We’ve all been there–at some point during the second half of our monthly cycle (our Week 3, which is the week starting right after ovulation, and Week 4, our premenstrual week), we realize we’ve forgotten instructions we were just given, directions we just read, facts we just learned or had other important information we needed to commit to memory totally evaporate from our head.
The reason for the forgetfulness is rising progesterone and low estrogen on these days, which can slow brain speed and alertness, making it more difficult to grasp onto new data and stash it away in our memory banks.
But, this doesn’t mean you can’t still totally kill it at work, at school, in a meeting, on a personal project or anywhere else a stellar memory is required. You just need to rely on memory boosters other than your hormones.
Luckily, scientists either seem to intuitively know some of us need a helping hand in the memory department every once in awhile or they, themselves, realize they need assistance with recall because they’ve conducted plenty of research on various ways to turn new information into lasting memories in the brain.
So, I’ve rounded up 5 of their recent studies that reveal easy memory-boosting techniques you can try when your hormones aren’t revving your recall for you:
1. Draw what you’re learning
I don’t know about you, but when I was in school, I was a huge doodler. I’d fill every notebook, textbook and tabletop with swirls, horses, stars and other shapes. Well, it turns out that if I’d drawn images related to the topics I was learning, I would have remembered all those new facts a whole lot better (and probably would have gotten higher grades, too). That’s the word from a new study from Canada’s University of Waterloo that found folks who draw images of information they’re learning recall more than twice as much of it as those who take written notes. “We believe that the benefit arises because drawing helps to create a more cohesive memory trace that better integrates visual, motor and semantic information,” explains lead study author Jeffrey Wammes. And, good news for scribblers with very little artistic talent like me: It doesn’t matter how well you draw. Even basic stick figures can help you remember more.
2. Read aloud to someone else
When you need to remember new words (for instance, when learning a new language, new terms used for a project or names of new people you’ll be networking with) or you need to memorize scripts (for instance, for your next YouTube video, radio or TV interview or a community play), read the new words you want to learn aloud to someone else–even if it’s your dog or cat. You’ll recall them with more ease than if you’d read the words to yourself, read silently while moving your lips or read them aloud without anyone else in the room, reveals a 2015 study in the journal Consciousness and Cognition. Why? You create more sensory and motor references in your brain (which are like mental breadcrumbs leading you back to the information), for instance, your vocal chords vibrate when you speak and talking to someone engages parts of your brain needed for communication. These serve as reminders that help you remember the words you need to know.
3. Drink caffeine right after learning something new
Hey, caffeine lovers, here’s one more great reason to chug a mugful of your favorite whatever-cino that gets you through your day: Drinking around 200 mg. of caffeine (the equivalent of about a 12-ounce cup of coffee) right after–but not before–learning new information helps you remember it more clearly later on when you need to retrieve it, reveals a 2014 study in the journal Nature Neuroscience. While researchers already know that caffeine improves alertness and concentration (when you haven’t gone overboard into jittery territory, that is), they aren’t yet sure why caffeine helps propel new data into your long-term memory banks, but they suspect it might affect levels of certain chemical messengers in the brain or the action of cells in the hippocampus, a key memory region in the brain. PS: If you think that if a little caffeine helps, a lot must be better, think again. The same study found that 300 mg. of caffeine actually had less of a memory-enhancing effect than 200 mg. So, there’s definitely a sweet spot to aim for.
4. Or drink peppermint tea
If you’re not a caffeine fan, no problem. New research from the U.K.’s University of Northumbria reveals that folks who drink a cup of noncaffeinated peppermint tea before learning new information are better at recalling it afterward. Peppermint contains compounds that wake up your brain, making it work harder at storing facts into your long-term memory and working memory. But, stay away from chamomile tea. This sedating brew actually worsens memory, the same study shows.
5. Take a nap
Going in the total opposite direction of invigorating caffeine and peppermint, 2015 research from Germany’s Saarland University reveals that taking a 45- to 60-minute nap after learning new information (such as studying for an exam) makes you five times better at recalling it later. The researchers explain that sleep helps transfer recently learned items into your long-term memory banks.
FUN FACT: Retweeting makes you forget!
Next time you get the urge to a tweet about a study you just read, post a news article on Facebook or share new information on other social media websites, keep this in mind: A research team from Cornell University and Beijing University just discovered that sharing facts on social media makes you less likely to remember it later. Why? It creates a “cognitive overload” that interferes with learning and retaining what you’ve just seen, they explain. Which basically means the brain energy you’d be using to store that new information is frittered away on all the little steps needed to take to share it online. Worse yet, all that social media brain-draining can also make you perform worse on unrelated tasks you do after you press the “share” button, such as taking an exam. So, save your shares, tweets and posts for the end of the day when they’ll be less likely to interfere with your tasks.