8 Reasons You’re Suddenly Forgetting Things

Updated: Feb. 09, 2017

Good news! These surprising causes of memory problems are all fixable.

iStock/Sami Sert

You’re skimping on sleep

Getting adequate zzz’s is huge for keeping your memory sharp. “I just had a patient complaining about her memory, and I realized she was waking up every couple of hours at night,” says Maria Caserta, MD, PhD, professor of clinical psychiatry and the co-director of Memory and Aging Clinic at the University of Illinois at Chicago. And insomnia-induced forgetfulness could rear its ugly head when you need it most. One small 2015 study in the journal SLEEP found that when men were kept to just four hours of sleep, they were more likely to have impaired memory when under stress compared to when they got a full eight hours. These sleep secrets from doctors can help you get a better night’s rest.


You’re a chronic worrier

When thoughts are coursing through your mind at a mile a minute, nothing you want to remember is going to stick. “If you’re always worried about this or that and trying to learn something new, your worries will interfere,” says Dr. Caserta. That’s why you might not remember something a coworker just told you. “Your mind is on a different track,” she explains. “Significant anxiety needs to be treated. Then you’ll be able to listen, focus, and remember.” To cope with stress right away, start with these mini meditations; then learn smart long-term strategies for keeping anxiety in check.


You’re sitting all day

Getting the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week is key to helping you sleep better, studies show. “We have sedentary jobs. If you’re not active during the day, you’re not going to sleep well at night and it will affect your cognition,” says Dr. Caserta.  Here are 22 easy ways to move more.


You’re taking certain medications

It’s allergy season, so you might be popping antihistamines to stifle sneezes. “Antihistamines can block a neurotransmitter in your brain that’s important for memory,” says Dr. Caserta. “Some people also take antihistamines to help them sleep, but that’s not a good idea if you’re concerned about your memory,” she says. Antidepressants are another medication linked to memory loss. If you’re taking these drugs and notice memory problems, talk to your doctor. You may be able to switch to one with fewer side effects.


You’re going through menopause

Estrogen protects cognitive functioning, but levels of the hormone diminish during menopause. Some women describe this as “brain fog”—and up to two-thirds of women experience it during this time, according to research from the University of Rochester. You may also be disturbed by hot flashes that soak your clothes and wake you up at night. Together with hormonal changes, sleep loss compounds the forgetfulness. These other subtle signs could indicate the early stages of menopause.


You’re overloaded

Instagram. Facebook. Pinterest. Text messages. If you’re chronically distracted, you can’t focus and cement new memories. “Our brains can handle a fair amount of stimulation, and they like it, but you do have to focus your attention on a few things,” says Dr. Caserta. You want your brain to focus on two or three things (or even four to five), but don’t try to force it to work on 10 simultaneously and expect to remember all the details.


You’re having an extra glass of wine

“Your tolerance for alcohol is bit lower when you get older,” says Dr. Caserta. So having an extra glass of wine can make you feel more tipsy—or drunk, something that won’t help your sleep or memory. Consider taking a deeper look at the root cause of that extra pour (e.g., you’re unhappy with your job) and see what changes you can make.

iStock/Johnny Greig

You’re going through normal aging

Of course you can’t memorize a list as well as you could in your twenties. Frustrating sometimes? Yes. Normal? Yes. It’s okay if someone tells you something but you can’t remember the details. Or if you lost your keys last week (but then found them). What is cause for concern is if it interferes with your ability to function, Dr. Caserta points out. For example, you may forget what your boss told you and can’t get your responsibilities done. Or maybe it’s taking longer to accomplish things. Or you’re constantly losing your cell phone and are late to appointments because of it. These commonsense strategies to improve memory can help. If you’re concerned about your memory problems and your partner, friends, or coworkers are noticing it, it’s worth going to the doctor for neurological testing, advises Dr. Caserta.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest