TIME health

12 Unexpected Things That Mess With Your Memory

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You regularly ransack the house to find your keys. You suddenly can’t recall the name of your kid’s teacher. You made your six-month dentist appointment three months late. Sound familiar? Fear not: most forgetfulness isn’t anything serious, says Majid Fotuhi, MD, PhD, founder and chief medical officer of NeurExpand Brain Center in Luterville, MD and co-author of The Memory Cure. Lack of sleep, certain medications, and even stress can impact your memory. “Fortunately, your brain is malleable, meaning it changes and improves,” says Dr. Fotuhi. “Memory can be boosted with simple powerful interventions.” Here are surprising things that impact your memory in both good and not-so-good ways.

A dysfunctional thyroid

When your thyroid’s out of whack, you may feel too hot, too cold, anxious, depressed—and your memory may also be lagging. “Although the thyroid doesn’t have a specific role in the brain, memory loss is the one thing a person notices when it stops functioning normally,” says Dr. Fotuhi. A butterfly-shaped gland that sits along the front of your windpipe, the thyroid reigns over almost all your body’s metabolic processes. “People with high or low thyroid levels—which are very common in women—may have difficulty with memory and concentration,” he says. Ask your doctor for a simple thyroid test to determine if it’s the culprit behind your memory problems.

Health.com: 19 Signs Your Thyroid Isn’t Working Right

Hot flashes

Every time hot flashes make you you feel like sticking your head in the freezer, you may also feel a fog rolling into your brain. “The more hot flashes a woman experiences during menopause, the worse her ability to remember names and stories,” says Dr. Fotuhi. “Fortunately, hot flashes don’t damage the brain in any way. Memory improves once the hot flashes subside.” Other menopause-related symptoms contribute to memory loss, including insomnia and sleep apnea, Dr. Fotuhi says.

Lack of sleep

Last night’s late party makes it less likely you’ll remember your new coworker’s name the next day. “While some part of the brain takes a siesta when we sleep, deeper areas involved with memory and emotional response become relatively more active,” says Allen Towfigh, MD, medical director of New York Neurology & Sleep Medicine. “Individuals with sleep deprivation and sleep disorders not only suffer from impaired memory but also daytime fatigue, impaired attention, and reduced reaction time.” The standard recommendation of eight hours of sleep a night doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. If you wake up fatigued and fall asleep unintentionally during the day, then you may need more sleep, says Dr. Towfigh.

Health.com: How to Fake a Good Night’s Sleep

Anxiety and depression

Worrying about an upcoming presentation in front of the CEO may also hinder your memory, several studies show. “We don’t understand the exact link, but strong evidence indicates depression, anxiety, and bipolar disease disrupts the neural circuitry involved in developing and retrieving memories,” says Dr. Towfigh. “The severity of the memory loss often mirrors the severity of the mood disorder—severe depression brings about equally severe memory loss.” Prolonged periods of everyday stress increase cortisol levels in the brain, which causes our brain cells to lose synapses (the bridges that connect our brain cells to one another), and make it more difficult to create and retrieve memories. The good news is when memory loss exists with a mood disorder (including anxiety and depression), the memory loss is usually at least partially reversible. “As the individual’s mood improves, often so does the memory loss,” says Dr. Towfigh.

Prescription drugs

Check your medicine cabinet: many common prescription drugs can make you feel forgetful. Anxiety disorder meds like Xanax, Valium, and Ativan (which are benzodiazepines) put a damper on the part of the brain that moves events from the short-term to the long-term memory. Tricyclic antidepressants have a similar effect. Heart medicines including statins and beta blockers have also been linked to memory issues, as have narcotic painkillers, incontinence drugs, sleep aids, and even antihistamines like Benadryl. Bottom line: Don’t stop taking your (potentially life-saving) medications, but talk to your doc if you believe any drug you’re on may be messing with your memory.

Smoking

If you’re still smoking, that may help explain memory lapses. “Smoking damages the brain by impairing its blood supply,” says Dr. Towfigh. Research published in the Archives of General Psychiatry gathered from data obtained from more than 7,000 men and women found a more rapid decline in brain function (which included memory along with vocabulary and other brain functions) with age than from those who never smoked. “Furthermore, cigarette smoking promotes the accumulation of abnormal proteins which impair the brain’s ability to process and relay information,” says Dr. Towfigh.

Health.com: 15 Ways Smoking Ruins Your Looks

A high-fat diet

Greasy burgers and French fries pack on pounds and are hard on your heart—and they may also cause memory issues. One study revealed that adolescent mice had poorer learning and memory skills after being fed a high-fat diet for eight weeks, while another study on middle-aged rats found that the hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for short-term memory) may be particularly vulnerable to the impact of high-fat diets.

More research is needed to determine for sure whether or not high-fat diets impact human memory, but here’s what we do know: Calorically dense diets promote type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease, which can all do damage to our brains, says Dr. Towfigh. “This holds true earlier in life, too. Studies link childhood obesity with a reduced attention span and impaired concentration and focus.”

Stress

A sudden emergency can make it tough to recall something as simple as your home address. A rat study published in Neuron shows that stress hormones influence an area of the brain area that controls working memory. Researchers found that repeated stress reduced receptors in the part of the brain that’s connected to thought processes Although this study involved animals, the human brain works similarly, explains Dr. Towfigh. “Repeated or chronic stress can be harmful. Regular exposure to elevated glucocorticoids (a hormone released by the adrenal gland) also causes our brain cells to reduce receptors, making brain cells less capable of responding to neurochemical (brain chemicals) cues.” Finding ways to relieve stress may help: Practicing meditation does double duty by easing stress and helping improve memory, according to a study from the University of California, Santa Barbara. College students who completed eight 45-minute meditation sessions over two weeks increased their average GRE exam scores from 460 to 520 and showed improvement on tests of working memory.

Health.com: 13 Ways to Beat Stress in 15 Minutes or Less

Germs

A nasty cold sore does more than make you feel self-conscious—it may be messing with your memory, according to a 2013 study in Neurology. Researchers found that people who exposed to many germs, such as herpes simplex type 1 (the cold sore virus), over their lifetimes were more likely to have memory problems than those exposed to fewer germs. Among more than 1,600 study participants, those with a higher “infectious burden” had a 25% increase in the risk of a low score on a cognitive test. Although there is no vaccine for the cold sore virus, childhood vaccinations against other viruses could help prevent problems later in life, the researchers suggest. In addition, regular exercise may help too—doctors think repeated infections may damage blood vessels, since a high infectious burden is also linked to a greater risk of stroke and heart attack.

Green tea

Now for some good news: chemicals found in green tea may help improve your memory, according to a University of Basel study. “Several compounds, EGCG and L-theanine, in green tea increase neurogenesis (growth of new brain cells) in the hippocampus, the part of the brain used for short-term memory and learning new things,” says Dr. Fotuhi. How much green tea has not yet been determined, says Dr. Fotuhi, who recommends combining green tea with other healthy habits such as exercise for greatest memory improvement benefits.

Exercise

Regular sweat sessions also help keep memories sharp. “Physical exercise improves mood and sleep and by doing so, it invariably improves cognition and memory,” says Dr. Towfigh. An animal study published in Brain, Behavior and Immunity, for example, showed daily exercise increased brain cell growth after 12 weeks of conditioned running. Dr. Fotuhi recommends 45 minutes of aerobic exercise four days a week for the best memory boost.

Health.com: 20 Tricks to Make Exercise an Everyday Habit

Vitamin B12 deficiency

Vegetarians and vegans are at a higher risk of being deficient in vitamin B12, which keeps the body’s nerve and blood cells healthy and helps make DNA. That’s because B12 occurs naturally only in animal foods: shellfish, meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy. In addition to fatigue, loss of appetite, constipation, and weight loss, a B12 deficiency can also lead to memory problems. If you feel your meatless diet may be affecting your memory, your doctor can give you a blood test that determines whether you should be taking a vitamin B12 supplement.

Note: it’s not just veggies who are at risk for a B12 deficiency. Pregnant women, older adults, and anyone with pernicious anemia or gastrointestinal disorders like celiac disease and Crohn’s disease may need supplementation.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Education

Pediatricians’ Rx for Schools: Later Start Times

Julian Lopez, Ben Montalbano, James Agostino
From left: students Julian Lopez, Ben Montalbano, and James Agostino listen during their physics class at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington on Feb. 7, 2014. Charles Dharapak—AP

Evidence on potential dangers for teens who get too little sleep is "extremely compelling"

(CHICAGO) — Pediatricians have a new prescription for schools: later start times for teens.

Delaying the start of the school day until at least 8:30 a.m. would help curb their lack of sleep, which has been linked with poor health, bad grades, car crashes and other problems, the American Academy of Pediatrics says in a new policy.

The influential group says teens are especially at risk; for them, “chronic sleep loss has increasingly become the norm.”

Studies have found that most U.S. students in middle school and high school don’t get the recommended amount of sleep — 8½ to 9½ hours on school nights; and that most high school seniors get an average of less than seven hours.

More than 40 percent of the nation’s public high schools start classes before 8 a.m., according to government data cited in the policy. And even when the buzzer rings at 8 a.m., school bus pickup times typically mean kids have to get up before dawn if they want that ride.

“The issue is really cost,” said Kristen Amundson, executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education.

School buses often make multiple runs each morning for older and younger students. Adding bus drivers and rerouting buses is one of the biggest financial obstacles to later start times, Amundson said. The roughly 80 school districts that have adopted later times tend to be smaller, she said.

After-school sports are another often-cited obstacle because a later dismissal delays practices and games. The shift may also cut into time for homework and after-school jobs, Amundson said.

The policy, aimed at middle schools and high schools, was published online Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Evidence on potential dangers for teens who get too little sleep is “extremely compelling” and includes depression, suicidal thoughts, obesity, poor performance in school and on standardized tests and car accidents from drowsy driving, said Dr. Judith Owens, the policy’s lead author and director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

The policy cites studies showing that delaying start times can lead to more nighttime sleep and improve students’ motivation in class and mood. Whether there are broader, long-term benefits requires more research, the policy says.

Many administrators support the idea but haven’t resolved the challenges, said Amundson. She said the pediatricians’ new policy likely will have some influence.

Parents seeking a change “will come now armed with this report,” Amundson said.

Amundson is a former Virginia legislator and teacher who also served on the school board of Virginia’s Fairfax County, near Washington, D.C. Owens, the policy author, has been working with that board on a proposal to delay start times. A vote is due in October and she’s optimistic about its chances.

“This is a mechanism through which schools can really have a dramatic, positive impact for their students,” Owens said.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

3 Reasons To Keep Your Phone Away from the Bed

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Ever fall asleep while Insta-scrolling on your smartphone—or purposely leave it on your bed while you snooze? You’re not alone: 44% of cell phone owners have slept with their phone next to their bed to make sure they didn’t miss any crucial calls or texts, according to the Pew Internet Project. But while you may have good intentions, snuggling up to your phone could be hazardous to your health. Here’s why:

You could set your pillow on fire

A Texas teen recently woke up to a burning smell. The cause? Her Samsung Galaxy S4, which was under her pillow, had partially melted and it scorched her sheets and mattress, too. More specifically, it seems like a non-Samsung replacement phone battery was to blame: the phone’s instruction manual warns against using incompatible cell phone batteries and chargers. The manual also notes that there’s a risk of a fire if the gadget is covered by bedding or other thick material. Bottom line: Stick to phone accessories from the original manufacturer, and don’t leave your cell on your bed.

You could keep yourself awake

Cell phones (and tablets, TVs, and other gadgets with LED screens) give off what’s known as blue light—a type that studies suggest can inhibit the production of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin and disrupt our circadian rhythms. This may be because blue light emits wavelengths similar to daylight, which can make our bodies think it’s daytime, at any time. To fall asleep when you want (and need) to, power down all electronics two hours before bedtime. Better yet, keep your phone and laptop in another room while you slumber.

The health risks of cell phones are murky

There’s been no research that proves cell phone use causes cancer; in fact, the links to any kind of health risk aren’t yet clear. In general, cell phones are said to give off such small doses of electromagnetic radiation—which is also emitted from X-rays and microwaves and can lead to tumor growth in high amounts—that they’re perfectly safe to handle. Still, the World Health Organization warned in 2011 that usage may be possibly carcinogenic to humans, especially in children, whose scalps and skulls are thinner than adults’, and more vulnerable to radiation. So if you’re at all worried about the possible cancer risk, try to text instead of call, hold the phone away from your ear, or use an earpiece or the speakerphone setting as much as possible—and definitely don’t sleep with the phone next to your head.

More from Health.com:

9 Everyday Sources of Radiation

How to Beat 16 Summer Health Hazards

11 Surprising Health Benefits of Sleep

Camille Chatterjee is the Deputy Editor of Health magazine.

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME Aging

3 Simple Lifestyle Habits That May Slow Aging

There's more evidence for eating well, sleeping, and exercising

Stress makes our bodies age faster, but thankfully we can combat that with healthy eating and exercise, a new study says.

When cells age, telomeres—tips at the end of chromosomes—shorten. Telomeres help regulate the aging of cells, and their length has been used to determine the body’s current state of health. Things like stress and lifestyle behaviors can influence their length, as compelling earlier research has shown. In the new study, University of California, San Francisco, researchers looked at 239 post-menopausal women for a year and found that for every major life stressor they experienced during the year, there was a significant shortening in their telomere length.

That’s not great news, but the researchers also discovered that the women who ate a healthy diet, exercised and slept well had less shortening of their telomeres. It could be that the women’s healthy habits actually protect them from cellular aging, even in the face of life’s stresses.

The study, which is published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, is observational, which means the researchers cannot say with certainty that it was these healthy lifestyles alone that offered them protective benefits. But at the very least, it shows once again that doing our best to eat well, sleep, and exercise can give us an edge.

TIME sleep

Here Is Why You’ll Sleep 20 Minutes Less On July 12th

Supermoon
A supermoon rises next to the ancient Greek temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, some 65 kilometers south of Athens, on June 23, 2013. ARIS MESSINIS—AFP/Getty Images

The surprising reason

When the moon is full, we sleep less…at least that was the common belief without any real science to back it up. Now Swedish researchers have not only quantified it, but they also found a correlation between the lunar cycle and our sleep duration.

According to the study, published in Current Biology, researchers from the University of Gothenburg in Switzerland observed 47 healthy individuals and found that they slept an average of 20 minutes less and took 5 minutes longer to fall asleep during the full moon phase. While more research is needed to determine exactly why this is, the study authors suspect that our brains are more reactive when the moon is full, making it harder to calm down and drift off to sleep.

Which means you might want to start preparing now for the supermoons—when the moon is the closest to the earth and is full to boot—on July 12, August 10, and September 9. Enlist these 10 simple sleep remedies to help you fall asleep. (A full moon isn’t the only sleep saboteur; read about the top 10 sleep thieves and how to thwart them.)

MORE: The 3-Minute Massage That Lengthens Sleep

TIME Research

Study: Interrupted Sleep May Be as Harmful as No Sleep at All

Sleep Medicine Booms In The United States
Ryan Gamble has wires applied to his head by lab technologist Amy Bender in preparation for a polysomnographic recording system demonstration at Washington State University Spokane's Sleep and Performance Research Center December 13, 2006 in Spokane, Washington. Jeff T. Green—Getty Images

Just one night of interrupted sleep negatively affected mood, attention span and cognitive ability

Fragmented sleep could be as physically harmful as a total lack of sleep, according to an unprecedented study.

Lead researcher Prof. Avi Sadeh and his team at Tel Aviv University found that an interrupted night of sleep — which is common for doctors and new parents — is similar to having only four hours of consistent sleep. The experiment published in the journal Sleep Medicine studied the sleep patterns of students using wristwatches that monitored when they were asleep or awake.

Students slept a full eight-hours one night followed by a night of interrupted sleep in which they received four phone calls directing them to complete a brief computer exercise before returning to bed. The morning after both nights, the volunteers completed tasks to measure their attention span and emotional state — results proved that just one night of interrupted sleep had negative effects on mood, attention span and cognitive ability.

Sadeh believes that several nights of fragmented sleep could have long-term negative consequences equivalent to missing out on slumber altogether. “We know that these effects accumulate and therefore the functional price new parents — who awaken three to ten times a night for months on end — pay for common infant sleep disturbance is enormous,” he said in a statement.

The study also acknowledged that many people of varying ages and professions are susceptible to fragmented sleep — a finding that Sadeh hopes will provide an impetus for creating solutions. “I hope that our study will bring this to the attention of scientists and clinicians, who should recognize the price paid by individuals who have to endure frequent night-wakings,” Sadeh said.

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