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Understanding Sleep: How to Improve Your Memory

Understanding Sleep: How to Improve Your Memory

Memories are something that many of us fear losing: traditional family recipes or the first time you went out on a dateeverything has a sentimental value that deserves a place in your memory. Think of the times you’ve flicked through old photos and spent the next few minutes or hours running through all the past memories; it’s a great feeling.

Due to our hectic lifestyles and multitasking schedules we’ve inadvertently lost the ability to remember things, but there is a saviour and few acknowledge the power of it. Sleep, alongside food and water, is one of the most essential parts of your life. An essential tool in recovery from a day’s worth of gruelling tasks, sleep has a sensationally brilliant effect on your memory storage and recalling abilities. We spend a third of our lives sleeping—by the age of 60 you would have slept a total of 20 years, so it’s important that you’re using that time effectively right?

To use it effectively, you need to understand the powers and capabilities you can unleash, try it tonight and chances are you’ll wake up with a number of new memories stored.

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So, let’s look at how to improve your memory with sleep:

Habitual Practice

In order to improve both cognitive and muscle memory, the general guideline is to practice, practice, and practice some more. We assume that if we spend 1 or more hours going through the motions then the process will be stored into our memory bank.

This is true to an extent: Let’s say that you’ve got an important business meeting coming up that will require you to pitch from memory. Most people will walk around running through the slides for hours on end hoping that they remember everything and miss nothing.

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The problem will be that only certain key stats and figures will be stored; in order to remember everything you’ll need to sleep on it. This is when the power of REM sleep (see further down) takes over and begins to rehearse the motions during your sleep.

High Value

Research shows that the if a memory has a higher value placed onto it, such as money-related tasks, the more likely it is to be rehearsed and stored in our memory bank during sleep. So how can you improve your chances of storing the pitch to your memory? Sleep on it.

Stress Free Problem Solving

Stressful situations release hormones into your body – notably cortisol, which, when large amounts are released, not only causes cognitive damage but also impairs the hippocampus (located in the medial temporal lobe of the brain) and its ability to store and recall memories. Excess cortisol leaves the body in a constant physiological arousal, the stress will then begin to activate our fight-or-flight responses which during pro-longed periods of stress can begin to impair our cognitive abilities.

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When we sleep we go into the “safe zone”, which then drastically lowers chemicals in our body associated with stress. Memories can now be effectively rehearsed during periods of REM sleep, which will have a far higher chance of being stored in the long-term memory bank.

REM Sleep (Rapid Eye Movement)

To fully maximise the benefits and effects of sleep and improving our memories, we need to ensure we go through all the stages of REM sleep. Generally REM sleep occupies 20-25% of an adults total sleep, which equates to 90-120 minutes. We generally go through REM four to five times during a sleep cycle, with it generally being shorter at the beginning of the night and longer towards the end.

Stages of REM Sleep:

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  • Stage 1 is when we close our eyes—this stage lasts between 5 and 10 minutes, during which we can be easily awoken.
  • Stage 2 is when our body begins to produce positive and negative waves, with the heart rate slowing and body temperature dropping, preparing to go into deep sleep.
  • Stages 3 & 4 are the deep sleep stages, also known as slow-wave sleep.

Each of these stages has a responsibility for our process of learning and memory storage. Some are good for creating and remembering new habits, others are good for retaining new facts you’ve learned, whilst others are used for building the understanding of relationships with the new found facts.

Some stages of learning during sleep are most notably effective at the end of the cycle, so when you’re doing research on how to improve your memory, it’s vital to understand that a full night of uninterrupted sleep is essentially the reason why you’ll store something or throw it away.

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Last Updated on June 18, 2019

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Making Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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