“Sleep is the single most effective thing we can do to reset our brain and body health each day — Mother Nature’s best effort yet at contra-death” ~ Matthew Walker, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
Memory loss or forgetfulness can be frustrating. If you or a loved one is concerned about your sudden memory loss, you should consult your physician immediately. Here are four potential causes for increased forgetfulness or minor memory loss:
- Lack of sleep
- Stress and anxiety
- Medications This list is not exhaustive, but it can serve as a starting point for determining why one may be experiencing forgetfulness.
1. Lack of Sleep
In his book, Why We Sleep, Dr. Matthew Walker details the effects too little sleep, or poor sleep quality, can have on cognition. Memory recall is significantly impacted by one poor night of sleep. The consequences compounded by maintaining a lifestyle of insufficient sleep over numerous nights are also severe. This doesn’t mean a person won’t be able to perform at their job or in other areas of their life. Studies show that the performance is not as high quality as it could be. There is insightful research regarding the performance of college students staying up late (or pulling an all-nighter) before a big test compared with students that studied regularly leading up to the exam and had a good night’s sleep. The latter group outperformed the former time and again.
2. Stress and Anxiety
Anything that interferes with retention and the ability to form new memories is also detrimental to memory recall. Stress and anxiety both impair these abilities and can have long-term effects on brain health. While some stress is good, the kind of stress highlighted here is damaging and prevents the positive growth associated with intentionally trying new or difficult things (sometimes referred to as eustress). Anxiety is a complicated condition to unpack because it has numerous forms and varying degrees of impact. However, chronic or acute anxiety can have serious negative repercussions for the nervous system, heart, and brain (all of which can significantly impact memory function).
Alcohol affects short-term memory by slowing down how nerves communicate in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. The hippocampus plays a significant role in helping people form and maintain memories. When regular nerve activity slows down, short-term memory loss can occur. There are more severe issues with alcohol and substance abuse, which can permanently damage the brain. However, even casual drinking can impact memory recall. Brain fog after a night of light to moderate drinking is a shared experience.
Tranquilizers, antidepressants, some blood pressure drugs, and other medications can affect memory, usually by causing sedation or confusion. That can make it difficult to pay close attention to new things. This is a complicated area, and it is best to consult your physician to learn more.
A Few Ideas on How to Combat Forgetfulness
It would be easy to suggest a solution to sudden forgetfulness: better sleep, less (or zero) alcohol, reduced stress and anxiety, fixed depression, and no more medications. However, this isn’t realistic and would likely exacerbate the problem more than fix it. There are likely no quick fixes that would work or have a lasting impact. There are, however, valuable habits one can develop that may be able to restore or improve areas of the brain, which in turn will likely help with memory function. Here are the tools we use at Tiger Medical Institute to support our clients.
1. Sleep hygiene
Getting a good night’s sleep isn’t as easy as changing one’s mind on the matter. It usually takes changing routines, mindsets, expectations, environmental factors, and relationships. A few of the habits we suggest are: Consistent sleep and wake times. A reduction in light and temperature in the bedroom. Finishing the last meal of the day 2-3 hours before bedtime. Wearing blue light blocking glasses in in the evenings if you must be in front of a screen. Ending screen time 2-3 hours before bedtime. Minimal water consumption after supper. Breathing exercises (or meditation) as the last activity before lights out.
The benefits of exercise on the brain are well researched. There are great books on the subject, but Dr. Suzuki’s Healthy Brain, Healthy Life is a wonderful resource.
A balanced diet heavy on natural foods, especially vegetables, is vital to the function of the brain. While too many magazine covers espouse the next great superfood, the reality is that certain foods are detrimental to our gut health. We know that our gut is connected to our brain and can influence good and bad optimal functioning.
4. Supplements over medications
Targeted supplementation is a slower process to help restore essential building blocks in our microbiome. Medications may be necessary for many people, but Western medicine often recommends a powerful, fast-acting medication without considering the root cause or long-term effects. Supplements target specific deficiencies and help the body recover essential vitamins and minerals, ushering the microbiome back to homeostasis. If you are experiencing forgetfulness or notice it’s getting harder to remember routine things, you may want to schedule an appointment with your physician. It is essential to seek out medical advice immediately when it comes to cognitive decline. If you don’t believe you are having severe issues with memory, take the opportunity to examine some of your habits and environmental factors. See if there are changes you need to make to help improve your cognitive functioning.