Why Can't I Remember What I Read? | Iris Reading
Why Can't I Retain What I Read?

Why Can’t I Remember What I Read?

Why Can't I Retain What I Read?

After reading, you may find it almost impossible to retain the information acquired. It may be due to lack of adequate sleep and rest, distractions while reading, poor nutrition, failure to choose the right book, or memory issues such as decay or shallow processing.

As you move through life and gain new experiences, your brain is continually undergoing some upgrades. More reading won’t help if you can’t remember what you’ve read. The issue is that your brain can’t keep everything, so it must prioritize what’s significant and will be utilized later.

You might recall the plot, characters, and perhaps a few major scenes from a book you read long ago. But on the other hand, you might forget an entire book you read just a few months ago. It may depend on the type of book, time, reason, and environment you read the book in.

Let’s look at some reasons why you can’t retain what you read and what to do about them.

1. Distractions before, during, or after reading

Engaging in other activities after reading something interferes with your capacity to recall it later. In other words, you forget what you’ve learned since you’ve learned other new things after reading.

How much you forget is determined by the similarity or difference of the distraction from what you’re reading. 

For example, if you are reading when responding to your ex’s messages, you may get carried away emotionally and forget what you are reading. But if you’re distracted by a video related to the information you’re reading, then it solidifies your understanding.

You might also find it challenging to remember any new information you learn when you work before reading. Involving yourself in tedious tasks a few minutes to your reading time may leave your brain tired and incapable of retaining new information.

Some memories are immune to the negative impacts of interfering memories. However, many variables impact how much information you retain.

For this reason, these memories do not necessarily follow the standard fading curve. They tend to be easier to access and harder to forget.

For example, it’s simpler to forget what your professor read out in that “seemingly endless” lesson than it is to forget your first vacation to Dubai.

3 Effective hacks to help you avoid distractions

Develop a routine

You should set aside time to read regularly. Determine the optimum time for you to read and read at that period. A routine will assist you in increasing your concentration. 

Mornings are the best time to read because the mind is fresh.

Create a to-do list

At school, juggling several tasks and deadlines may be stressful. When you’re focused on one task, it’s simple to overlook another. With a suitable calendar, you can better arrange your deadlines and manage your time.

Determine when you’re most productive and set aside time for homework and extracurricular activities. You may keep track of your classes and assignments by using a planner or digital calendar.

For people who prefer to create to-do lists and schedule appointments by hand, paper planners are ideal. 

Writing things down improves your focus and recall.

Deactivate alerts

Close unwanted tabs on your computer and set your phone on mute or “Do Not Disturb” mode. Keep one tab open if you need to use the Internet.

Blocking or concealing time-wasting websites and apps might help you avoid online distractions.

Every college student’s worst enemy is constant alerts and text messages.  

2. Poor nutrition

Your brain is affected by meals like strongly seasoned dishes, too much meat, salt, and stale food. When you ingest cigarettes, alcohol, or caffeine in excess, they harm your brain. Some foods are part of a poor nutritious diet because they obstruct the body’s and mind’s blood and energy circulation.

People suffer physically and emotionally due to two things: the food they eat and the food they refuse to eat.

Limit your intake of cheese, butter, margarine, fried and fast food to no more than one serving each week to improve your brain health.

Red meat causes inflammation in the body and is harmful to the brain. Sugar and sweets are also harmful to your health. Limit yourself to no more than five servings per week of them.

Consume antioxidant-rich foods such as leafy greens, whole grains, nuts, and berries, high in healthy fats and antioxidants that protect your brain.

The following are examples of other healthy foods for better memory retention.


Proteins help transmit information from the brain to the rest of the body and produce mood-enhancing brain chemicals.

Meat, fish, eggs, chicken, legumes, nuts and seeds, dried beans and lentils, dairy products, and soy products are high protein foods.

Monounsaturated fats

Monounsaturated fats are found in avocados, almonds, olive oil, canola oil, and peanut oil. They are all excellent sources of fat that can help your brain operate harder, better, quicker, and stronger.


Omega-3 fatty acids make your brain work harder and improve your mental wellness. Sources of omega-3 include eggs, chicken, beef, oily fish, flax seeds, and flax oil. 

3. Inadequate rest and sleep

You require sleep for the formation of crucial memory linkages and connections. When you learn something for the first time, the knowledge is fragile, and the impression on your brain is incredibly sensitive. Your brain examines that material as you sleep and forges stronger pathways, making it a more solid part of your knowledge base.

If you are too preoccupied with studying or working to receive the rest you require, your body and brain cannot operate normally. Your memory is among the first things that deteriorate if you don’t get enough good sleep.

Getting enough sleep is the simplest and fastest strategy to enhance your memory if you are sleep-deprived. 

Most adults would be okay with 7 to 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night; children and teenagers need even more.

The strategies below can help you sleep better to improve your learning and memory.

  • Consistency – every day, try to go to bed and wake up at the same hour.
  • Improve your bedroom environment – create a dark, chilly, and quiet environment in your bedroom. Remove all electronic devices from your room, including televisions, laptops, and cell phones.
  • Avoid drinks that interfere with sleep – Stay away from drinks like coffee and alcohol before bed.
  • Regular exercise – Increasing your daily physical activity might help you sleep better at night.

When you absorb facts and information, you temporarily store most of what you learn in the hippocampus, a brain area. The hippocampus, like most storage units, may have limited storage capacity.

If the hippocampus is full, you won’t be able to learn new information. Fortunately, many experts believe that sleep aids in the replenishment of your learning abilities.

Sleep does more than merely provide learners with the energy to study and do well on examinations. 

You benefit from sleep because it helps you learn, memorize, retain, recall, and apply new information to come up with creative solutions.

4. Inadequate rehearsal and revision

It’s common to forget much of what you’ve learned within a few days after studying it unless you continually revise it to keep it fresh in your memory. As a result, experiences that you seldom revisit and notions that you infrequently employ or relearn fade away with time. 

You forget a lot of what you read nearly as quickly as you learn it. You progressively forget the little that remains after that. 

The forgetting curve predicts that memory retention deteriorates over time. 


This graph depicts how you lose information over time when you make no effort to keep it.

You can retain what you read by devoting time each day to revisit the material, such as that needed for tests. 

The best time to re-read notes and lessen the quantity of knowledge forgotten is during the first 24 hours after acquiring information.

Let us look at several revision techniques efficient among learners.

Sticky notes

You should write facts on index cards in color and display them prominently in your house, like next to the kettle or the bathroom mirror. Every day, look at them and repeat them to yourself.

Pile your cards to later test yourself, and insert new information in conspicuous areas when you think you know them.

Little and often

The more you read something, the more likely you are to remember it. 

As a result, rather than spending a long time revising the same content on a single occasion, it is preferable to cover the same topic numerous times for short periods.

Teach it

You may try informing your family, friends, or housemates about what you have just read over your breaks and encourage them to ask questions.

Teaching others solidifies your knowledge of a subject and, as a result, your recall it. 

5. Shallow processing

Short-term knowledge retention is frequently the product of shallow processing. It often entails repeating activities or content that only skims the surface of a notion or idea.

If you can’t link the information you’re reading to a sense or a feeling, you process it quickly. Consequentially, it doesn’t stay in the brain for long since the brain thinks it unimportant. So, your brain will make way for more vital information.

When you attach meaning to the content you learn, you will process it deeply. 

When you can discover a reason to remember something, associate an emotion with it, or use more than one sense in learning, your brain retains it better, and it’s easier to recall when needed.

6. Suppression of what you are reading

You are very likely to forget a memory incompatible with your comfort or self-esteem. The problem is, you may end up suppressing information that’s not unpleasant because it’s related to an unpleasant memory. 

Suppression is the act of repressing powerful emotions and impulses. You prevent them from being expressed to the point that they no longer appear to exist.

Let us look at some ways you can train your brain to focus when reading.

Basic concentration exercises

You can start with a few simple concentration exercises to help you regain your focus. A few minutes of morning meditation can be good for your mental health, but if you’d like something a little more energetic, a “moving” meditation practice may be a better fit.

For example, you can leave your phone at home and go on a walk to be aware of the natural world around you while focusing on your breath. Your body will gain from the low-impact physical exercise while also helping you improve your concentration.

When it comes to resolving concentration issues that have been plaguing you for months or even years, it’s best to start with the basics.

Take notes

Give yourself some assignments to inspire yourself to concentrate and turn your reading from passive to active. 

Taking notes is especially useful for learners who have extensive reading tasks. But even if you haven’t been in a classroom in a long time, note-taking while reading can still be beneficial.

Underline quotes that you like with a highlighter or a pen. Mark noteworthy passages with your remarks and underline portions with exciting information you might want to return to.

Taking notes will encourage you to employ your critical thinking skills in addition to boosting your concentration. 

You won’t merely skim through each page; instead, you’ll have to pause and consider what you’re reading.

Begin with small sections of a book daily

Begin with ten or fifteen pages and gradually increase the number as time goes on. It will be excellent to set aside some time each day for reading.

Picking up a large novel and trying to finish it in a week can be challenging if you’re among the quarter of Americans who’ve not read a book in over a year. 

Instead, pick a shorter book and commit to reading a few pages each day.

7. Memory decay or disuse

The brain tends to replace the knowledge you don’t regularly use with the data you require periodically. This type of memory lapse is referred to as memory decay or disuse.

Consider your geometry class in high school. You don’t recall all the formulas for figuring out the various areas of shapes and angles unless you’re an architect or work in another industry that requires precise angles and such.

Your mind must go over previously learned material frequently, or it will file it away in a bin labeled “useless” and out of reach for easy recall. The more times something is reviewed, the more it is remembered.

You can combat memory decay through unit reviews and chapter quizzes. They pull the knowledge out of hiding and make sure the brain understands that you want it to remember information.

You can also sign up for our Maximizing Memory course. This course teaches students and professionals practical techniques to remember what they read and memorize the essential details.

8. Choosing the wrong books

The brain likes to group experiences to save energy and space. As a result, for you to recall what you read, it must stand out. Despite this, the majority of readers make two significant errors. First, they read what everyone else is reading. Second, they push themselves to finish books they don’t want to read.

The publishing sector produces more than 50,000 books per year, not to mention the millions of blog posts, essays, and research available. If you don’t select your reading list, there’s simply too much to read.

Next, forcing yourself to read books that you don’t enjoy is a waste of time. Being impressed by something increases your chances of remembering it and using it later.

The following are strategies you can apply to help you choose the right book to read.

Consider recommendations

Inquire about the books that reliable friends with comparable interests are reading. It’s also good to keep track of any books referenced on podcasts you listen to frequently. You can sometimes find book recommendation lists from bloggers or podcasters.

Think about your interests

What kind of books or shows do you prefer to watch? 

Your viewing and reading tastes may be similar – mystery, fiction, nonfiction, romance, science fiction, politics, and so on. 

Choose a book that is in the same genre as your passions. It doesn’t have to come from the Best Sellers List.

Check out the library

Don’t squander money on books if you’re just getting started with reading. Check them out free of charge at your local library. That way, if you get a dud, you can just return it without feeling forced to finish it. Make use of the library’s vast collection of books.

You can go to the library’s website, enter the title, and reserve the book online if you have a book in mind that you want to start reading.

Then, when the library pulls the book from the shelf or borrows it from another library, they’ll put it aside. The library will send you an email to let you know it’s available. You only need to walk in and take it – you don’t even have to look through the shelves.

How our brains turn reading into memory

When reading, different neural responses activate in our brain. Words become meaningful through processes such as morphological recognition, text comprehension, and cognitive processing.

Here’s a list of processes it takes for your brain to turn reading into memory.

1. Morphological recognition

Firstly, you’ll need to understand the letters that create words; your left frontal lobe is responsible for this. It activates morphological recognition allowing you to make sense of letters and words. Syntactic recognition also occurs, enabling you to tell whether the word is a name or verb and its tense.

During the morphological recognition process, your brain creates links between words so you can recognize them later. During the process, your visual cortex also activates and gives you a phonetic representation of the word as it goes to the fusiform gyrus.

You’ll know the meaning of the words when they get to the frontal and temporal areas. The next step to turning reading into memory is text comprehension.

2. Text comprehension

You need to comprehend the text and examine its syntactic and semantic relations. You’ll understand tenses, word flow, and the information being conveyed. Syntactic processing took place thanks to the anterior temporal lobes and left frontal.

You’ll learn how the subjects and verbs in sentences interact during syntactic and thematic processing. At this stage, you can evaluate the meaning of a complete sentence.

Reading is related to memory. When you come across texts related to people, parts of the temporal region become active, allowing you to access broader meaning.

3. Emotional and cognitive processing

Emotional and cognitive processing occurs thanks to brain processes in the limbic system. Emotion while reading increases your attention span. Consequently, it makes for an excellent way to learn new information.

When you activate emotion from memory and learning, your brain’s motivation and attention networks will become active. Emotionally charged words increase your reading time. They also help activate the anterior dorsal cingulate cortex and dorsolateral. 

Now, you can pay attention, associate, plan, and monitor information. The anterior cingulate pays attention to the text you read while your prefrontal cortex activates to link all the information.

Why doesn’t it happen all the time?

Sometimes, your brain may not succeed in turning what you read into memory. In such cases, it could be because:

You’re not eating healthily

Studies show that what you eat can impact your brain. When you eat food that lacks some important nutrients, it puts you at risk of suffering physically and mentally. Ensure to eat food that contains omega 3, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc, iron, copper, and more.

You don’t pay attention to note-worthy details

You’re bound to forget key points when you don’t pay close attention to them. That’s because the experience didn’t leave a lasting impression on you. So, always emphasize important details when reading.

You don’t revise or rehearse

Revision is key to remembering what you read. Since your brain constantly reorganizes information as it experiences new things, rarely visited concepts or experiences will gradually fade away.

Revisions or rehearsals keep important information fresh in your mind when done constantly. Otherwise, you’ll forget it in a few days.

You allow other activities to interfere with your reading time

The activities you engage in after reading can impact your brain’s ability to retain and remember what you read. As mentioned earlier, the brain constantly reorganizes information as it learns new things. However, engaging in activities similar to what you learned can help with memory and retention.

The more similar the interfering materials are to what you read, the better your chances of retaining and remembering the information.

You don’t get enough sleep

If you struggle with remembering what you read, it could be because your brain isn’t getting enough rest. Don’t be too preoccupied with school or work that you fail to get enough night’s rest. Adults require about seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, and kids require even more sleep per night.

Other effective tips to remember what you read

1. Read with a purpose

What is the purpose of your reading? Determine the answer to this question and discover the best way to fulfill that purpose when reading. By doing so, you’ll stay on track and focus on the important details in the material.

This way, you’re more likely to remember what you read and save a lot of time while at it. Tackling only the most relevant items makes you a more efficient reader.

2. Skim first

Skimming is an excellent reading technique that many efficient readers practice. Once you know the purpose of your reading, you should only read the relevant parts of the material carefully. For other parts, you’ll find that they require no more than skimming.

3. Use proper reading mechanics

Good readers know the right mechanics to achieve the best results. Your eyes must move in a disciplined manner for in-depth reading. This isn’t the case during skimming, as your eyes move without discipline.

When it is time to slow down and read carefully, it is best to move your eyes from one fixation point to the other in left- to right-sequence. The fixations must be several words simultaneously, not single words or individual letters.

Here are some key tactics for good mechanics of reading:

  • View multiple words per eye fixation
  • Try to expand the width of each eye fixation. You can develop this skill by learning how to read at about five to six fixations per line. Then reduce it to four fixations and then three.
  • Snap your eyes from one fixation point to the next

4. Highlight key points and take notes

Highlighting keywords when reading makes for easy revisions since you can easily spot the most relevant parts of the text. These keywords also act as the basis for reminder cues and mental images.

Taking notes when reading also serves as an effective rehearsal aid for forming immediate memory.

5. Think in pictures

You’ll find that pictures are easier to memorize than words. Once you’ve highlighted the key points in the text, you can visualize them as images. Mental pictures are very useful for memorization.

Once you spot your highlighted keywords, think of images associated with them. You can also make mental images of headings and sub-headings.


The human brain constantly reorganizes as we experience new things in our lives. The most visited experiences stay fresh while others gradually fade away.

Besides choosing the right books, taking notes, and getting enough sleep and rest, reading to retain information requires a consistent routine. Reading consistently generally makes you a better reader.

You can learn how to avoid procrastination, read, and retain crucial information by registering for Iris Reading’s course on Maximizing Memory. Learn from an expert, and you’ll become better at remembering what you read.

Maximize your memory!

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  • Sunday Japhet

    Wow …. thanks alot I have learnt so much infact am putting what I have learnt to practice

    • Raymond

      Yes this is so good, I’m an 67 years old male, in need of help to retain what I read, been a problem seems like most my life

  • Meghana Gautam

    This is amazing write up. I was absolutely lost, just before starting my office work today.

    Thank you so much!! for a masterpiece like this.

  • Jerry

    Very important to me kudus 👏🏾👏🏾👏🏾

  • Mathias

    I appreciate

  • simon

    well explained.

  • Joanna

    Thanks fοr finally writing about > Why Can't I Remember What I Read?
    | Iris Reading accenting

  • Joycelyn


  • Jonathan O. West

    Absolutely useful piece of advice and enlightenment 😁…
    Add my email to your weekly distribution list as well.

    Thanks a bunch!

  • Nafiseh

    Interesting and useful topic!

  • Lashethia

    Love the information good job

  • Martha L Lowe

    Please add my email to your weekly distribution list thank you

    • Paul Nowak