How to Improve Short-Term Memory: 15 Ways to Remember More
Always losing your keys, forgetting what your boss asked you to do just this morning, or having to ask people to repeat their names? Your short-term memory could do with a boost. Luckily, there are plenty of science-backed ways to do it.
What is Short-Term Memory?
Short-term memory is your ability to remember information and have it readily accessible for a short period of time.
A piece of information may only last in your short-term memory for about 30 seconds or less. And you can only hold about seven things in your short-term memory at one time, whereas you can hold infinite amounts of information in your long-term memory.
Items in your short-term memory could include information you need to complete a task, but not information your brain thinks you’ll need in the long term. Or it could be things that happened recently that haven’t been transferred to your long-term memory yet.
- Remembering a phone number you just read as you dial it
- Remembering someone’s name after they just told it to you
- Remembering what you went into a room to get or where you placed your keys last night
- Remembering what your boss asks you to do in a meeting, once that meeting is over
You can keep things in your short-term memory by repeating them, but if you don’t they’ll probably be replaced after not too long.
Is it Possible to Improve Short-Term Memory?
Yes, you can improve your short-term memory. This can be done through lifestyle changes that boost your brain power — like cutting down on sugar and eating dark chocolate — as well techniques to help you hold things in your short-term memory for longer.
Keep reading to find out how.
How to Improve Short-Term Memory?
1. Start Meditating
Meditation can have huge impacts on your brain health as well as your short-term memory potential — and you don’t even have to do it regularly to see the benefits.
A 2020 study looked at the impact of a single eight-minute mindfulness meditation session. Compared to a group who listened to an audio book and a group who passed the time doing whatever they wanted to, the group who meditated increased their visual short-term memory capacity.
So, next time you want to hold more information in your brain, pause for a quick meditation session.
Meditation has even been shown to help those with memory loss. One study prescribed people with memory loss an eight-week meditation program. After meditating for the full eight weeks, participants had significantly better blood flow to several areas of their brains. This helped to improve performance on verbal fluency tasks and logical memory tasks.
2. Cut Down on Sugar
Sugary snacks may taste delicious, but they can impair your memory.
Research shows that having a lower blood sugar level improves how well you can recall things you’ve just learned. It can also improve learning ability and memory consolidation.
3. Try Brain Training
Research is mixed for whether brain training can actually help your short-term memory.
Brain training includes games and puzzles that train your brain on certain mental skills. You can download apps to guide you through these.
Brain training has been shown to improve working memory, processing speed, and executive function, which is used when multitasking, focusing, and planning.
4. Do Sudoku, Crosswords, and Puzzles
You can strengthen your brain just like any other muscle, and puzzles can help you do it.
Research shows that four months of regularly doing sudokus can improve your working memory. And stimulating activities like reading, computer games, arts and crafts, and crosswords can reduce the risk of cognitive decline.
5. Drink Green Tea
Green tea has plenty of health benefits, from fighting cancer to reducing your risk of heart disease. And it turns out, it can boost short-term memory, too.
One study found when participants consumed green tea for three months, their cognitive dysfunction improved. The researchers concluded green tea may be able to improve cognitive function or reduce the progression of cognitive dysfunction.
Research shows green tea can increase working memory and change the short-term plasticity of brain connections. It could even be an effective treatment for memory conditions like dementia.
6. Exercise More
You can add short-term memory to the list of things exercise can improve.
Research shows running on a treadmill for 30 minutes once a day for 10 days can improve short-term memory.
Exercise has also been shown to boost working memory and complex object recognition memory.
And if you’re looking to move new information from your short-term memory to long-term memory, a single bout of exercise has been shown to help make that happen, too.
7. Up Your Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that can be found in everything from salmon and mackerel to flax seeds and walnuts. You can also get it in a supplement form.
Research has found that those who consume fish oil supplements show improvements in:
- Short-term memory
- Working memory
- Immediate verbal memory
- Delayed recall
8. Cut Down on Alcohol
A heavy night of drinking can lead to blackouts and not remembering much the next day. But even when you don’t drink that much, your short-term memory can take a hit.
One study asked participants to do a task that tested their short-term memory. One week later, the participants did the task again, either after consuming 1.2 milliliters per kilogram of bodyweight of alcohol or consuming a placebo. The participants who had the alcohol had significantly worse scores for their short-term memory.
Alcohol can also lead to long-term memory loss, too, and even dementia.
If you’re a heavy drinker, seek help to start cutting down or cutting it out altogether.
If you simply enjoy a drink every now and again, avoid binge drinking and keeping drinking to a minimum to maximize your memory.
9. Get Enough Sleep
Sleep deprivation massively impacts how well your brain can work, so it’s no wonder it impacts short-term memory.
Sleep deprivation can impair:
- Short-term memory
- Working memory
- Long-term memory
- Decision making
To get enough sleep, focus on good sleep hygiene. This includes:
- Avoiding bright light before bed time
- Cutting down on caffeine, especially in the afternoons
- Making sure your bedroom is dark and quiet
- Keeping a consistent sleep schedule to regulate your body clock
Give yourself plenty of time to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep a night. This is important every night, of course, but especially when you want to be performing your best mentally.
10. Repeat Information
This one may come naturally to you, but repeating anything you need to remember can help you hold it in your short-term memory.
That’s because your brain can only hold a limited amount of things in your short-term memory, so it regularly clears things out it doesn’t think you need.
Don’t rely on reading or hearing something once. Repeat it a few times, either out loud or in your head, to try and make it stick.
This can be helpful when someone tells you their name, when trying to remember the team’s coffee order, or when heading into a grocery store to pick up several things.
11. Drink Coffee
If you need another excuse to reach for a cup of joe, improving your short-term memory is it.
It turns out caffeine has quite a few benefits for your brain. Research shows it can increase:
- Short-term memory
- Problem-solving ability
- Decision-making skills
It can also decrease mental fatigue and enhance physical performance in reaction speed, accuracy, and energy expenditure.
Does caffeine give you the jitters? Try decaffeinated coffee, which has been shown to help prevent memory impairment.
12. Listen to Mozart
Music may help you boost your brain power, but choose what music you listen to wisely.
A 2020 study found listening to Mozart can improve short-term memory, while listening to Mahler impairs it.
In the study, participants had to memorize a set of words. After looking at the words, they took a break and either listened to Mozart, Mahler, or waited in silence.
After a one-minute break, participants were asked to recall the words, and the group who had listened to Mozart showed the best short-term memory.
Listening to Mozart doesn’t just improve short-term memory. It’s been shown to increase IQ after just 10 minutes of listening, and the music can even reduce the risk of seizures in epilepsy patients by up to half.
13. Stay Hydrated
Water is vital to so many aspects of our health, including cognitive function and memory.
Even mild dehydration can impact concentration, alertness, and short-term memory.
According to the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, you should aim for about 15.5 cups of water a day (3.7 liters) if you’re male, and 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) if you’re female.
If you find it hard to drink enough water, you can try:
- Carrying a water bottle with you everywhere you go
- Setting alarms on your phone to remind you to drink
- Buying flavored water or sparkling water
- Pairing water drinking with other habits like brushing your teeth, making meals, or going to the bathroom
14. Engage All Your Senses
Has the smell of a certain perfume ever brought back memories of a vacation? Or does the odor of a certain dish bring back childhood memories of your mom making it? That’s your brain’s sensory power kicking in.
You can use this to your advantage when it comes to remembering things.
When you’re learning something new or trying to keep a piece of information in your head, call upon your other senses. Notice the smells, sounds, or sights around you and make an effort to pair them together.
If you really want to remember something, pick a pleasant scent and smell it while taking in the information. This should help you keep it in your mind, even when you don’t smell the scent later.
15. Make Mnemonics
Mnemonics are a pattern of letters or a sentence that can help you remember something. They can even be songs, rhymes, or creative images.
Next time you’ve got a lot to remember, try creating a mnemonic to make it easier to recall.
For example, if your boss sends you on a drinks run and you need to pick up a tea, a hot chocolate, two sodas, and a green juice, you might take the first letters — T, H, two S’s, and G — and make a sentence like: “The Tiger Has Two Stripes and Growls”
The weirder and more visual the mnemonic, the more likely you are to remember it.
Forgotten these memory-boosting tips already? Try meditation, listening to Mozart, and getting enough sleep to improve your short-term memory. Repetition and engaging your senses can help to keep new information in your mind, too.