Can you improve your memory while sleeping?

by Vigan Sokoli
(Prishtina, Kosovo)

Is it possible to improve your long-term memory while sleeping? I am also having trouble putting the brain exercises and meditation in my routine. Is there anyway I can motivate myself to do these everyday? Thank you, Vigan

Doug's Reply: There are some claims that listening to subliminal messages on CD or tape while you sleep can improve memory. I am open to that possibility, but I can't say for sure whether it helps or not.

More importantly, instead of improving your memory *while* you sleep, you can improve your memory by getting restful sleep.

During sleep, your brain consolidates new memories. That means it organizes the memories and makes them more permanent.

If your sleep is fitful or inadequate in some way, new memories may not be stored properly. Many people these days either don't get enough hours of sleep or their sleep is not restful.

So if you want to improve your memory while sleeping, make sure your sleep habits and sleep environment are ideal. Here are some suggestions:

- Darken your room. Get light-blocking curtains if necessary, or invest in a sleep mask to wear over your eyes while you sleep. Turn off or cover up all light sources in your bedroom. Most people sleep more soundly in a very dark room.

- Dampen sounds. If sound from outside enters your room at night, wear inexpensive ear plugs.

- Replace that old mattress. Your bed needs to be firm and comfortable enough that you can sleep soundly.

- Address problems with allergies. Some people like me have trouble sleeping because of allergies to pollen, dust, and other environmental substances. Visit your doctor if necessary for advice on allergy medications, hypoallergenic pillow and mattress covers, and so on.

- Avoid eating late in the day. If food is in your system when you go to bed, your body's attempt to digest it overnight may interfere with your sleep.

- Avoid caffeine, especially late in the day. If you drink coffee or caffeinated beverages, consider cutting back or stopping. Caffeine is a stimulant and can greatly interfere with your ability to sleep soundly.

- No TV before sleep. It's important to create an environment in your bedroom where your mind can relax before sleep. Some people watch TV while lying in bed, but this only agitates the mind. Instead, read a book, write in your journal, or quietly review your day in your mind (an ancient Stoic practice).

As I mentioned, getting proper sleep is critical to consolidation of new memories. If you take the suggestions above seriously, I think you will find your memory and concentration improving.

Here are some tips on staying motivated:

- Be accountable to someone. Tell a friend or relative about your plan to form new habits for brain training and meditation. Have them ask you periodically how it's going and whether you are staying on track with your goals. This will help you stay motivated to accomplish your objectives since you know someone will be asking about your progress.

- Set a schedule. What works for me is to pick a specific timeframe and stick to that. For example, I complete my Lumosity brain training sessions first thing in the morning. That way, I'm sure to get it done and don't have to worry about activities later in the day interfering with my goal.

- Use visualization. Each night as you lie in bed before sleep, imagine yourself enjoying the benefits of your brain training and meditation habits. Imagine your memory, concentration, and even intelligence (some brain games have been shown to improve this) at heights you never thought possible. If you imagine the benefits clearly, your motivation to do your sessions the next day should remain high.

Best of luck to you.


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