How to Improve Procedural Memory

Wondering how to improve procedural memory? Procedural memory is the type of memory that allows you to remember automatically how to do certain tasks, like writing with a pencil or typing on a keyboard. This is really remembering without remembering, since procedural memories are subconscious. If you have to think about where to place your fingers when you’re typing, then the memory isn’t yet procedural – you’re still learning it. But there are many ways of how to improve procedural memory. Here are just a few ideas to help you out:

How to Improve Procedural Memory with Practice

The best way to learn how to improve procedural memory is just to practice. Any skill from driving a car to playing a guitar that you want to learn can be improved by practice. You can learn how to do it more and more automatically simply by practicing the skill over and over again. Eventually, you’ll no longer have to think about how to brake at the proper time or where to place your fingers on the strings when your music says to play a G chord.

If you’re wondering how to improve procedural memory for certain tasks, the key is to practice them regularly and to focus on them solely when you’re practicing. Remember learning to write in elementary school? At first, it took all the attention you had, and you were forced to practice it every single day almost. That look of concentration kids get when they’re practicing writing is priceless, but it also tells us that something in them automatically knows that they have to focus in order to practice and learn important physical skills.

The same thing goes for you. If you’re learning to play piano, set aside practice time each day, and focus on nothing else during the time you’re practicing. The more you practice and the more focused you are while practicing, the more easily you’ll learn to automatically place your fingers on the right keys as you’re reading the music.

How to Improve Procedural Memory with Sleep

Sleep in general is great for your memory. You know this from experience. Think about the times when you’re too tired to think straight. You can’t remember your best friend’s name, let alone where you parked your car. Lack of sleep has an effect on procedural memory, too. But your procedural memory needs certain types of sleep, such as REM sleep. When you don’t get enough REM sleep, your procedural performance will suffer, but if you get proper amounts of REM sleep, you’ll more easily form procedural memories. There are many theories to why this happens, but one prevalent theory is that during REM sleep, your brain is actually going over the procedural memories it learned during the day.

Another way to boost procedural memory is to take naps during the day. One recent study published in Sleep Medicine showed that afternoon naps that included some stage 2, slow wave sleep, and REM sleep were helpful for improving procedural memory, though they didn’t help improve semantic or episodic memory.

So, next time you’re trying to learn an important skill and are wondering how to improve procedural memory, keep in mind that you should practice, practice, practice and get enough sleep. If you can, schedule short naps in the early afternoon, particularly right before you practice your procedural skill. Over time, this can help improve your procedural memory so that you’ll have an easier time learning new skills, whether you want to type more quickly and automatically, do gymnastics, or play a musical instrument.