By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness
September 3, 2021
Nobody likes it when their memory starts slipping. It’s worrisome. It’s hard not to wonder if it’s the beginning of dementia.
In some cases, it might be. But in most cases, probably not.
One of the number one reasons for memory loss is that you’re not getting enough sleep. Just a single night of poor sleep can turn you into an absent-minded birdbrain for the next day or two.
While you’re sleeping, the events from the day are moved from short-term memory to long-term memory. Memories are consolidated and “indexed” for later retrieval.
Plus, sleep opens your ventricular highway. Cerebral spinal fluid flushes out all the damaging debris and oxidative stress that accumulated in the glymphatic system during the day. Sleep is going to provide a clean wipe so your brain is ready and active when you wake up in the morning.
When you regularly fail to get a full 6 to 8 hours of sleep at night, none of these events can occur. And over the long term, it can lead permanent memory problems.
There are a lot of reasons people don’t sleep well.
But you know, people still don’t realize their bedrooms have got to be dark for a good night’s sleep. Their devices need to be turned off about an hour before bedtime, and there really can’t be any light seeping in.
That’s something that happened to me just the other night. I bought a new ionizer, and it had a tiny blue light on it. I couldn’t sleep for the life of me. It was driving me crazy. I finally had to get up and cover it with something.
Also, the room temperature needs to be optimal for sleep, somewhere around 64 to 67 degrees. That’s why I don’t like to sleep over at other people’s houses. They usually keep the temperature warmer than I’d like, and far above what’s been shown to be an optimal range.
Another top reason for memory loss is stress. Like sleep, when you are experiencing stress it’s more difficult to turn short-term memories into long-term memories. So it’s harder to consolidate and remember accurate details of events that occur when we are under stress.
Stress not only affects memory, but it promotes inflammation – which is associated with the development of all kinds of health conditions, including Alzheimer’s. So in the long run, chronic stress could actually change the way your brain functions.
This makes it extremely important to get a handle on your stress levels. Personally, I’ve turned my home into a stress-free oasis.
The Memory Protein in Your Brain
There is a protein in your brain that is absolutely necessary for acquiring, consolidating and retrieving memories. It’s called brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).
When you’ve got plenty of BDNF, learning new things and retrieving memories are easy. When levels are low, it’s hard to learn anything new and memories can get foggy. And it could lead to dementia.
So how do you tell your body to make more of this brain booster?
Get moving! You can’t make enough BDNF if you aren’t physically active. It’s synthesized by muscle activity. Play some tennis, go swimming or rowing, walk or ride your bike. Have fun with it.
Upping your BDNF levels with physical activity can help you sleep better too. That’s important, since there’s a link between insomnia and lower BDNF levels. And a link between poor sleep and memory problems.
What about the Meds You’re Taking?
A certain class of drugs lead to problems with short-term memory, affect reasoning and cause confusion. They’re called anticholinergics. They block the action of acetylcholine, which is necessary for learning and memory, in your brain.
Diphenhydramine, which is the generic name for Benadryl and added to other sleep aids is probably one of the most accessible and over used anticholinergics on the market. You can find it in Advil PM, Aleve PM, Bayer PM, Benadryl, Excedrin PM, Nytol, Simply Sleep, Sominex, Tylenol PM, Unisom and other sleep aids. All of these are very strong anticholinergics.
Allergy drugs like Claritin and Zyrtec have a smaller anticholinergic effect, along with heartburn meds Tagamet and Zantac.
But the effects appear to be cumulative. So the more of them you take, and the longer you take them, the greater your risk of experiencing serious memory problems and, eventually, dementia.
Whenever possible, it’s a good idea to find natural solutions for your health concerns. But when a medication is needed, I recommend talking to your doctors about alternative treatments that may work just as well… without destroying your cognitive abilities. The sooner you reduce your anticholinergic burden, the less chance you have of long-term damage.
The most important thing to realize is that all of these are things that you can take control of. You can actually start boosting your brainpower and memory by making changes today.
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