When you want to learn a new skill or study for a test, you probably rely on the old methodology of practice makes perfect. But, while practice doesn’t hurt, you need to think about how you follow-up those practice or study sessions to make the new information stick. Recent research has indicated that what you do after you learn something new has a profound impact on how well you remember it, and exercise and sleep seem to be the biggest influencers for your memory.

Building Memories After Learning Something New

Our brains have different storage areas for different types of information. Things you know are filed away as long-term memories, and those are much more ingrained than short-term memories, which is where information will live when it’s first learned. To solidify something you’ve just learned as something you know, memories must be transformed from short- to long-term. Unfortunately, details can be lost in that process when you aren’t giving your brain the help it needs to retain information. Research has shown that there are two different strategies that can help solidify new information in your memories—exercise and sleep. Let’s take a look at how and why each one makes a difference.

• Exercise – The connection between regular exercise and improved memory is not a new finding, but what recent research has indicated is that timing exercise at the right time after learning new information can improve retention by up to 10%. Interestingly, working out immediately after learning has little effect. When you delay exercise by about 4 hours, the effect increases. The reason behind this is still being researched, but evidence has shown that increasing the metabolic rate with moderate to strenuous exercise for as little as 15 minutes about 4 hours after learning new information can help you hold onto what you’ve just learned.

• Sleep – Exercise is not the only measure that makes a difference. Sleeping immediately after you learn something can help you remember it better, and that’s because sleep helps to store memories and process new information. However, delaying sleep after learning or not getting enough sleep can actually have a negative impact.

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