Do you find yourself having trouble remembering things such as that important speech or recalling what you need to pick up at the grocery store? Or maybe you have trouble putting names to faces?
If so you’re going to love this science-backed solution that seems almost too simple to be true.
It turns out boosting your memory might be as simple as taking a nap.
Researchers say that folks who take a nap, and dream about a task they’ve just learned, do far better at performing it later than those who don’t nap or non-dreamers.
Simple trick to remember almost anything
Volunteers were asked to study and learn the layout of a complex 3D maze that was displayed on a computer screen. Five hours later they were asked to find their way through the 3D maze from a random starting point.
Those participants who were allowed to take a 90-minute nap between, and who reported dreaming about the maze task during their nap, were able to find their way through the maze in significantly less time.
In fact, they sped through the maze an average 10 times faster, according to the study published in the journal Current Biology.1 Four of the maze dreamers even managed to cut their completion time in half!
Experts say the task-related dreams likely mean your brain is trying to resolve a problem on more than one level. The dreams are your brain’s way of trying to find associations that you might not see when you’re awake, that could make the memories more useful to you later.
There’s other research backing up the connection between shut-eye and memory too.
Improve memory with science backed trick
In another recent study, researchers at Saarland University revealed that a short daytime nap could improve your memory by fivefold. In the German study volunteers were asked to learn 90 single words and 120 random unrelated word pairs. Half of the group then watched a DVD, while the other half slept anywhere from 45 to 60 minutes.
When the volunteers were then tested, the nappers recalled an astounding five times more word pairs on average than the folks who had watched the movie!2 This kind of memory—called associative memory—is how you remember unrelated bits of information like putting a name with a face, according to the study published in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory.
Other studies have found that timing can be important, and that sleeping soon after you learn something can be a great way to cement in in your memory.3,4
Put the shut-eye memory trick to work for YOU
So how can you use this research to help improve your own memory?
The simplest way to take advantage of your brain’s tendency to do memory-related-dreaming is to save studying and learning tasks—such as memorizing a grocery list or a speech you are going to be giving—to right before you go to sleep at night.
The leading neuroscientist on the dreaming study, Dr. Stickgold, suggested trying to get excited about the task is the best way to assure that you dream about it later.
Or plan in a nap after a study session, instead. Then review the materials again right after you wake up to improve your learning and recall.
Power napping increases memory power
Need to memorize something super-fast? A quick power nap might be enough to do the trick. A study published in the Journal of Sleep Research found that even a six minute nap could significantly improve your memory.5
When volunteers were given two minutes to memorize 30 words and then tested to see how many they remembered an hour later, the folks who also took a short six minute power nap were able to remember significantly more words. (Although the group who took a longer nap, around 35 minutes, recalled the most of all.)
So if you’re ready to improve your memory up to five times or more, join me in getting a little extra shuteye. Now all I have to do is convince my boss that a daily power nap at my desk is actually a good idea.
1. “Dreaming of a Learning Task Is Associated with Enhanced Sleep-Dependent Memory Consolidation,” Current Biology, Volume 20, Issue 9, p850–855, 11 May 2010
2. “Nap sleep preserves associative but not item memory performance,” Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, Volume 120, April 2015, Pages 84–93
3. “Sleep after learning aids memory recall,” Learn. Mem. 2006. 13: 259-262
4. “Memory for Semantically Related and Unrelated Declarative Information: The Benefit of Sleep, the Cost of Wake,” PLOS One, Published: March 22, 2012
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