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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 September 17, 2018

How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive

How to Stop Multitasking and Become Way More Productive

Today we are expected to work in highly disruptive environments. We sit down at our desks, turn on our computer and immediately we are hit with hundreds of emails all vying for our attention.

Our phones are beeping and pinging with new alerts to messages, likes and comments and our colleagues are complaining about the latest company initiative is designed to get us to do more work and spend less time at home.

All these distractions result in us multitasking where our attention is switching between one crisis and the next.

Multitasking is a problem. But how to stop multitasking?

How bad really is multitasking?

It dilutes your focus and attention so even the easiest of tasks become much harder and take longer to complete.

Studies have shown that while you think you are multitasking, you are in fact task switching, which means your attention is switching between two or more pieces of work and that depletes the energy resources you have to do your work.

This is why, even though you may have done little to no physical activity, you arrive home at the end of the day feeling exhausted and not in the mood to do anything.

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We know it is not a good way to get quality work done, but the demands for out attention persist and rather than reduce, are likely to increase as the years go by.

So what to do about it?

Ways to stop multitasking and increase productivity

Now, forget about how to multitask!

Here are a few strategies on how to stop multitasking so you can get better quality and more work done in the time you have each working day:

1. Get enough rest

When you are tired, your brain has less strength to resist even the tiniest attention seeker. This is why when you find your mind wandering, it is a sign your brain is tired and time to take a break.

This does not just mean taking breaks throughout the day, it also means making sure you get enough sleep every day.

When you are well rested and take short regular breaks throughout the day your brain is fully refuelled and ready to focus in on the work that is important.

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2. Plan your day

When you don’t have a plan for the day, the day will create a plan for you. When you allow outside influences to take control of your day, it is very hard not to be dragged off in all directions.

When you have a plan for the day, when you arrive at work your brain knows exactly what it is you want to accomplish and will subconsciously have prepared itself for a sustained period of focused work.

Your resistance to distractions and other work will be high and you will focus much better on the work that needs doing.

3. Remove everything from your desk and screen except for the work you are doing

I learned this one a long time ago. In my previous work, I worked in a law office and I had case files to deal with. If I had more than one case file on my desk at any one time, I would find my eyes wandering over the other case files on my desk when I had something difficult to do.

I was looking for something easier. This meant often I was working on three or four cases at one time and that always led to mistakes and slower completion.

Now when I am working on something, I am in full-screen mode where all I can see is the work I am working on right now.

4. When at your desk, do work

We are creatures of habit. If we do our online shopping and news reading at our desks as well as our work, we will always have the temptation to be doing stuff that we should not be doing at that moment.

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Do your online shopping from another place—your home or from your phone when you are having a break—and only do your work when at your desk. This conditions your brain to focus in on your work and not other distractions.

5. Learn to say no

Whenever you hear the phrase “learn to say no,” it does not mean going about being rude to everyone. What it does mean is delay saying yes.

Most problems occur when we say “yes” immediately. We then have to spend an inordinate amount of energy thinking of ways to get ourselves out of the commitment we made.

By saying “let me think about it” or “can I let you know later” gives you time to evaluate the offer and allows you to get back to what you were doing quicker.

6. Turn off notifications on your computer

For most of us, we still use computers to do our work. When you have email alert pop-ups and other notifications turned on, they will distract you no matter how strong you feel.

Turn them off and schedule email reviewing for times between doing your focused work. Doing this will give you a lot of time back because you will be able to remain focused on the work in front of you.

7. Find a quiet place to do your most important work

Most workplaces have meeting rooms that are vacant. If you do have important work to get done, ask if you can use one of those rooms and do your work there.

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You can close the door, put on your headphones and just focus on what is important. This is a great way to remove all the other, non-important, tasks demanding your attention and just focus on one piece of work.

The bottom line

Focusing on one piece of work at a time can be hard but the benefits to the amount of work you get done are worth it. You will make fewer mistakes, you will get more done and will feel a lot less tired at the end of the day.

Make a list of the four or five things you want to get done the next day before you finish your work for the day and when you start the day, begin at the top of the list with the first item.

Don’t start anything else until you have finished the first one and then move on to the second one. This one trick will help you to become way more productive.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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