How Students Can Boost Concentration and Improve Memory

College is a time of excitement, social distractions, and newfound independence

Photo: Unsplash/@mpho_mojapelo

Photo: Unsplash/@mpho_mojapelo

College is a time of excitement, social distractions, and newfound independence. After all, for many students, this is the first time you’ve struck out on your own. But more than any of that, college should be a time of learning. This is the period when you can develop intellectual independence, figure out what truly interests you, and work toward starting the career you want most.

To get the most out of your college education you’ll need top-notch concentration and memory skills, both in class and at home. Here are a few recommendations to boost your brainpower:

Sleep In

Ok, so you can’t skip that morning lecture. But getting plenty of sleep each night is important, especially for college students. Sleep is closely linked to both concentration and memory. Research has shown that it plays an important role both in focusing attention for optimal learning efficiency and in consolidating those newly formed memories into long-term storage. 

How does this work? Well, there are still some open questions about the exact role that sleep plays in memory retention. Researchers have seen that the brain’s waste removal system, which flushes out the toxic proteins for neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s, is highly active during sleep. 
Even more recently, researchers discovered that sleeping “resets” the electrical activity and connections formed in the brain throughout the day. Without rest, your neurons are so over-connected and muddled that new memories can’t be formed effectively.

So how much sleep is enough? Nationwide Children’s Hospital research program recommends that young adults need nine to 10 hours each night, while older adults need between seven and nine, depending on the individual.

Check Your Vitamin B12 Intake 

Of all the vitamins your body needs, perhaps none is more essential for brain function than vitamin B12. Unfortunately, B12 deficiency is also one of the most common types of nutrient shortage, affecting as much as 15 percent of the general population. Although it’s more often seen in older adults than younger ones, it can certainly affect students of any age.

Many of us get plenty of B12 from our diets, but not everyone will. It can be found in meat, eggs, dairy; in short, pretty much all animal-derived foods (except honey). You won’t find any in plants. For that reason, vegans and vegetarians are at a risk for developing a B12 deficiency if they don’t consume supplements or vitamin-fortified grains—many tofus, meat alternatives, and soy and other non-dairy milks are enriched with B12, so this may not be an issue for you, but you should look into it. So is anyone who has trouble absorbing nutrients due to Crohn’s disease or other ailments, or even folks living off a stereotypical college diet of ramen noodles and toaster pastries. 

If you aren’t eating animal products or eating enriched foods (the recommended dietary allowance is about 2.4 micrograms a day for adults), you’re probably not getting enough B12 in your diet. Concentration and memory troubles are just two of the common symptoms. Try upping your intake of vitamin-rich foods, or ask your doctor for specific advice.

Don’t Skip That Workout

You’ve probably been hearing about the benefits of being active your entire life, and that’s not likely to change. This isn’t just about physical health; regular exercise is crucial for brain function.

Harvard researchers studying the effects of exercise on the brain discovered one major benefit: it stimulates the release of growth factors, proteins that affect the health and abundance of your brain cells. It also reduces your brain’s insulin resistance, something that is associated with poor cognitive function and memory. 

The researchers from that growth factor study found that even a couple of hours of brisk walking per week was enough to boost memory and learning skills. Of course, anything that gets your heart pumping and blood moving is likely to have the same effect. Impressing that cutie from Psych class with your killer new bod is just a bonus.

Let’s Play a Game… 

In the famous novel Kim (by Rudyard Kipling), an Irish teenager receives spy training from the British Secret Service. As part of his instruction, young Kimball O’Hara must play the “Jewel Game,” looking briefly at a tray of assorted objects, and then being asked to describe everything that he saw after the tray has been covered up.

Not surprisingly, he doesn’t do well. Not at first, anyway. But Kim and his mentor practice this game over and over, with new objects each time, and within just days, his observation and memory skills are improved dramatically.  

This sort of exercise often referred to as “Kim’s Game,” is now used by everyone from the Boy Scouts to military sniper schools as a way of teaching situational awareness and improving memory.

We’re exposed to so many stimuli on a daily basis that it can be hard to retain crucial information. But with intense observational practice, you might be amazed at what you can remember.

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