Often times, when pulling an all night study session, it seems the information students "cram" into their brains is only temporary knowledge. The same instance is seen in those who prepare for a morning presentation the night before. But why is that?
In hopes of finding an answer to that question, researchers at the University of Houston were recently awarded two grants totaling over $2 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to continue investigating memory formation and the impact of the biological clock on learning and memory. It has been previously discovered that the brain's biological (or circadian) clock affects natural body cycles, such as sleep, wakefulness, metabolic rate and body temperature; however, research involving sea snails suggested the circadian clock might also regulate the formation of memory during the night.
Sea Snail Studies
With one of the grants provided, researchers at UH plan to continue their studies based on data that reveals the circadian clock alters several forms of long-term memory in sea snails. The results of the studies showed:
Sea snails form long-term memory when trained during the day but not when they are trained at night.
Short-term memory of the same behaviors is formed similarly during the day and night, proving the circadian clock shuts down the molecular circuit (in the neural circuit in the brain) at a particular time of night, prohibiting the occurrence of long-term memory.
Moreover, with the funds provided with the second grant, researchers plan to focus on the transmitter substance glutamate -- involved in memory formation -- in sea snails in order to understand the change that takes place in the brain that enables people to remember.
Memory happens at places in the brain known as synapses (where cells "communication" with each other through the release of chemicals, or transmitter substances). Yet, for transmitters to work effectively they must be cleared away once they are released so others can subsequently act. Reuptake systems are the mechanisms responsible for getting rid of transmitters. Further, thanks to previous studies, researchers know:
The molecules that act as the brain's cleaning crew during learning and memory formation, glutamate transport molecules, increase once the long-term memory-forming process begins.
Memory lapses occur when deficiencies in glutamate transporters affect the strength of connections among the neurons linked to memory.
Researchers hope their findings will not only help people deal with temporary memory lapses, such as misplacing car keys, but also shed light on neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer's.
Science Blog February 28, 2005
Yes indeed. The secret, inexpensive, practical solution to improving your memory will be to optimize your sleep. As the above studies highlight, sleep plays an important role in your long-term memory. Sleep is without doubt one of the absolute essential requirements if you are ever to achieve optimal wellness. Conversely, while catching the recommended amount of shut-eye can have beneficial implications on you overall health and well being, not getting enough sleep can certainly take its toll on your health.
Another amazing inexpensive solution to improve your memory is to make sure you take enough fish or cod liver oil. Your brain is made up of 60% fat and half of that fat is DHA, one of the primary fatty acids in fish or cod liver oil. I am continually impressed how many of my patients experience dramatic improvement in their memory once they start increasing their fish or cod liver oil.
While you are thinking about dietary solutions to improve your memory it would be wise to consider adding raw egg yolks to your diet. They are loaded with vital nutrients like phosphatidyl choline and serine that have been well documented to improve your memory. I have been using three or four raw egg yolks every day for the last several years now and can't say enough good things about it. You might also consider stopping or dramatically reducing your sugar intake, as that has been strongly associated with a reduction in memory capacity.
But getting back to sleep for a moment, for those of you who struggle with getting a good night's sleep, I suggest reading my Guide to a Good Night's Sleep. Whether you are not able to fall asleep, wake up too often, don't feel well-rested when you wake up in the morning or simply want to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep, my guidelines will provide you with various useful techniques to improve this problem. Some include:
Listen to white noise or relaxation CDs. Some people find the sound of white noise or nature sounds, such as the ocean or forest, to be soothing for sleep. An excellent relaxation/meditation option to listen to before bed is the Insight audio CD. I have been very impressed with the effectiveness of this tool. It is very uncommon where this fails to work for the patients I ask to try it. If you struggle with insomnia it would certainly be worth it to take advantage of the company's free three-month trial offer.
Avoid bedtime snacks, particularly grains and sugars, which will raise your blood sugar and inhibit sleep.
Read something spiritual or religious to help you to relax.
Turn off the TV or, better yet, remove the TV from your bedroom if it is in there.
Sleep in complete darkness or as close to it as possible. If there is even the tiniest bit of light in the room it can disrupt your circadian rhythm and your pineal gland's production of melatonin and serotonin. There also should be as little light in the bathroom as possible if you get up in the middle of the night. Please whatever you do, keep the light off when you go to the bathroom at night. As soon as you turn on that light you will for that night immediately cease all production of the important sleep aid melatonin.
Make certain you are exercising regularly. Exercising for at least 30 minutes everyday can help you fall asleep. However, don't exercise too close to bedtime or it may keep you awake. Studies show exercising in the morning is the best if you can do it.
Finally, if memory is something you struggle with, another great tool I have found to be remarkably effective and efficient (and very affordable) to help you achieve higher concentration and clarity levels is through the Focus 2-CD, which you can order as a complete set with the Insight CD. Also, by incorporating a good nutrition program, exercise and concentration strategies you will be on the way to maintaining optimal levels of physical health and emotional well-being.
By listening to both of these CDs, you can literally train your brain to function at a high level of synchronization, opening up the way for a flood of positive effects.