Forgetting certain things can be helpful when you’re younger—like, the worst first date of your life, say, or that weekend in Vegas in which whatever happened there had to stay there. But as we age, periodic forgetfulness and memory loss can be distressing. It’s not an inherently natural part of aging, and there are plenty of things you can do to improve your memory, but it can happen.
And there are some surprising reasons why, like this one:
Yup. Research shows that snoring can indicate two conditions that contribute to memory loss. The first is sleep apnea, of which snoring is a symptom. If you have sleep apnea, while you sleep, your breathing can stop for as long a minute before your brain wakes you up to resume breathing. Those pauses can happen many times a night.
According to a study published in The Journal of Neuroscience, sleep apnea affects spatial navigational memory. That type of memory is a “cognitive map” that includes being able to remember directions and where you put things like your keys. Scientists aren’t exactly sure why, but their research suggests that deep sleep—a.k.a. rapid eye movement (REM) sleep — plays an important role in memory.
The second condition snoring might indicate is that you simply might not be getting enough sleep. Sleep apnea is exhausting: Those pauses and restarts the brain has to undergo can cause you to wake slightly, interrupting your sleep, although you probably won’t remember it. And poor sleep quality has been correlated with memory loss (along with other conditions like cardiovascular disease, diabetes and a shortened lifespan overall).
Why does deep, quality sleep affect memory? During sleep, the body heals and recharges itself. The brain, in particular, flushes away toxins, which researchers have found lowers the risk of Alzheimer’s and may impact memory in general. A different study published in The Journal of Neuroscience found that people who were taught specific finger movements (like hitting piano keys) were better able to recall them after 12 hours of rest. “When you’re asleep, it seems as though you are shifting memory to more efficient storage regions within the brain,” said study author Matthew Walker, Ph.D., of the BIDMC’s Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory.
Recommendation: If your partner has told you that you snore, or you wake up in the morning feeling tired, talk to your doctor, you might refer you to a sleep specialist for testing and follow-up. Experts say that adults of every age should aim for seven to nine hours of restful, quality sleep each night. Not less, and not more: Oversleeping has also been associated with a risk of dementia, and is one of these essential 15 Ways You’re Sleeping Wrong!