As a recovering stressoholic, I’ve learned that we have a very cool part of our brain called the hippocampus that is the boss of memory.
What fries the hippocampus? Uh, chronic stress.
I know, it sucks. Sometime around 40+ most of us notice a mild decline. Five to 10 years later, our kids are staring at us bug-eyed, wondering what our problem is.
Working memory is that part of our memory which allows us to handle and organize information as well as keep track of a conversation. Even though our working memory generally begins to decline around age 40, contrary to popular belief, sleep is the most crucial determinant of working memory loss, not estrogen.
We all have had those painful moments of forgetting names, forgetting why we walked into a room for something or where we parked in the huge lot. Sometimes it’s a lack of attention. But more often for women of a certain age… it’s sleep, progesterone or pregnenolone.
Tip #1. Get the F**k to Sleep. Sleep is the most crucial determinant of working memory. Here’s what I hear from my integrative medicine concierge patients: After the kids go to bed is when I can focus. I hop on the laptop and I’m super creative. I get a second wind. I can’t get to sleep til rather late, sometimes midnight or later.
Problem is this: Many women 40+ have trouble sleeping usually because of low progesterone, or low estrogen or both. Or perhaps you’re driving up your cortisol at night with all that artificial light from your computer screen. High cortisol at night blocks melatonin. We need melatonin to sleep deeply at night.
Darlin’, let’s get your hormones balanced so you can sleep like a baby again.
And in the meantime, read Tim Ferriss’ chapter on the Zeo sleep coach in his latest book, The Four Hour Body.
Tip #2. Test your Progesterone. The most current data shows that progesterone helps you sleep, more than estrogen. Bioidentical progesterone, such as Prometrium, acts as a somnolent and aids sleep.
Next up is a tip for when your memory sucks and you’re cranky pants.
Tip #3. Check the Mama of Progesterone, Pregnenolone. Every patient in my practice with low pregnenolone asks me the same question when I see them at their second visit: “Dr. Sara, what’s that hormone do again?”
Not only do they not recall what pregnenolone does, they don’t recall how to pronounce it, because pregnenolone helps you with word finding. Words that we feel we ought to know, such as seeing someone whom we know we should know, but can’t summon up a name or context for them, or when the word for which we are searching in conversation simply will not come. There are tricks one can use to minimize these situations. Before attending a meeting or social event, try to create a mental list of whom you would expect to see there. Before heading into a meeting review the information you expect to need and make notes to take with you. If you get into a situation and simply cannot come up with what you’re looking for don’t worry about it like a pitbull because remember this: more stress fries your hippocampus even more. Take a chill pill, meditate, take a deep breath and go test your progesterone.
Of course there’s more to the story. Your hormones are in bed with your neurotransmitters, and memory is dependent upon the right proportion of many key neurotransmitters. More than half of my clients with moderate memory issues or worse have low glutamate or low dopamine, the neurotransmitter of pleasure and satisfaction. You also need decent norepinephrine for both short- and long-term memory, and acetylcholine for laying down the memory tracks. Serotonin helps you too. As with hormones, you want the right amount for you: not too much and not too little.
What works better than anything else I’ve encountered in my 25 years of helping women with memory? Optimizing sleep. Going to bed by 10pm. Let’s start a revolution of women who go to bed by 10pm. No artificial light, no laptops, after the sun goes down. And if you can’t sleep, take 2 Prometrium and call me in the morning.