Ask Dr. H: 10 minutes of eye rest a day might sharpen memory

Question: What's a good strategy for improving my memory? I don't think I have Alzheimer's, but my memory at 74 years of age isn't quite what it used to be.

 Answer: Millions of older people find that while they're not getting senile, it's taking longer to find the precise piece of information within their vast library of accumulated knowledge. Learning new information also seems to be a challenge for many older folks. Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and other word games are one way folks try to keep their brain active. "Use it or lose it" is certainly a common memory-preserving strategy.

A new study to be published in the journal Psychological Science suggests that all people really need to do to improve their memory and learn new things is to sit and close their eyes for 10 minutes each day. Michaela Dewar of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland found that normal-aged folks between the ages of 61 and 87 who rested their eyes for 10 minutes in a darkened room in a period of "wakeful resting" were able to recall far more details of a story presented to them earlier and could cement those memories far better than folks who did not take a 10-minute rest break. Their findings suggest that the process of creating a new memory does not take place over a few seconds, and requires a peaceful, nondistracting environment for optimal memory formation. Dewar says the activities we are engaged in for the first few minutes after learning new information affect how well we remember this information in the days, weeks, or months afterward.

One-side congestion is normal 'nasal cycle'

Q: For as long as I can remember, one side of my nose is congested, alternating with the other side. I do not have a deviated septum, and this occurs any time of the year. Do you have any idea why this happens?

A: What you're experiencing is actually very normal. It's called the "nasal cycle," and it's something everyone should experience. It's usually most noticeable at night when folks roll from one side to the other to breathe. If one lies on his side at night, the top nostril is usually the one that's more open.

The nasal cycle involves engorgement (swelling and congestion) of the blood vessels that supply the nasal tissue of one side of the nose; followed by shrinking of those blood vessels (decongestion) as the opposite side becomes engorged with blood. If both sides were to fill with blood at the same time, the nasal tissue would swell up such that a person could never breathe through her nose. This normal nasal cycle varies in length, but typically lasts from one to four hours.

If one becomes very emotional (happy or sad), or develops allergy or cold symptoms, the nerves and tissue become irritated and inflamed, leading to a temporary disruption of the normal nasal cycle and congestion in both nostrils simultaneously.


Mitchell Hecht is a physician specializing in internal medicine. Send questions to him at: "Ask Dr. H," Box 767787, Atlanta, Ga. 30076. Due to the large volume of mail received, personal replies are not possible.