Researchers Now Know Why People Get Forgetful as They Age

sleep and memory

A fascinating new study[1] reported in the journal Neuron reveals that you will have great memory recall when your deep delta sleep is synchronized with your alpha brain waves. This is vital information for older people because they lose brain rhythm at night due to less coordination between the two brain waves that are central to cementing new memories.

Sync your brain waves for better memory

The findings are the result of two similar experiments. The first included a group of 20 young adults, who learned 120 pairs of words in the evening, then took a test the following morning to see how many word pairs they remembered. The young adults wore electrodes during sleep to monitor their brain waves. The electrodes revealed that when slow brain waves (which occur every second or so) and fast waves (called sleep spindles) synced up during deep sleep, the young adults experienced tremendous memory recall.

The researchers then set up a second experiment with 32 people in their 60s and 70s to figure out how aging affects memory in people who do not have Alzheimer’s or another brain disease. Interestingly, their brain waves synced less than the younger people’s during sleep – and they remembered fewer words pairs the following morning. When they looked into why there’s a lack of brain coordination in older people, the researchers found that an area of the brain involved in deep sleep processes atrophies, or shrinks, with age. The more atrophy, the less your brain waves sync up. By now, you’re wondering, “What can I do to make sure my brain stays in sync?”

Here’s how to boost and sync up your brain waves

The highlight of the study is that the scientists also suggest using pulsed electromagnetic frequencies or electrical currents to make brain waves synchronize. “The idea is to boost those brain waves and bring them back together,” says Randolph Helfrich, an author of the study and a postdoctoral fellow at UC Berkeley. I have been doing this one way or another for almost 20 years. To learn more about some of my brain tricks – and those core technologies we use at my neurofeedback company that does executive brain training – visit 40 Years of Zen. It’s a brain-hacking course that uses neurofeedback to give you 40 years’ worth of meditation in only a week. The program measures your brainwaves and teaches you to rewire your brain in real time, with data in front of you that tells you what’s working and what isn’t.

  • If you can’t do my 40 Years of Zen course, invest in the Muse Headband – it allows you to quantify your brain’s ability to calm and focus itself as you go, so you get real-time feedback on how well that day’s meditation is going.
  • You can learn more about the advantages of neurofeedback from this podcast episode with Dr. Valdeane Brown, Founder of NeurOptimal.
  • To understand the powerful science behind meditation – specifically as it relates to brain function, read this piece on the benefits of meditation and how to get started.
  • Or dive into my book Head Strong – there are many places to start when it comes to boosting your brain powers now.

When university researchers suggest these kinds of technologies like I’ve been testing for decades, it makes me hopeful that they will reach the mainstream more quickly. And they should – because they work.

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Dave Asprey

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