Memory Health is Mental Health

My students in human memory class are writing a blog for a final course project. This assignment was given in advance of Covid-19 and they could write about ANY topic related to memory. To my surprise, several students decided to write about mental health. This got me thinking about the natural connection between mental health and memory.

Memory Health is Sleep Health:

You may have heard about the connection between sleep and memory. During sleep, memories are consolidated, into neural structures of the brain to a more long-lasting state. Although the most durable memory could take months or years to consolidate, good sleep hygiene elevates our chance of remembering. Many psychological studies have shown the role between learning something, and then sleeping adequately. Sleep’s ultimate payoff may be better memory. Sleep seems to offer a restorative process for brain health. Getting the recommended 7 to 8 hours of sleep a night does more than just make us feel refreshed. Non-neurons called glial cells clean and prune unnecessary cells while we sleep. Bottom line is that adequate sleep makes us more energized, our brains healthier, and assists us in remembering. I recommend sticking to a sleep schedule and taking steps to promote sleep during this time. The National Sleep Foundation has some great tips here.

Memory Health is Positive Self-esteem:

Have you heard of the Pollyanna principle? My students have no idea who Pollyanna was but I give them a good analogue – a Disney princess, particularly the character Giselle in Enchanted played by bubbly actor Amy Adams. Pollyanna is a woman from a classic book of the same name, written by Eleanor H. Porter. She becomes this psychological term’s namesake because she is always looking for the positive, even in terrible situations. It turns out that most healthy adults have better memory for positive events than negative. But, add a sprinkle of optimism to negative experiences, or maybe just a little time and reflection and you can remember things in a slightly better light. Take a terrible break up. In the moment it seems like you cannot feel lower. You may not eat, you may cry a lot, and mild depression is common. Many people manage to grow through a bad breakup, reporting years later that they “learned something”, “grew as a person”, or “it wasn’t really that bad.” Thinking positively can lead to greater optimism in the present. Having an overall tendency or bias to remain optimistic has memory benefits; you are more likely to remember positive experiences over negative.

It is important to realize that no amount of positivity can replace the real despair of death or major loss of income. People during this time may need real help. I’m particularly impressed by the American Psychological Association’s commitment to providing pandemic-related resources.  

Memory Health is Overall Wellness:

Our thinking can be dramatically influenced by how we live our life. Maintaining positivity and clearer thinking can be enhanced by managing our health through diet and exercise. Go outside and see how people social distancing are spilling out of their houses to enjoy nature. When you are out think about connecting to nature in a deep and meaningful way. Wellness also is maintained by socialization. If you are tired of spending time on the screen you can still connect. Family and friends may be pleased by receiving a card or a phone call. Maybe these “archaic” methods of communication can become our favorite again.

Memory health is mental health. Take control of your sleep, take control of how you view the world, and take control of your wellness.

Karla A. Lassonde

Resources:

American Psychological Association resources retrieved: https://www.apa.org/practice/programs/dmhi/research-information/pandemics

Bec, C. (2019, March 2). The brain literally starts eating itself when it doesn’t get enough sleep. Retrieved from: https://www.sciencealert.com/the-brain-starts-eating-itself-when-it-doesn-t-get-enough-sleep

Curcio, G., Ferrara, M. & De Gennaro, L. (2006). Sleep loss, learning capacity and academic performance. Sleep Medicine Reviews, 10, 323-337.

Howard, K. C. (2005, Apr 25). “Pollyanna principle”positively captivates UNLV researchers: [final edition]. Las Vegas Review – Journal Retrieved from http://ezproxy.mnsu.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.ezproxy.mnsu.edu/docview/260263676?accountid=12259

National Sleep Foundation resources retrieved: https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/healthy-sleep-tips

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