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09/30/2014 08:02 am ET Updated Sep 30, 2014

4 Little Habits That Are Hurting Your Memory

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It happens to all of us at some point. A missed doctor's appointment. Seriously blanking on where you parked your car in the gargantuan mall parking lot. Forgetting your spouse's birthday (guilty).

There are a number of things that could be contributing to your mental fuzziness. Here are some ways you may be impacting your memory without even realizing it.

1. You're not sleeping enough.
Most of us have experienced a foggy feeling after having been up all night tossing and turning. While you may write it off as a temporary side effect you can remedy with more sleep on the weekend or a double-shot of espresso, the brain actually needs sleep to retain memories. It's believed that while you sleep, the part of your brain responsible for storing memories replays the day's events, allowing another part of the brain to synthesize and filter those moments for recollection.

Want to know something even scarier? A study published just earlier this year found that sleep deprivation can actually lead to false memories. Participants who slept less than five hours the night before being questioned, were much more likely to claim that they had seen news footage, which actually didn't exist, because they were told it was widely circulated. They were also more likely to incorrectly recall details from a staged "crime." Scary.

2. You're taking too many photos.
Hardly a day goes by where we don't take a selfie, Instagram a photo or share a cell phone pic with friends nowadays. Sure we tell ourselves we're making memories... but are we really? In fact, when is the last time you looked at something neat with your eyes instead of through your camera lens? A study published last year by Fairfield University researchers discovered what they called a "photo-taking impairment effect." When taken on a tour through a museum, participants who took pictures of displays actually remembered fewer details about the objects than participants who had simply taken in the sights without photography. However, when participants zoomed in on certain details of the exhibits when taking photos, there was no impairment. Researchers say this can teach us about how the brain processes details and memories. Time to wake up and smell the roses, rather than photographing them apparently.

3. You're under a lot of S-T-R-E-S-S.
You can call it Murphy's Law. You're already late for your 9 a.m. performance review with your boss when you realize you left the iron plugged in and forgot your briefcase by the door. It might actually all just boil down to stress.

Your body releases a hormone called cortisol when you're under pressure. It's associated with negative health effects like weight gain, high blood pressure and heart disease -- and you can add memory loss to the list, too. A recent study conducted by the University of Iowa found that high levels of the stress hormone in older rats (comparable to adults around age 65) led to the breakdown of connections in the brain which help us process and store memories. Just another reason we all need to work on lowering our stress levels.

4. You're drinking too much alcohol.
OK, no we're not talking about waking up hungover after a night of heavy drinking, and not remembering a thing -- although that's not good either. The CDC defines moderate drinking for women as no more than one drink per day, and no more than two drinks per day for men. So what happens if you're a heavier drinker?

Memory loss, some studies suggest. A British study published last year says drinking habits in middle-age could speed up cognitive decline and memory loss later in life. Researchers looked at drinking patterns of middle-aged men over 10 years and found that when compared with men who drank just moderately or not at all, heavier drinkers showed signs of memory loss.

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