Did you know that “the shorter we sleep, the shorter our life will be?[i]” Professor Matthew Walker, The New Science of Sleep and Dreams
On this episode you will learn:
✔︎ A review of the importance of sleep on our physical and mental health.
✔︎ How lack of sleep attacks the memory centers of our brain.
✔︎ 2 science-based strategies to improve memory and never forget anything ever again.
✔︎ Tips for how to use these strategies in your life for improved results.
Have you ever said, “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” or pushed through your work possibly doing an all-nighter, thinking that you’ll catch up over the weekend?
The most current research shows that this is a really bad idea, as Matthew Walker, the author of the book, Why We Sleep, tells us that “lack of sleep attacks the hippocampus (where memory and learning take place) and increases the risk for various forms of cancer.”[ii] We have covered the importance of sleep on this podcast in many different places, including a BONUS episode in December 2020 where we talked about sleep as one of The Top 5 Health Staples[iii] we should all pay attention to, but Professor Matthew Walker reminds us that “as we are getting older, our learning and memory abilities fade and decline...and that a physiological signature of aging is that our sleep gets worse” which contributes to cognitive or memory decline. I don’t know about you, but as I’m going through the next 50+ years of my life, I’d like to have a sharp memory, in addition to a healthy body that can help me to do the things I want to do with work and family and when I find something that’s NEW and INTERESTING, I will share it with you, wherever you might be listening to this podcast, so it can help you in your personal and professional life.
My hope is that today’s Brain Fact Friday makes us all think about how we can improve our sleep, memory and overall health as I share the most current research, and how I’m applying it for improved results and productivity. We are now nearing the end of Season 7 of the podcast on “Brain Health and Well-Being” and will begin Season 8 in June, on “Brain Health and Learning.” Having a theme for each season helps me to stay focused on the guests we bring on, as well as the questions I ask them. If there is a topic of interest to you, please send me a message[iv] and let me know.
Today we are going to take a deeper look at the importance of sleep on our learning, memory and overall health, as we prepare to speak with the world’s leading expert on sleep paralysis, Dr. Baland Jalal, from Harvard University, who will help us to connect the brain to some of our weirdest sleep experiences, with the hopes that this connection can help us to all learn something new, and perhaps use some new strategies to make sleep a priority that will in turn improve our memory and learning in our waking hours.
While researching for our next interview with Dr. Baland Jalal[v], I’ve been looking at what some of the leading experts have discovered about our dreams and sleep. I did explore what I was learning on EPISODE #211 on “The Neuroscience of Dreams: Expanding Our Self-Awareness”[vi] to open up the door for this interview and always want to remind everyone of EPISODE #104 with Antonio Zadra on “When Brains Dream”[vii] but today I want to highlight how our sleep is important for learning and memory consolidation, hoping the Dr. Jalal will deepen our understanding of our dream world, take some of the mystery out of what happens to our brain during sleep, and bring some strategies to the forefront that we can use to improve our productivity in the 16 hours of our waking day.
So Why is Sleep So Important and Critical to Look at For Our Health, Well-Being and Productivity?
Professor and Neuroscientist Matthew Walker, from the University of California, reveals a recent study with adults who got 6 hours of sleep vs 8 hours, and they noticed that in the “6 hours of sleep group, that certain genes were turned off (the immunity genes)” that we all need to fight against disease and viruses, and the genes that were turned on were the genes that produced tumors in the body. We’ve all heard of how important sleep is, and how it’s nonnegotiable for our health, but this study put sleep back on the map for me to keep investigating to see how else it can be improved. After our interview with Dr. Jalal, I hope to show how our dream time can benefit our wake time, and how we can use our sleep time for improved creativity, focus and productivity while we are working/awake.
Since lack of sleep “attacks the hippocampus” of the brain, where our memories are first formed, and then consolidated from short-term to long-term memory, I wanted to share some strategies where our memories can be strengthened, with or without a good night of sleep. I share these 2 strategies with you, as I recently had to draw on them, and then while listening to Stanford Professor and Neuroscientist, Dr. Andrew Huberman’s most recent podcast, on Understanding and Improving Memory[viii], I made some connections to the memory building techniques I’ve been using, while Dr. Huberman showed how science proves these strategies grounded in science.
If what Matthew Walker says is true, and that as I’m getting older, my learning and memory abilities are fading and declining, it would make sense to me to find some ways to strengthen my memories to prevent this from occurring.
Last week, the day before interviewing Dr. Marie Gervais, for EPISODE #214[ix] something weird happened and I lost the questions for our interview. The good thing is that it was the day before the interview, so I had time to recreate them, but what was interesting is that I relied on my memory to do this quicker than if I had to start from scratch. While I know I don’t have a photographic memory, where I could remember every word by detail, after listening to Dr. Andrew Huberman’s podcast on Improving Memory with Science Based Tools, I could see how science really helped me in this situation.
USING SCIENCE TO STRENGTHEN OUR MEMORIES
TIP #1 Taking a Mental Snapshot in Your Mind. Until I heard Dr. Huberman talking about this as an effective, science-backed method for improving our memory, I wouldn’t have believed it myself, even though I do this all the time. He drew on a research article about Photographic Memory[x] where he explained it’s not in the sense of remembering every word of writing on a page (like some people can do) but a bit different—something he has been doing since he was a young kid, and something I’ve done since I was young as well. It’s when we take either an actual or mental photograph of something we want to remember, and the research says that if it’s something we choose to remember ourselves (it’s volitional) then our memory of this snapshot is enhanced, and even if we delete the actual photograph, if we took one, that we should still be able to recall every detail in the image, from our mind, for years to come.
HOW TO USE THIS IN YOUR DAILY LIFE
I thought about this example with recreating my questions for Dr. Gervais. Because I was in an emotional state while reading her book, and creating her questions, you would think this is what helped me to remember them when I had to recreate them (because her book The Spirit of Work was all about connecting to her at the soul level). I had the research, and went through each point, and remembered where the questions came from, but the places I could remember the questions clearly, were the ones that were connected to images I had seen (whether on social media) or somewhere that I remember thinking “yes, this goes along with what I want to ask” and it was the mental image recall that helped me to remember her questions.
If you want to try this, take either a mental, or an actual photograph of something you want to remember. Remember it must be volitional, not something someone else wants you to remember. While taking the photo, or imaging it, pay attention to what you are seeing. Where is the picture? What’s in the background? Is there a person in the picture? What are they wearing? Is there anything about the photo that would allow you to pinpoint the month the photo was taken? Are they wearing something that stands out? Where are they standing? How are they standing? What’s behind them? Is there a window in the photo? What’s outside the window? Is it daytime or nighttime? Now that you’ve got your mental image, delete it, stop thinking about it, and wait a week, and see how much of the image you can remember. With practice, you should be able to recall details from these mental or actual snapshots, many years later. Dr. Huberman did say that the research showed that although the image could be recalled, that the auditory along with the image would be diminished, or that vision trumps our auditory senses.
TIP #2:Highly Emotional States + Adrenaline=Enhanced Memory. Dr. Huberman shared a study that was done by Cahill and McGough[xi] that showed when you are in a highly emotional state, adrenaline is released but what is interesting about this study is that “it’s not the emotion that stamps the memory down, but it’s the presence of adrenaline”[xii] that solidifies the memory.
He said “You don’t need to take anything to spike adrenaline” (Dr. Andrew Huberman) you just need to find what works for you and if it “makes your eyes go wide and breathing increase” then you’ve spiked your adrenaline. He did give some suggestions of ways to recreate this adrenaline boost in our brain to enhance learning and memory, without using repetition (the most popular research based strategy for learning retention) like cold ice baths or showers to increase adrenaline, or exercise that I use often.
HOW TO USE THIS IN YOUR DAILY LIFE:
How do you approach learning and memory? With this research in mind, did you think about stamping the memory of what you want to remember with adrenalin? Have you heard of strategies to increase adrenalin in your body (like a cold shower or cold bath) to stamp down your learning? I talked about this with Dr. John Ratey when I interviewed him on EPISODE #116 on “The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain”[xiii] when I told Dr. Ratey that in order to study neuroscience, write these episodes, and make sense of it all, I had to run up a mountain, or do some sort of rigorous cardio activity in order to be able to sit at my desk and actually understand what I’m reading. Dr. Ratey agreed that I needed to create the neural chemicals needed for learning and memory.
How do you approach learning and memory? Exercise, cold baths, or some other method? I’d love to know…
To review this week’s Brain Fact Friday
Did you know that “lack of sleep attacks the hippocampus”[xiv] the part of the brain that plays a role in learning and memory. If we want to protect this part of our brain, then paying attention to how much and how long we sleep is a responsible next step for us to all focus on, in addition to working on strategies that can strengthen this important part of our brain.
We covered 2 tips for implementing how an understanding of our brain can improve productivity in our life with the mental snapshot strategy that will allow you to remember anything, even if you’ve deleted it, by paying attention to whatever it is that you want to remember, and then practice this, to strengthen this part of your memory center. If you are like me, and have deleted something, you’ll never have to worry, because it will never be lost, when you’ve backed it up with a mental snapshot.
The second strategy of enhancing our memories is with the idea that it’s not just our emotions that make our memories stick, but the presence of adrenaline and to find ways to increase adrenaline naturally (like through exercise) to create the neural chemicals that our brain needs for learning and memory.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this episode, and that you have taken away something to improve your brain health and well-being. I’ll see you next episode with Dr. Baland Jalal where we will see what we can learn about ourselves, by diving into the dream world.