Sleep plays a vital role in organizing and laying down memories. So, it's not too surprising that a recent U.S. survey ² discovered that students who study all night have slightly lower grades than those who sleep. Good sleep hygiene is critical to good memory so aim for a full night's sleep, especially when studying for tests and exams.
For more information about sleep link to our online module "Preparing for & Taking Exams". See article "Snooze It or Lose It" http://www.prevention.com/cda/article/snooze-it-or-lose-it/f8f5a304918c8110VgnVCM10000013281eac____/health/brain.fitness
Smoking marijuana causes short-term memory deficits which can persist for some weeks after stopping. So, if you use these drugs, think twice about smoking in the weeks before exams.
Having a hangover is more than a nuisance when you need to think hard while studying, taking notes in a lecture, writing an essay, etc. Alcohol impairs judgment, slows your reaction time, and affects your sleep patterns. Alcohol is also a depressant which can negatively affect your mood.
Good nutrition is important for thinking and for memory. Toronto scientist, Dr. Carol Greenwood ³, conducts research on how general health and diet contribute to brain function and decline. In her research, people who ate complex carbohydrates for breakfast (whole grain cereals and breads) got a memory boosting impact of the carbohydrate. But those who ate a simple carbohydrate, like white bread, experienced memory decline after that.
Food and drinks that help memory:
Omega-3 fatty acids (e.g. oily fish like salmon, walnuts), and fruits and vegetables, particularly brightly coloured ones which are high in anti-oxidants. Another "brain food" is lecithin, a phospholipid containing ‘choline', a building block of one of the neurotransmitters in the brain that form thought and memory. Foods rich in lecithin are soybeans, eggs, and wheat germ. You can also buy lecithin as a supplement in the health section of most grocery stores. Drink lots of fresh water, too.
Foods & drinks that hinder memory: refined sugars and white flour, food with MSG and aspartame (e.g. Nutrasweet), coffee (can provide a short term memory boost, but it can make you jittery).
Worries about your academic and/or personal life can affect your ability to concentrate and, therefore, remember what you've heard, read, or observed. Stress causes your mental wheels to spin around preventing you from releasing the unconscious thought processes that get you to the highest level of information processing (i.e. Know Stage). The good news is that you can learn to manage your stress with the right mindset and useful coping strategies. Kevin Trudeau, in his bestseller "Mega Memory", outlines an interesting eye movement technique that can reduce stress and help recall. It's easy and you can do it anywhere. Try it during your next test! If you suffer from high levels of stress, consider consulting a learning strategies or personal counsellor at Queen's Counselling Services.
Some medications can negatively impact concentration and, in turn, your ability to recall. If you need to start of new course of meds which might impair your memory, especially at very busy times during the term (e.g. midterms/ exams), consider making your professors aware of your situation. If you're not comfortable doing this, consult a learning strategies or personal counsellor at Queen's Counselling Services. Some meds, for example those for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, indirectly help your memory by assisting with concentration and focus.
For the mature aged student reading this module, you might be wondering if your age has anything to do with ability to retain and recall information. The good news is that aging is not as big a factor in memory loss as was once thought. Recent studies have shown that we can retain our memories if we continue to "exercise" them, i.e. practice daily activities to aid memory such as word games or learning a foreign language.
² Source: Toronto Star, Night School a Failure. December 20, 2007. The study was conducted by Dr. Pamela Thacher and published in the January issue of Behavioral Sleep Medicine.
³ Source: Tactics to improve a sluggish memory: New Activities, rhyming techniques, eat well. Canadian Press Written by: LISA ABEL Aug. 20, 2007