Memory in everyday life

Katharina Graf, M.Sc student clinical psychology

Memory capacity in day-to-day life 

Do you remember when you ate your very first apple? And what is the capital of England? 

Why is it that we can recall memories in detail years later, form others into facts, and forget some of them as if they have never happened?

Generic information we maintain and remember serves a more important purpose than detailed memories of various events. We learn from our experiences in an adaptive manner and thereby refine and ameliorate our coping strategies and behavior. For example, how to manage stress, or express our beliefs. These memories shape our perspectives, opinions, and personalities (Paller et al., 2020).

Investigating the neurophysiology of memory processing during sleep helps understanding how the memories we formed during waking hours are maintained in our brain. And consequently, how our memories constantly shape ourbehaviour and our reality.   

Declarative Memory vs Procedural Memory 

Two forms of memory need to be distinguished. (1) Declarative memories can be understood as things that we consciously know either as broad facts or in detail (Paller et al., 2020). For example we know that London is the capital of England and how our bedroom is decorated. (2) Procedural memories on the other hand cannot be explained in words and are defined as an unconscious knowledge system (Nadeau, 2008). For example, riding a bike or playing piano does not depend on conscious effort.

Night-time and Day-time Sleep 

Previous research findings suggest that memory reactivation procedures during sleep are responsible for memory stabilization and modification (Paller et al., 2020). Hereby, memory seems to be strengthened through replay within the hippocampus. In fact, memory consolidation during sleep may be less influenced by contamination or interference and could thus be more effective compared to consolidation during waking hours (Paller et al., 2020).

Sleep restriction on the other hand is linked with both reduced learning capacity and defective memory encoding due to reduced hippocampal activity. Taken together this means: Healthy sleep fosters memory stabilization while sleep restriction undermines it (Werchan et al., 2021).

Yet not only nocturnal sleep has a positive effect on memory performance. We benefit from daytime naps as well. REM-sleep is not crucial for this positive effect. What actually makes a difference is the sleep spindle density. In other words, higher density comes along with increased procedural memory performance (Seeck-Hirschner et al., 2010). Sleep spindles are generated in the thalamus and spread to different neocortical areas (Manoach et al., 2013). Spindle density is associated with higher intelligence, improved sensory processing, and better memory (Paller et al., 2020). For example, after a day-time nap and high sleep spindle density, you may see improvement in skills like playing piano.

Catalyatheletics, Understanding Sleep for Optimal Recovery & Productivity
How do we store memories long-term? 

The hippocampus is in charge of our memories and facilitates their transfer into neocortical networks. Some declarative memories can become simplified and less detailed when turning independent of the hippocampus. For us, these memories develop into broad facts. Concerning other memories, the hippocampus continues to be involved and provides us with specific details (Gais & Born, 2004).

But why do we remember some information in detail and translate other memories into facts? 

Past research has identified different factors that determine whether a memory will be stored long-term or not. For example, repetitive, deeply processed, emotional, bizarre, funny or personally important stimuli are more likely to be encoded in long-term memory. For example, when memorizing your shopping list, try to visualize all items in funny clothes and place them (in your mind) along the way to the supermarket. This structured and bizarre mental path will make the list easier for you to remember (Foer, 2012). This is more deeply and thoroughly explained in the book ‘Moonwalking with Einstein’ by Joshua Foer. 

Further, evidence indicates that increased purposeful attention is crucial for successful memory encoding and storage in long-term memory as well (Sasin & Fougnie, 2021). For example, observing an event in a mindful and attentive manner, may increase its remembered detail.

Attentional lapses and difficult concurrent tasks on the other hand, are linked with worse memory and are unlikely to be remembered long-term (Sasin & Fougnie, 2021).

Concluding, to remember something more long-term, you have to repeat it, make it personal and emotional, make it salient or odd, process it deeply, pay as much attention as possible, and eventually take a short nap.  


So… to remember what you just learned… why don’t you take a nap just now?  

For us, a good memory performance is essential. But it is as much human to memorize as it is to forget. We even need to forget information to gain new information. Unfortunately though, our brain does not draw the line between important and unimportant information. Thus, we tend to forget important things as well, which is normal, yet frustrating. It would make no sense to save everything in our mind. Most people’s solution is a note in their digital device. For this, a mobile supporting pad comes in very handy. To make life easier, we created WoppieWrite. This product is your mobile blotting pad, ready to support you in remembering information as detailed as you wish. Regardless whether on your computer or on a piece of paper. You can use your personally designed WoppieWrite wherever you are and whenever you need it. Curious? Don’t forget to check it out! 

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