How to Improve Memory
There are a few steps you can take to improve your memory before turning to nootropic supplements. First, get plenty of sleep. Whether this is six hours or eight hours per night depends on the individual. Other simple measures to improve your memory include getting adequate exercise and reducing sources of chronic stress.
It is well-known that sleep deprivation and chronic stress are two factors that negatively affect cognition and memory. [1, 2] While it is true that acute stress can enhance memory formation, it only does so for short-term emotional events. [3, 4] In addition, although acute stress can help form memories, it does not help with memory retrieval. 
Before beginning a nootropic supplement regimen, take steps to improve your sleep and exercise habits as well as reducing sources of chronic stress. This way, you can ensure the nootropics are not working against a self-induced cognitive deficit. Once you address these lifestyle factors, you can consider trying some of the following nootropics. There is scientific proof that these supplements provide cognitive benefits.
Nootropics for Memory
While memory and cognition are often used interchangeably in everyday speech, they are two distinct things. Memory can be broken down into three categories: working memory, short-term memory, and long-term memory.
Working memory is your ability to remember things you are currently doing, short-term memory is the ability to remember things you recently learned, and long-term memory is the ability to remember things for years—possibly for life. The following supplements have a robust amount of research attesting to their effectiveness at improving memory:
- Unlike numerous other cognitive enhancing supplements, Bacopa can improve memory in healthy individuals. However, it can take up to 6 weeks for noticeable memory improvement. Nonetheless, once in effect, Bacopa is a reliable memory enhancer. [6, 7, 8]
- Ginkgo Biloba is another memory enhancer that works in healthy individuals; however, studies are limited to middle-aged and elderly subjects (45-65 years of age). That being said, it can reliably increase short-term memory. [9, 10, 11]
- Caffeine is often taken to increase energy or enhance focus. Nevertheless, there is some evidence that this supplement can improve spatial memory as well.  It can also enhance working memory in extroverted individuals due to dopaminergic transmission. 
Nootropics for Cognition
Cognition is your brain’s ability to pass tests. The following supplements have numerous studies backing up their efficacy at enhancing cognition:
- The primary reason Rhodiola is able to improve cognition is its ability to reduce fatigue—fatigue related to stress in particular. [14, 15] Of course, the studies cannot separate the fatigue reduction from the actual cognitive enhancement, so you cannot be certain if Rhodiola is improving cognition or reducing stressors that affect it in a negative way.
- Ginkgo Biloba can improve both memory and cognition, meaning it can help you retain and recall memories as well as help you learn more proficiently. One study on elderly but healthy subjects showed an overall improvement in cognition.  Another study including healthy middle-aged and elderly subjects also noted an overall improvement in cognition. 
- Like Rhodiola, Phosphatidylserine’s ability to improve cognition may be secondary to its ability to reduce stress. One study focusing on young and healthy adults showed cognitive improvements. 
Nootropics as Anxiolytics
If despite your best efforts you cannot reduce the amount of stress you encounter on a day-to-day basis, you may want to consider taking anxiolytic supplements as they reduce stress and tension. As discussed above, stress exerts negative effects on cognition. Consider the following scientifically proven anxiolytic supplements to reduce your stress.
- Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, meaning it is able to inhibit the physical and chemical effects of stress. One of the primary ways it achieves this is by reducing cortisol concentrations.  Your body releases cortisol as a response to stress. Too much of it damages cells in the hippocampus and impairs learning.  What makes this nootropic all the more salient to this article is that it is able to exert anxiolytic effects on individuals experiencing chronic stress. [19, 21]
- High doses of inositol are able to reduce panic and apprehension symptoms. [22, 23] In a rat study, Inositol was more effective at reducing apprehension when dealing with significant stressors rather than mild ones. 
- Theanine is able to induce relaxation in individuals with high baseline agitation and nervousness.  It is also effective at reducing perceived stress.  In mice studies, Theanine was able to reduce corticosterone (a biomarker of stress) during stressful situations and while at rest. [27, 28] By reducing corticosterone levels, Theanine is able to attenuate the negative effects stress has on memory. [27, 28] Another major benefit of Theanine is it does not cause sedation.
Suggested Nootropic Stacks
Of the above supplements discussed, the following combinations have proven synergistic qualities:
Caffeine and Theanine
- This stack would work well for anxious individuals who wish to enhance their memory. Caffeine and Theanine are a synergistic pairing meaning they improve the effects of the individual supplements when taken together. Theanine is able to mitigate the negative effects of Caffeine. This produces a smooth energy and focus. This stack is most often taken in a 2:1 ratio of Theanine to Caffeine. 
Ginkgo Biloba and Phosphatidylserine
- While taking these two together does not enhance the absorption of either, there is preliminary evidence that they complement each other. In one study, the addition of Phosphatidylserine showed greater benefits in regards to attention and memory than Ginkgo Biloba alone. [30, 31]
Other synergistic pairings using only one of the supplements discussed above include:
Caffeine and Green tea catechins (EGCG)
- This stack is similar to Caffeine and Theanine in that EGCG is able to reduce Caffeine’s negative stimulant-based side effects, including apprehension. 
Phosphatidylserine and Fish Oil
- This combination is able to improve delayed word recall in older test subjects.  In adult men, this combination reduced stress levels in individuals undergoing chronic stress.  This same test showed a reduction in perceived stress as well. 
Where to Go from Here
You should now have enough information to make an informed decision on how you would like to proceed. There are numerous nootropic supplements beyond the ones included above; however, this list has more definitive research proving their benefits than most other supplements. Whether you want to enhance your memory, cognition, or both, the information contained in this article can help you achieve those goals.