5 Tips to Enhance Attention & Memory (That Really Work)


Last week I forgot my phone’s passcode for a full five minutes. Maybe I’ve gotten too used to my electronic devices unlocking with a mere glance of my face or by haphazardly pressing my thumb into a sensor. But after staring blankly at the screen for what seemed like an eternity, unable to recall those four numbers I’ve entered at least a gazillion times, I decided it was time to step up my brain game.

So, after pouring through the latest research on memory and attention, here’s what scientists recommend if you want to sharpen your mind and boost your recall abilities at any age.

Identify your distractions

This may sound obvious, but the first step to boosting memory and attention is to identify any distractors that may be taking unnecessary real estate in your brain. These can be anything from big worries (money, debt, job security, relationships) to more minor – but equally distracting – interruptions, like news alerts or cell phone notifications.

In fact, research suggests that cell phone notifications are one of the biggest attention-stealers. For example, one 2015 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology showed that phone notifications, including banners, sounds, and vibrations, disrupt attention and trigger task-irrelevant thoughts.

The researchers also found that those who got push notifications were three times more likely to make a mistake on the task than those who didn’t – even if they didn’t respond or interact with their mobile device immediately.

So, how can you keep your phone from distracting you and improve your ability to focus for longer periods? Here are some tips:

  • Curb your checking: Resist the temptation to check your phone whenever it rings, pings, or dings. This is obviously easier said than done, but it’s also one of those things that become a habit once you start doing them consciously.
  • Put it away: Can’t fight the need to check? Try locking your phone in a drawer or leaving it outside the room when you’re trying to stay focused.
  • Turn off notifications: the sole purpose of notifications (especially from social media) is to lure you into opening an app so you can spend more of your time/money there. Therefore, one of the easiest ways of regaining control over your attention span is simply turning off notifications. If you’re worried about missing an important or urgent communication, look into customizing your notifications, so you only receive them from certain people.
  • Use a screen time-limiting app: Some phones allow you to set up time limits in apps, so you don’t get sucked into a distraction rabbit hole for hours. If your phone doesn’t have that feature, there are many free apps you can use with those functions.

Consider cognitive enhancers

Cognitive enhancers, sometimes called smart pills or nootropics, are natural or synthetic substances that support brain health and mental function.

FDA-approved cognitive enhancers are drugs made from stimulants and other synthetic compounds. They are used to treat conditions like narcolepsy, ADHD, and symptoms of degenerative brain conditions, like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease (read more about memory and cognitive decline here https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/memory/). These drugs can cause serious side effects and physical dependence, so you should only take them if a doctor prescribes them to you.

On the other hand, over-the-counter cognitive enhancers are herbs and dietary supplements that take advantage of natural stimulant ingredients to improve memory and enhance attention. Natural nootropics include:

  • Caffeine
  • Bacopa monnieri
  • Choline
  • Ginkgo biloba
  • Rhodiola rosea
  • Ginseng
  • L-theanine

More your often (even if it’s just a little)

You probably already know that there are countless reasons for exercising regularly. Physical activity helps prevent and control all kinds of health conditions, from heart disease and diabetes to depression and dementia. It also promotes healthy sleep, boosts your sex life, and enhances your mood.

But perhaps the greatest benefits of working out are its long-term effects on memory and cognition, as well as its ability to protect your brain against neurological conditions like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

In one study, researchers asked a group of students to sit on a stationary bike for 10 minutes without moving. Another day, they were told to pedal at a relaxed rate for 10 minutes. The students were also asked to take a computer-based memory test on both occasions.

The investigators were surprised to learn that students did significantly better on memory tests – especially the harder ones – after pedaling for just 10 minutes. Imaging tests also confirmed that specific parts of the student’s brains associated with learning communicated better after being physically active.

The findings of this and other studies looking at physical activity and cognition show that exercise can quite literally change specific structures of your brain for the better. And experts now believe that these effects are both immediate and long-lasting, which means that you don’t have to bust your butt in the gym for hours at a time to protect your brain and improve your memory.

Drink more tea

Don’t snuff tea just because caffeine is a known cognitive enhancer: tea is not only today’s most consumed beverage (the first is water), but the benefits of drinking it are nearly endless.

For example, studies show that green tea can help lower “bad” cholesterol, improves gut health, and aids in weight loss. And recently, a study published in Aging confirmed what traditional Chinese medicine already knew for thousands of years: people who drink tea at least four times a week have healthier brains than non-tea drinkers.

After tracking a group of healthy adults for 25 years, those who drank black, green, or oolong tea at least four times a week showed better connectivity in the brain. Other studies have shown that well-connected brain regions process information more efficiently, and people who have stronger connections have less risk of developing dementia and memory problems.

So if you’ve been forgetting your keys a little too often lately, replace that soda or energy drink with one of the world’s healthiest beverages and see how your brainpower skyrockets.

Sleep is your brain’s best friend

The long-term effects of sleep deprivation are pretty intense: they include an increased risk for depression, diabetes, heart attack, stroke, and more. But if you’ve ever spent the night tossing and turning, then you know the mental effort that it takes to be able to think and function properly the next day. Trouble concentrating, drowsiness and short-term memory problems are some of the immediate effects of not sleeping enough.

Sleep is very closely associated with memory and thinking. Research suggests that your brain uses the time you’re sleeping to process and store the information that you’ve learned throughout the day and strengthens the connections that form short and long-term memories. When you don’t get a good night’s sleep, though, these connections stop working properly, and you may find yourself being more forgetful.

To get your best night’s rest, consider these tips:

  • Create (and stick to) a bedtime routine
  • Avoid caffeine at least 5 hours before bed
  • Don’t use electronics in bed or invest in blue light-blocking glasses
  • Limit daytime naps
  • Make sure that your bedroom is cool, quiet, and dark

This article was developed via a partnership with BetterHelp.

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