9 Memory Hacks for Students

by | Brain Health, Focus

Do you want to improve your memory?

Of course, you do, who wouldn’t.

We are an amalgamation of our memories. Everything we studied in school, college, all our memories of our friends & family, that is what we are.

It makes sense to do whatever we can to preserve them.

It becomes even more critical to increase your memory power especially when you are a student and trying to keep all the knowledge & information you have gained at college.

Let’s look at different type of memory stages:

There are 3 types of memory stages:

  1. Sensory Stage
  2. Short-Term Memory
  3. Long-Term Memory

We are exposed to so much information during the day that our brain sorts out which information is critical and should be stored in which memory bucket.

In a way, the different stages of memory act as a filter to prevent our memory quota from getting filled.

What can we do to increase our chances of storing and remembering the information we want to remember and move it to long-term memory?

Here are 9 Hacks to improve memory, easily. They can be extremely handy when you are studying for exams and/or want to remember a piece of information regarding a person, event, etc.

  1. Sleep

When you sleep, your brain gets to work, and it focuses on clearing out toxic waste and restores information that was not ingrained during the day.

Studies (1) have shown that brain chooses to enhance the experiences that are more valuable to you, eg: birth of your child and downgrades (sort of) memories that are not important to you, eg: what were items on shelves at the grocery store you visited this afternoon.

According to Dr. Matthew Walker, Director of UC Berkeley’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab (2), “You need sleep after learning, so essentially hitting the Save button on those New Memories so that you don’t forget them. So Sleep future proofs those facts within the brain.”

He further adds that sleep can be extremely beneficial before study or learning.

Why?

According to Dr. Walker (2), you should think of it as clearing out the sponge, so it is ready to absorb new information.

Action Item:

  • Before studying for the exam: Get 1-2 hours of sleep.
  • After studying for the exam & the night before the exam: Try to avoid pulling an all-nighter and try to get 8 hours of sleep because it will increase retention.

2. Exercise

In 2010, the scientific magazine Neuroscience published a study which showed how regular exercise helped monkeys learn new task twice as quickly as non-exercising monkeys. (4)

According to Dr. Mercola, during exercise nerve cells release a protein called BDNF (5) (Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor) and it directly benefits learning and cognitive functions.

So, put regular exercising on your To Do list, especially exercises involving stretching, core workout, strength training, etc.

Action Item:

  • Regular exercising increases the production of BDNF which helps with learning, so put exercising on your schedule and it could help improve your memory.

3. Sugar, Sugar & Sugar (say no to it)

We all love candy, cookies, cakes and pretty much anything with sugar in it.

But according to J.E. Beilharz, J. Maniam, M.J. Morris from the Department of Pharmacology, School of Medical Sciences UNSW Australia, (6)

“Short-term exposure to a diet high in fat and sugar or liquid sugar, selective impairs hippocampal-dependent memory.“

Which means that high energy sugar diets are known to impair memory & these changes have been associated with inflammation in brain areas crucial for memory.

During the study (7), rats were exposed to chow; chow supplemented with 10% sucrose solution (Sugar) or a diet high in fat and sugar. Scientists assessed hippocampal-dependent and perirhinal-dependent memory at one week and found that liquid sugar rapidly elevated markers of central and peripheral inflammation, in association with hyperglycemia, and this may be related to memory deficits in Sugar rats.  

Action Item:

  • Bottom line: keep your sugar intake in check It could reduce memory & retention abilities.

4. Alcohol (Binge Drinking)

Binge drinking or heavy episodic drinking is a typical pattern of alcohol consumption among college students.

Studies (9) have shown that this type of alcohol consumption increases blood alcohol levels to 0.8 g/l. The adolescent brain may be particularly susceptible to the detrimental effects of alcohol.

National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (8) confirms that:  

Drinkers who experience blackouts typically drink too much and too quickly, which causes blood alcohol levels to rise very rapidly. College students may be at particular risk for experiencing a blackout, as an alarming number of college students engage in binge drinking.

Does binge drinking cause lapses in short-term memory?

Yes, in the form of blackouts which can be partial or complete blackouts.

And, consumption of alcohol is associated with long-term memory, chronic alcohol abuse called Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS).

WKS is a brain disorder that results because of deficiency of Vitamin B1 and it very common for people with alcohol use disorder.

WKS primarily damages the part of the brain that deals specifically with memory.

Action Items:

  • Alcohol consumption can cause short and long-term memory loss.
  • Limit your alcohol consumption to a minimum and try to stay away from binge drinking as much as you can.

5. Stop Multitasking

A UCSF study (10) on multitasking reveals why people have difficulty switching between tasks at the level of brain networks.

The study showed that multitasking negatively affects short-term a.k.a. “Working” memory in both young and older adults.

What is working memory?

The brain can hold and manipulate information in the mind while doing mental operations. Eg: following a train of conversation, conducting complex tasks such as reasoning, comprehension & learning.

We all have experienced at one point when you go to the fridge, and you forget what you were looking for OR forgot where you placed your keys.

There is a correlation between memory and attention, says Adam Gazzaley, MD, associate professor of neurology at UCSF.

Scientists compared working memory of healthy young men and women (mean age: 24.5) & older men & women (mean age: 69.1) in visual memory test involving multitasking.

They exposed participants to a natural scene and were asked to maintain it in there for 14.4 seconds. Then, in the middle of the maintenance period, they were interrupted by an image of a face.

They asked participants to determine its sex and age. Then they were asked to recall “original scene.”

As expected, older adults had a tough time recalling the original scene vs young participants. When tested by an MRI used to image the brain, it exposed that older adults failed to disengaged from interruption & reestablish the neural network associated with disrupted memory.

When we multitask, we have to carry various information regarding all those tasks in our memory, and these results lack focus on 1 activity.

Action Item:

  • When you are trying to study, focus on one subject or activity and it could increase your retention of the information being received.

6. Fruits and Vegetables

Remember when you were young, and your mom chased you around so you could finish your fruits and vegetables?

Guess what?

She was right all along.

According to study (13), increased consumption of fruit and vegetables is associated with reduced risk of cognitive impairment and dementia in many epidemiological studies.

Scientists discovered that the risk of cognitive impairment & dementia was reduced 20% with higher consumption of fruits and vegetables.

By merely increasing fruit and vegetable consumption by 100g per day, the risk of cognitive impairment was reduced by 13%.

As you can see, eating fruits and vegetables in your diet on a regular basis can have a significant effect on your cognitive abilities. It is beneficial to everyone especially if you are a college student and want to increase your cognitive ability to do better in your studies.

Action Item:

  • Eat your daily dosage of fruits and vegetables, and it could help you increase your memory power.

7. Deep Breathing through the Nose

According to a study done by the Department of Neurology, Northwestern University, “the rhythm of breathing creates electrical activity in the human brain that enhances emotional judgments and memory recall.” (11)

The study further explored the effects of whether you inhale or exhale and breathe through your mouth vs your nose.

Participants were exposed and asked to identify a fearful face as they were shown pictures on computer screen. What they discovered was that participants were able to detect expression more quickly when they were breathing in compared to breathing out.

Further, the effect disappeared when participants were breathing thru the mouth.

In a similar memory experiment, participants were asked to recall pictures and scientists observed that recollection was enhanced when images were encountered during inhalation.

Action item:

  • When studying, practice deep breathing through the nose, and it could increase your ability to recall the information in the future.

8. Pay Attention

As you walk to go through your day, you are bombarded with information from all around you. How will your brain know what to remember and what to forget?

And one of the indications to your brain is the things you pay attention to with all your five senses or at least most of them.

For example, when you are studying, if you read the material out loud, picture it in your mind vs reading it quietly, you will increase your chances of remembering that material in the future.

Because your brain is associating the sense of sound, smell and visual with that particular material. And you can only do this if you pay attention to the content.

For example, if you are studying for a Biology exam and material relates to food. Try to visualize the food, how it looks, what color is it, Where is the food located, etc. it could help you to improve memory. 

Try to imagine how that food smells like, is it warm or cold, etc. i.e., pay close attention to the food, and it will help you recall it with ease in the future.

  1. Dehydration

Last but not least and definitely one of the most critical factors: Water.

Our brain is 75% water. (12)

When you are dehydrated, your brain shrinks in size.

Whenever you try to recall a memory or have a thought, your brain is creating new connections.

So, if you are dehydrated, it reduces your brain’s functionality and further reducing its ability to create new connections when you are studying new material.

Action Item:

  • Always keep hydrated and drink your recommended usage of water every day.
  • It will keep your brain healthy and help you absorb and then retain more information.

Conclusion:

As you can see, you can improve memory and your retention ability by merely utilizing the above information. By getting enough sleep, exercising, eating fruits/vegetables, etc. you can give your brain the essential boost and nutrition it needs to grasp and retain more information.

It can be very critical during exams or in your day to day life as well. And if you make these as your daily habits, the benefits can be much more.

References:

  1. https://sleep.org/articles/brain-during-sleep/
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXflBZXAucQ
  3. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/12/how-sleep-deprivation-decays-the-mind-and-body/282395/
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20211699
  5. https://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2012/05/18/exercise-benefits-brain-health.aspx
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26970578
  7. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0166432816301437?via%3Dihub
  8. https://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/aa63/aa63.htm
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5289570/
  10. https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2011/04/9676/ucsf-study-multitasking-reveals-switching-glitch-aging-brain
  11. https://neurosciencenews.com/memory-fear-breathing-5699/
  12. https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/01/22/fascinating-facts-you-never-knew-about-the-human-brain.aspx
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5293796/