Why is my memory failing me at such a young age?
April 14, 2011 10:16 PM   Subscribe

Why is my memory failing me at such a young age?

Hey guys,

I am 24 at the moment but I feel like I'm having a memory of a 70 year old. Hell, a 70 year old guy might have a better one than mine. I am having problem remembering roads/directions when I drive. I can read an article from a newspaper and will forget about it 2 days later. I can't remember the name of the song name and artists... as well as lyrics.

I feel that this all started when I am around 18 or 19 years old. I start to dream non-stop everyday. Some people say that everyone dreams and some people can remember more than the rest. However, based on my past experience, I tend to dream A LOT. I believe I can't get to deep sleep. My brain's always active and I guess that is why I am not mentally refreshed. My brain's not getting the rest it needs and thus my memory is failing me. That is one my theory for my below average memory.

Or is there something in my brain or in my body that is affecting my memory besides the low quality of sleep that I am getting? Or is my memory just plain bad? I thought of seeing a neurologist but I do not know if the doc would be able to help me. Is it worth paying the money?

I've tried quite a number of 'techniques' to sleep better (e.g., dark room.. no computer...relax your mind before you actually fall asleep)... as well as taking some herbs that are said to boost memory such as Ginkgo. However, things still remain the same, my memory is still bad and I just can't fall into deep sleep.

My main question is 'How much does one's sleep affect the memory/brain?"

Please help;
posted by red_rika to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
how much sleep do you get per night? As the mother of a 5-month-old I have some experience with insufficient and poor sleep, and it really does just suck the memory right out of you. If you have the resources (health insurance in the US, or live outside the US), my first thought would be to have a sleep study done, particularly since you feel like your sleep is already abnormal. But honestly from the minute I read your question I thought "I bet s/he's not getting enough sleep."

posted by KathrynT at 10:33 PM on April 14, 2011

are you on / have you ever been on any psycho-affective medications? There are several out there that can cause effects like this.
posted by aloiv2 at 10:35 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I too have a terrible memory and I'm 90% certain it is because of years of terrible, terrible sleep patterns. Sadly, this is entirely anecdotal.
posted by nightchrome at 10:39 PM on April 14, 2011

Is it worth paying the money?


Look, brain problems are pretty serious. You've got two possibly related brain problems going on (1. inability to get refreshing sleep even when following good sleep hygiene routines; 2. poor memory). If these brain problems are not already adversely affecting your quality of life and ability to earn a living, they will in the future. Your attempts at self-help have not worked.

IANAD and I don't know whether a neurologist, psychiatrist, or sleep disorders specialist is the best person to help you. Why don't you start with a visit to a general practitioner?
posted by Orinda at 10:41 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Listen, I would say get it checked out by a doctor because you do not want to fuck around with this shit.

However, your memory may not be as bad as you think it is. Not everybody has perfect recall, and you may just be focusing on your lack of perfect memory. Get it checked anyway, but try not to get into a panic.

Also, hate to state the obvious, but chronic marijuana use will destroy your memory.
posted by molecicco at 10:51 PM on April 14, 2011

Sleep deprivation can do it, but I'd be more likely to look for a cause for both phenomena. It's not like there's a reason for your sleep problems - saying that the memory loss is caused by your sleep problems doesn't actually answer whether there's something wrong. Psychoactive medications (or non-prescribed drugs) can also be a cause, either ones that you're taking now or even ones you've taken in the past - might be something a neurologist can help with.

If it were me, I'd be seeing a doctor. I've heard too many stories of memory loss being a first symptom of something seriously wrong. If you think your sleeping problems are really bad in themselves (hard for me to tell from your description whether you feel really exhausted other than the memory problems) then you might want to start with a sleep specialist. If the memory loss is the big problem, I'd be going to a neurologist though.
posted by Lady Li at 10:52 PM on April 14, 2011

I agree with Orinda--since you don't know what's wrong (or at least, you haven't said anything that indicates that you do), you should start with a good GP. He or she can direct you toward a sleep specialist, a neurologist, a nutritionist, or whatever specialist seems like the best fit, if needed. Referring yourself to a specialist can really backfire, in my experience, because they tend to not be able to see outside of their specialty.

Good luck!
posted by wintersweet at 10:54 PM on April 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've always had memory problems and sleep/dream issues and other isdurs as well. Finally went to a neurologist and had multiple sleep tests. I was then diagnosed with narcolepsy.
If you insurance, ask your doctor for some blood tests first and then a referral (if needed) to see a neurologist or sleep specialist. Other sleep disorders can mess with your waking life as well.

I would start with a neurologist.
posted by KogeLiz at 11:11 PM on April 14, 2011

Edit: issues not isdurs!
posted by KogeLiz at 11:12 PM on April 14, 2011

Do you have problems with anxiety or depression?

What is your diet like? I ask this because when I eat better (protein rich foods with lots of veggies) for a significant amount of time, my moods are noticeably calmer. When I'm calmer, I'm smarter. My brain can absorb information and I can focus and draw deeper connections. I've struggled since I was 9 with depression/disthymia and when I'm in a deep dark depression, which happens more often than I would like, my memory shuts down, my language skills suffer and my logic sucks. It happens a lot when I'm down and people who meet me when I'm down are usually thoroughly unimpressed.

It sounds like your mind is constantly in go-mode. I'm no doctor, but it's possible that maybe you have some anxiety issues that may be hindering your ability to fall asleep, which could be causing memory problems. Anxiety can also interfere with your ability to focus and absorb information. This happens to me when I'm anxious.

When depressed and anxious, what I do memorize are the wrong things (remembering and focusing on negative things, conversations I've had, outfits I've worn on certain days, people's reactions throughout the day)

Find a good doctor if you can afford it who specializes in anxiety, or in memory strengthening. Learn to meditate (I'm learning to right now and it's kind of the best thing ever). Exercise. Exercise. Exercise. Eat really good whole foods with lots of protein and leafy dark greens. Draw and write in a journal by hand. Do sudoku. Play an instrument.

Goodluck! You're young and with some work likely to get your brain power back :)
posted by GEB's fun world at 11:18 PM on April 14, 2011 [5 favorites]

I feel that this all started when I am around 18 or 19 years old. I start to dream non-stop everyday. Some people say that everyone dreams and some people can remember more than the rest. However, based on my past experience, I tend to dream A LOT. I believe I can't get to deep sleep. My brain's always active and I guess that is why I am not mentally refreshed. My brain's not getting the rest it needs and thus my memory is failing me. That is one my theory for my below average memory.


It may be possible that you're stuck in REM mode, but it's not like you'd remember going into Deep Sleep even if you were; the only memories anyone has of sleep are their dreams.

Furthermore, time in dreams is screwy! What seems like hours in a dream may just be a couple of minutes in real time.

To be honest, other than the paragraph I quoted, you just sound fairly normal to me. No one has perfect recall of everything at all times. If you forget what decade it is, worry. Until then, it seems you're just a bit forgetful sometimes. It happens. Obviously, if it's really bothering you, consult a doctor, but in all honesty, based on your description, it just doesn't seem all that out of the ordinary.

That said, I'm basing that on my own experience as a forgetful thingamajig with a case of the whatsit. Read this thread! Does anything ring a bell?

Also, 18 or 19, eh? Anything happen around that time of your life that affected your lifelong sleeping habits? (A graduation, perhaps?)
posted by Sys Rq at 11:55 PM on April 14, 2011

Like others above, I am not a doctor. I do, however, have personal anecdotes to share sleep apnea, Before I got diagnosed and got my wonderful and ever-so-sexy CPAP machine, I had some of what you're describing: specifically the lack of refreshing sleep and the scads of dreams. I've never had memory problems, but I've heard that can happen with sleep apnea, especially in more severe cases (which mine is not.) Sleep apnea's something that's usually dead easy to treat, but that over time can kick the living dayilights out of your body. I imagine that other long-term sleep disorders would be similarly rough on your health over time. Definitely, definitely, definitely go see your GP about this.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 12:25 AM on April 15, 2011

"To share about sleep apnea." Rph.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 12:26 AM on April 15, 2011

'How much does one's sleep affect the memory/brain?'

A lot. A whoooooooollllllle lot. Hippocampal replay, slow wave synchronization, and then disruption of said synchrony during REM is pretty much at the core of how we bind memories together.
posted by solipsophistocracy at 12:45 AM on April 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

I take Vitamin B ('executive focus') for a while if I am feeling vague and with poor memory. It seems to help.
posted by AnnaRat at 2:07 AM on April 15, 2011

Thanks guys for the replies.

I sleep around 8 hours a day but I'll still be feeling tired.

To SYS RQ: Yes that feels like me also. I tend to be doing that. ADD? Hmm.. I have not thought of that yet but I will look into it. I hope there's a cure for it? But I am like 24 now.. I thought ADD takes place in kids or something like that. And also .. when I am 18, i got into an car accident.. and ever since then I've got neckache.. the bone in my neck isn't in its best condition.. its deteriorating or something like that... Am not sure if that affects my 'too-much-of-dreaming-sleep'..... I do not have any problem getting into sleep.. I can sleep easily..

To GEB's Fun world : I feel you too! I will put in some extra effort to exercise.. and do some self help activities to improve my sleep or my memory... I'll give myself 6 months or so before seeing a specialist.... I believe GP would just tell me its stress related.. have some valium.. etc :\ .. and my english language .. especially grammar is still kinda bad.. I can't seem to remember the rules.

And today i bought this herb that would actually get me into deep sleep.. hopefully it would work.. and subsequently my memory would be better than before.. I am quite an anxious guy and I tend to worry & think a lot. I believe all of this leads to my brain working non-stop thus dreaming at night.... that is one of my theory too... I'm just worry for my future because I am a male and a male should be working and be the breadwinner of the family etc. . and 24 is not young anymore. :\

Thanks again to SYS for the mention of ADD. I'll look into it :)
posted by red_rika at 4:15 AM on April 15, 2011

Also, maybe this thread will be helpful with the memory thing. You are not alone.
posted by Glinn at 5:38 AM on April 15, 2011

Well, you've poses a problem and then you've posed a likely answer to the problem -- your sleep issues -- which you have not bothered to explore seriously yet.

It sounds like your memory problem is really affecting your life. It's your BRAIN, man! Go to the doctor, run some tests, get second opinions if the results are inconclusive. Dicking around with herbs and exercise sounds like stalling to me.
posted by hermitosis at 6:54 AM on April 15, 2011

Adult ADD is a very real thing, though I suspect it's not what you're struggling with. Maybe a sleep disorder, as mentioned above, maybe bad anxiety, maybe something worse. Maybe it's just the way you're built, and you never noticed the memory weakness when you were young and had fewer things on your plate. One way or another I'd certainly see at least a GP, as a good one won't just throw valium at you and can at least screen you for the scariest things.

One idea: if the start of your memory issues were correlated with the car accident, is it possible that you had brain damage that may have gone undiagnosed?
posted by you're a kitty! at 7:30 AM on April 15, 2011

To actually get some objective data about your memory performance, try www.cognitivefun.net
I assume you do not smoke weed, which would obviously affect your memory.
posted by blargerz at 8:03 AM on April 15, 2011

Also, do you socialize? Do you have a job? Social isolation can dramatically impair mental function.
posted by blargerz at 8:04 AM on April 15, 2011

I was going to say sleep deprivation. You say you "dream" a lot -- interestingly, there may be something to that.

I've read that REM sleep is actually what helps us "process" memory, in the sense of retaining it. The less REM sleep you get, the worse your memory. I'd also read that if you aren't getting enough sleep, your body will try to get itself into a REM state more frequently to "compensate" -- if you normally are wired to try to get into REM state once an hour, and you're not getting enough sleep, your body will try to shift itself to getting into REM every 30 to 45 minutes instead. Now -- we actually go into REM state several times a night, but we only know about it if we wake up in the middle of one of those states. So if you are "dreaming" a lot, that just means that you're waking up out of REM states frequently. So my (uneducated) hunch is that it's not that you're not getting deep sleep, it's that you're waking up out of REM states a lot.

You don't say what "herb" you're going to try using to get to sleep -- is it valerian? If it is, my own doctor recommended that in capsule/supplement form rather than in a tea or anything like that; but that did help me. Another thing that helped a lot was magnesium -- it didn't help me sleep longer, but it did make sure the sleep I did get was a better quality.

Definitely still talk with your doctor, though.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:05 AM on April 15, 2011

Oh -- and another thing:

I am quite an anxious guy and I tend to worry & think a lot. I believe all of this leads to my brain working non-stop thus dreaming at night.... that is one of my theory too... I'm just worry for my future because I am a male and a male should be working and be the breadwinner of the family etc. . and 24 is not young anymore. :\

"Dreaming" doesn't mean "my brain is too active to get to sleep". "Dreaming" is actually a sign your brain is working PROPERLY. But if you are anxious, that's a DIFFERENT kind of "thinking too much", which may be interrupting the dreaming you're supposed to be doing (and the other sleep you're supposed to be doing). That may be a separate problem, which is exacerbating the sleep. (Of course, if you aren't getting enough sleep, that may be making you anxious, and that disrupts your sleep, and...it's a vicious cycle.)

I'd look at that as a separate issue. Starting with the idea that 24 is "not young". Honey, 24 IS young. Unless you're married, you are WAY too young to be starting to think about being a "family breadwinner".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:09 AM on April 15, 2011

Are you constantly stressed or distracted? This may not be the answer to why you aren't remembering things, but I notice those two things can also cause absent-mindedness/forgetfulness.
posted by raintree at 8:54 AM on April 15, 2011

Are you a vegetarian? Low iron and/or B vitamins can cause this.
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:18 AM on April 15, 2011

Consider vitamin supplements. If your is anything like mine was at 24 (high fat, high calorie, low nutrition), you might have a mild deficiency and not be aware of it.

Examine your alcohol intake. Even if you're not a heavy drinker, alcohol can interfere with your sleep patterns. Anecdotally, I can expect insomnia if I've had as much as a beer within an hour or two of bedtime.

You should talk to a doctor, but at 24 I wouldn't be worried about a serious diagnosis. You seem distracted more than anything, which will impair your ability to focus on other things.

Also, 24 is still definitely young. In today's culture, you can safely put off adulthood until your thirties if you're so inclined ;)
posted by gyges at 1:32 PM on April 15, 2011

Haha.. yeah i know man.. 24 is still quite young but in my country (Malaysia).. the culture's a bit different than the west you see.. well. . its important for me to get a good job now.. and then eventually gain some good experience and promotion and by a certain age lets say 27 or 30.. I'll be financially stable in a way.

I'm not a vegetarian .. i eat loads of meat and rice.. not a drinker as well..hahha.. can't drink for nuts.. one bottle of beer is enough for me to go high...

For now guys, what I will do is to try to maximise my exercise time which is quite tough cause of work, i guess totally not use the pc/tv right before sleep and just think happy!

If the above doesn't help I guess I'll see a doctor and I hope he/she can help me. That being said, maybe I am not abnormal but just overthinking everything. :\

Thanks guys for all your inputs. Do appreciate them.
posted by red_rika at 8:17 PM on April 15, 2011

Loads of meat and rice and what else?

My moods and sleep patterns go all out of whack if I go for a while without eating enough fresh vegetables.
posted by flabdablet at 9:07 PM on April 15, 2011

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