Victor Mong
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Four Habits That Harm Your Memory Withou ...

Four Habits That Harm Your Memory Without Your Knowing It

Aug 25, 2022

Photo by Dmitriy Tyukov on Unsplash

The brain is arguably the most important organ in the human body. It controls and coordinates actions and reactions, allows us to think and feel, and enables us to have memories and feelings. It’s the reason we are different from other creatures.

Maintaining optimal brain health is the first step toward living a healthy and meaningful life. However, there are certain things most people take for granted without realizing how much negative impact they have on the brain and memory.

Regular Fragmented Sleep

As humans, we’ve evolved into daytime beings. During the day, our brain activities focus on the usual behaviors like working, making decisions, and conscious interactions with the environment.

When we fall asleep at night, the brain is has time to rest and clean up waste accumulated during the day.

But, when you don't get enough sleep time or you experience fragmented sleep, you disrupt your normal circadian rhythm. As a result, your brain begins to functions in an impaired state.

A study by Stanford University researchers has found that disrupting sleep affects memory and make it harder for people to remember things.

In the study, researchers used a technique called “optogenetics" to target a type of brain cell in mice that plays a key role in switching between the sleep/awake cycle.

Optogenetics is the process of genetically engineering specific cells so that they can be controlled by light.

The researchers then sent light pulses directly into the brains of sleeping mice. This was to disrupt their sleep without affecting their sleep time, or the quality of sleep.

The mice were then placed in a box with two objects, one of which they had encountered before.

Those that experienced disrupted sleep were interested in both objects, suggesting that their memories were affected.

The researchers concluded that no matter how much time we spend on sleep, “a minimal unit of uninterrupted sleep is crucial for memory consolidation.”

Late Night Eating

You might not know it, but eating late at night is not only bad for your physical health, it affects your memory as well.

Researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, have looked at how eating late can affect the brain.

The study examined how the timing of meals affects biological rhythms and behavior.

Using mice as subjects, the researchers created two-week-long feeding schedules that divided the mice into two groups:

  • Those their meals aligned with their circadian cycles.

  • Those their meals didn't align with it.

Mice are nocturnal in nature. Foods that didn't align with their circathian rhythm were given during the day while the aligned meals were given at night.

At the end of the experiment, researchers found that the simulated late-night eating had striking consequences for a variety of behaviors.

Even though both groups slept for the same amount of time, the mice that their meals didn't align slept less during the day and more at night compared to those in the other group.

As the researchers noted:

“We showed that under these eating conditions, some parts of the body, especially the hippocampus, are completely shifted in their molecular clock.”

The hippocampus, the part of the brain which is so essential for learning and memory, is following when the food is available.

It means that food affects the memory function of the brain. And eating late at night produces an internal misalignment in the body.

Excess body weight

Lucy Cheke and her colleagues at the University of Cambridge invited 60 participants into her lab for a “treasure hunt.”

Participants included people between the ages of 18 and 36 years, with BMIs ranging from 18 to 51.

On a computer screen, the participants navigated a virtual environment, dropping off various objects along the way. They were then asked questions to test their memory of the task like where they had hidden a specific object.

Cheke and her team found that the higher a participant’s Body Mass Index (BMI), the worse they performed on the treasure hunt task.

When we think of obesity, we think it only leads to diseases like diabetes and heart disease. What most people don't know is that our body weight has a direct impact on our brains.

As the study showed, people with a BMI greater than 25 scored 15% lower in memory recall tests than people with a BMI under 25.

In another study recently published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease Reports, researchers found that obesity can alter brain structure and speed the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to the research, as people gain more weight, blood circulation in the brain starts to reduce. This can lead to the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Social Media Sharing

Every day, millions of people share their life experiences on social media. We connect with friends and forge new relationships.

The average person spends approximately 2 and a half hours per day on social media. While it may seem like a harmless pastime, research shows that it can harm our memory.

According to a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, researchers found that people who document and share their experiences on social media end up having less precise memories of those events.

In a series of three studies led by Diana Tamir of Princeton University, researchers looked at how taking photos and videos for social media affects people’s enjoyment, engagement, and memory of those experiences.

Participants watched engaging TED talks or went on self-guided tours of a church on Stanford University’s campus. They were asked to record their experiences in several different ways: to take photographs or notes of the event, to record the event but not save it, to share the event on social media, or to reflect internally.

They were then asked how much they enjoyed the experience, how much they maintained focus, or if their mind wandered, and then took a quiz to test their memory.

Those who had recorded or shared the event performed worse and showed more of a memory deficit than those who experienced the event without recording it.

It turns out that externalizing an experience worsened participants’ memory because their brain received the message that it didn’t need to hold onto information that was stored elsewhere.

Consequently, not only did the individuals lose some memory of their original experience, but they may also experience longer-term deficits in the size and function of their brains.

P.S: This article was first published on Medium.

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