Optimizing Your Memory

young woman insomnia sleep

It’s the weekend, and I thought that we might turn away from cancer, and to memory. After all, perhaps 1 in 3 of us will get some degree of dementia.

Deep sleep: The non-REM (rapid eye movement) sleep stage – in which brain waves slow down, dreaming stops, and you become more difficult to awaken – may be a key element in preserving good memory as we age. The transfer of short-term memories to long-term storage occurs during the slow wave stage of sleep, with these slow waves generated by the middle frontal portion of the brain.

Unfortunately, this region can deteriorate with age.Publishing in Nature Neuroscience (27 Jan 2013), researchers compared memory performance for young volunteers and adults 72 and older, respectively. Before sleeping, both groups did well, but as participants slept through the night, measurements of brain wave activity showed the older subjects had impaired slow wave activity. This decrease in activity was associated with deterioration of the middle frontal lobe. The deep sleep quality was 75% lower for the older participants. The following day, older study participants memory task performance was 55% worse, as compared to the younger group.

My take: Try to improve your sleep quality by 1) exercising regularly up to 4 hours before bedtime; limit stimulants (alcohol, nicotine, caffeine); boost melatonin (sleep-inducing hormone) levels by turning off devices that emit light at least one hour before going to sleep (and keep your room as black as possible). And seek professional advice for physical or mental conditions that interrupt your sleep (frequent urination, arthritis, pain, sleep apnea, depression, and anxiety are examples).

For pain, seek a medical assessment to identify and manage chronic pain. Take medicines as directed by your health care provider. Minimize factors that may contribute to your pain, including obesity, repetitive motion, an unhealthy lifestyle, excess stress, and depression.

I’m Dr. Michael Hunter.

The small print: The material presented herein is informational only, and is not designed to provide specific guidance for an individual. Please check with a valued health care provider with any questions or concerns. As for me, I am a Harvard- , Yale- and UPenn-educated radiation oncologist, and I practice in the Seattle, WA (USA) area. I feel genuinely privileged to be able to share with you. If you enjoyed today’s offering, please consider clicking the follow button at the bottom of this page.

Available now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Both can be found at the Apple Ibooks store. Coming Soon for iPad:  Understand Breast Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minuteable now: Understand Colon Cancer in 60 Minutes; Understand Brain Glioma in 60 Minutes. Thank you.

Reference: Massachusetts General Hospital: Mind, Mood, & Memory (volume 9, number 4; April 2013)

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Harvard AB Yale MD UPenn Radiation Oncology Radiation Oncologist, Seattle area

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