Improving your memory shouldn’t be a chore. Instead, let it be a natural and routine pleasure. These five unusual ways to boost the performance of your gray matter couldn’t be easier.

Laugh About It

What could be more painless than laughing? In a study conducted at Loma Linda University in Southern California, 20 healthy older adults watched a funny video for 20 minutes, while a control group sat calmly with no video. Afterwards, all the participants performed memory tests while samples of their saliva were analyzed for stress hormones.

Those who laughed away the 20 minutes scored better on short-term memory tests. Plus, their cortisol levels were significantly decreased. Cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, is known to negatively impact your memory. Conversely, laughter — or simply appreciating the humorous side of life — increases endorphins, sending dopamine to the brain to provide a sense of pleasure and reward. A little humor reduces your stress hormones, and this lowers your blood pressure while boosting your mood, and in turn these physiological changes combine to result in a better memory, explains Dr. Lee Berk, a co-author of the study.

"Learning ability and delayed recall become more challenging as we age," said Dr. Gurinder S. Bains, another of the authors. "Laughing with friends or even watching 20 minutes of humor on TV, as I do daily, helps me cope with my daily stressors."

Sleep On It

Sleep is an alternate dimension where dreams sweep us into a surreal logic unknown to our waking selves. While sleep may seem a world unto itself, it is also very important to this one. After we learn something new, researchers at New York University discovered, sleep helps brain cells connect to one another, and in so doing helps us preserve our memories.

The researchers began their work by training mice to perform a new skill. Afterward, they split the mice into two groups and allowed some to sleep, while others were deprived of sleep. Using a microscope, they looked inside the animal brains and discovered the sleeping mice formed significantly more new connections between neurons than the wakeful mice.

"Finding out sleep promotes new connections between neurons is new, nobody knew this before,” Dr. Wen-Biao Gan, a professor at New York University, told the BBC. "We show… that in sleep the brain is not quiet, it is replaying what happened during the day and it seems quite important for making the connections." Experimenting further, the researchers found brain cells activated in the motor cortex whenever the mice learned a new task reactivated during one specific sleep period slow-wave deep sleep. This particular type of sleep, then, is when the mice conserved the new connections among brain cells. When the researchers disrupted slow-wave deep sleep, the new connections were not preserved and so, too, consolidation of memories was prevented.

Get It Down in Writing

Shunning the computer and using pen and paper to handwrite your notes instead boosts your ability to retain and understand concepts.

This unusual discovery came about when psychology students Pam Mueller of Princeton and Daniel Oppenheimer of UCLA conducted a study of memory that began with asking a group of college students to listen to the same lecture and take notes in their accustomed way. Half an hour later, Mueller and Oppenheimer tested the students on the material. While both groups memorized the same number of facts, the students who had typed their notes into their laptops performed far worse than the hand-written note takers when it came to the lecture's ideas. Next, Mueller and Oppenheimer experimented to see whether the results would be the same if the students were given a week to review before taking an exam. Running another experiment, they discovered, surprisingly enough, the students who took less notes in longhand performed significantly better than those who took copious notes, virtually transcribing the entire lecture on their laptops. In short, those who listened carefully and wrote feweer notes instead of mindlessly typing did better on both the factual and the higher-order conceptual parts of the exam.

While you may think this study applies only to students, you probably have meetings at work and find yourself in other situations which require or include note taking. Instead of feeling at a disadvantage whenever you don’t have your computer handy, consider it a boon. Your brain will thank you for forcing you to organize the material in your mind before you write it down.

Stand Upright

The way you sit and stand influences whether you recall positive or negative memories.

In a series of experiments, Dr. Erik Peper, San Francisco State University, explored how posture can affect your memory. Participants in Peper’s study found it much easier to recall hopeless, helpless, powerless, and negative memories when sitting in a collapsed position with their eyes cast downward. However, when participants sat up straight and tilted their chins upward, they found it difficult — and nearly impossible for many of the participants to recall negative memories. Meanwhile, these very same upright participants easily remembered past events that were empowering or positive.

Generally, good posture improves your brain's ability to remember both the good and the bad, because it allows blood and oxygen to flow more freely to the brain. In fact, sitting up straight may even boost blood flow by up to 40 percent, according to some.

Drink It Down

Green tea extract enhances your brain functioning and in particular your working memory, researchers found.

In a recent experiment, University of Basel researchers gave their participants either a beverage containing 27.5 grams of green tea extract, or a protein drink designed to taste like green tea. None of the participants knew which beverage they were drinking. While they drank their beverages, the researchers examined their brains in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. At the same time, participants completed tasks to test their short term or so-called working memory.

Unexpectedly, the green tea participants outperformed their protein drink peers on the memory tasks. Plus, their brain scans showed a distinctly different activation pattern than the other participants. Specifically, the green tea participants’ scans showed increased connectivity between parietal lobe and frontal cortex. The frontal lobe is home to our most advanced thinking abilities, while the parietal lobe plays a role in how our brains process sensory information and language.

“Our findings suggest that green tea might increase the short-term synaptic plasticity of the brain,” said Professor Stefan Borgwardt of the University of Basel. A cuppa can improve your memory, but remember: drink green.