if it feel difficult.
"I'd suggest that fixing the bad habit and getting enough sleep should be of paramount importance," Brantner says. "Lack of sleep is being linked to all sorts of ailments, one of which is Alzheimer's." Practicing good sleep hygiene is a great place to start.
6. Constantly Running On Empty
I'm sure your schedule is super packed (mine is, too). But if you don't ever take time for self-care — like spending an evening alone, exercising, taking a vacation, etc. — the side effects can show up in the form of an awful, awful memory.
"Many people cannot justify recovery, even though it's essential," says executive coach and psychologist Dr. Perpetua Neo. "Think of it like running on your reserve batteries every morning when you awake ... Our bodies and minds cannot function effectively that way, so our memories become compromised."
7. Worrying Excessively
Sometimes you need to worry, and that's OK. But if you've gotten into the habit of fretting over every little thing, it can take up space in your brain to the point new memories aren't formed.
"Because memory requires us to actually encode information into our minds, when we are mentally absent, nothing gets encoded," Neo says. "When we beat ourselves up and are über-self critical, we fuel the cascade of cortisol and adrenaline, making us even more anxious, and this stops us from engaging even further."
If you smoke, you don't need me to tell you how important it is to quit. But if you've been struggling with your memory lately, it may serve as one more good reason.
"Numerous studies have linked smoking with memory decline, including one published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2003," said senior lifestyle blog editor Jordan K. Turgeon, on Huffington Post. "This study associated cigarette smoking with faster declines in verbal memory between 43 and 53 years."
10. Not Eating The Right (Read: Healthy) Foods
While it's obviously OK to snack on unhealthy foods, it's also important to pay attention to what you're putting in your body, in a nutritional sense. If you happen to be lacking certain vitamins and nutrients, your memory can start to fade.
"A deficiency in choline will lower counts of acetylcholine, which is important for memory and normal cognitive function," dietician Kelli Shallal, MPH, RD tells Bustle. "The best source of choline is found in high-quality eggs." So add those to your diet, if you can. And while you're at it, consider your omega-3 fatty acid intake. Omega-rich foods like fish and seaweed contain Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which has been recognized for its role in neuron functioning — and thus healthy memory.
10. Not Getting Enough Exercise
If you're not in the habit of going for a walk after work, or hitting up the gym, it may be time to start. "By now, we all know that exercise is good for us," said Turgeon. "It can also prevent memory loss as we age, says a study published earlier this year in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences."
11. Letting Yourself Get Distracted
Multi-tasking and the brain do not mix. "When we are trying to physically do two to three tasks at the same time, and the more we are pulled away in multiple directions, the more our brains must dedicate resources," Klapow says. "And the result is poorer memory."
Does any of this sound familiar? If so, make a few small changes in your life, perhaps by going to bed earlier, adding a few more healthy foods to your diet, and trying your damndest not to worry. If you do, I'm sure you'll notice a vast improvement in your memory.