If you go through your day thinking “Wait… I know I came into the bathroom for a reason” or “Did I really just put a stapler in the fridge?”, you might be dealing with brain fog. Though the symptoms aren’t always that extreme, feeling mentally unclear is very common and extremely annoying.
If your brain is fogged up, don’t worry. While there isn’t a lot of science behind the condition itself, there are lots of ways to combat mental fatigue.
Brain fog is a cognitive dysfunction that causes confusion, lack of concentration, memory issues, and a general tired feeling. It’s the “meh” emoji incarnate.
Forgetfulness, difficulty communicating, and the feeling that your brain is moving through soup to think of that actor’s name in that movie you like (you know, that one!) are all common brain fog symptoms.
The causes of brain fog aren’t clear. There haven’t been a lot of studies about brain fog specifically, so the available information is limited.
Your cloudy mind could be due to an undiagnosed medical condition, a poor night’s sleep, or one of these other main causes of brain fog.
No sleep till Brooklyn: You’re tired
Getting too little sleep can cause all kinds of issues, including brain fog. If your body doesn’t have the rest and energy it needs to get through the day, it’s no wonder your brain feels a little slow.
Though most of us will have trouble sleeping from time to time, it’s important to make bedtime a priority. Try to get 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night. Or, if you need it, take a short nap and see if your cloudy thoughts improve.
Down the hatch: You might be dehydrated
Though we don’t often think of our brains as thirsty (well, sometimes we do, but that’s a different kind of thirsty), dehydration can have a big effect on brain function. Be sure to drink lots of water to keep your body hydrated and your mind clear.
Stress! Oh, the stress: You need to relax
Stress is bad for everything, including brain fog. Stress can raise your heart rate and blood pressure and make it hard to think straight. Even if stress isn’t the primary cause of your foggy brain, reducing stress will help your mental and physical health overall.
Try to give yourself a few minutes every day to relax. It doesn’t matter whether you take that time to meditate and stretch or to punch a pillow and scream obscenities. Just do whatever helps you relieve a bit of stress and feel some physical and mental relaxation.
Inflamed in the membrane: It could be inflammation
A small study found a link between inflammation and cognitive dysfunction. Though a lot more research needs to be done, this study sheds some light on why inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis tend to cause brain fog.
While you may not have a full-on inflammatory disease, you could have excess inflammation that’s causing your fogginess.
Food sensitivities can also cause inflammation. Try keeping a food diary to see if certain items trigger a big case of cloudiness.
To reduce inflammation overall, avoid processed foods and stick with foods high in antioxidants, like berries, nuts, and even chocolate. Omega-3 fatty acids also fight inflammation, so take a fish oil supplement or go to town on a bowl of mackerel or herring.
Feeling low: You have depression and/or anxiety
A common depression screening test asks, “Do you have trouble concentrating on things such as reading the newspaper or watching television?” While this question isn’t directly about brain fog, a lack of focus is a major symptom of depression and anxiety.
If you have a base level of anxious thoughts throughout the day, your brain doesn’t have enough processing power to keep thinking clearly about everything else you have to deal with. And if you’re depressed, your thinking may be clouded by fatigue, apathy, or sadness.
If you have any other symptoms of depression aside from brain fog, talk to a doctor. If you do get a diagnosis of depression, treating the condition as a whole will be far more helpful than trying to fix your fogginess on its own.
Hormones, they are a’changin: You’re experiencing a hormone imbalance
Whether you just had a baby or you’re going into menopause, a drastic change in hormones can lead to a change in cognitive function.
A 2009 study found that women in late perimenopause scored lower on memory tests than pre- and postmenopausal women. The drop in estrogen during menopause could be a factor in this hormonal fogginess.
But the cloudiness is usually temporary. As women go through menopause, their memory improves and a lot of the fogginess clears up on its own.
If you’re experiencing serious brain fog and think hormones may be the issue, talk to your doctor. They may be able to prescribe supplements to help you out.
Rx effects: It’s a side effect of your meds
Maybe you’re on a new medication and suddenly your brain feels like it’s taking a walk in a cheap haunted house. There’s nothing interesting going on, just fog.
The medication could be causing that cloudiness. Talk to your doctor to see if you can decrease your dosage or change medications to improve your mental clarity.
D, none of the above: It could be an underlying condition
If you’ve improved your sleep, eaten more berries, managed your stress, and checked your medication and you still have brain fog, it’s time to go to the doctor. Brain fog can be a symptom of a variety of medical conditions, including anemia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Here are some conditions that could cause brain fog:
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- lupus and other autoimmune diseases
- rheumatoid arthritis
- vitamin B-12 deficiency
- postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome
- Alzheimer’s disease
Be sure to tell your doctor about all your symptoms. If you’re feeling bloated, have dry skin patches, or have any other bothers, let your doctor know. Knowing about those symptoms plus the brain fog may help them get to a diagnosis more quickly.
Brain fog doesn’t mean you have one of these conditions. It’s very possible you just got some terrible sleep or you’re super stressed.
But if brain fog persists in your daily life or gets in the way of your work or your happiness, see a doctor to make sure it isn’t a symptom of something bigger.
Technically, brain fog isn’t a diagnosable medical condition. It’s a crappy symptom of something else (lack of sleep, underlying illness, etc.).
But brain fog is real! It affects all kinds of people (cancer patients going through chemo, new moms, stressed-out writers on deadline…) and can get in the way of daily tasks.
There’s no simple test for brain fog. To get a diagnosis, your doctor may test you for a wide variety of medical conditions, including the ones mentioned above. They may order a blood test to check for vitamin deficiencies or inflammation markers. They may ask you about your mental health and stress levels.
When in doubt, start by assessing your sleep, diet, and exercise habits. Are you eating a balanced diet? Sleeping at least 7 hours a night? Getting in at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week? If not, try to shift your habits and see what happens.
Take notes on any lifestyle changes you make. If you don’t notice any improvement in your brain fog after a few weeks, see your doctor — and have those notes at the ready. They may help your doctor decide which tests to do to find underlying cause of your cloudiness.
Though those Spencer’s Gifts brain pills might look tempting, there’s no single medication to lift brain fog. But there are lots of things you can do to help your mind find its sharpness again.
- Sleep. We said it before, we’ll say it again — prioritize sleep! Make sure your room is dark, quiet, and cool and spend 8 hours in bed every night. Even if you aren’t asleep that whole time, the opportunity is there and you’re more likely to get the rest you need.
- Exercise. Research shows that exercise improves mood and mental health, so it could also help with brain fog! Try to exercise five times a week for 30 minutes. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. Walking, dancing, jogging, weightlifting, swimming — basically, anything you like to do that gets your heart rate up.
- Meditate. Stress is a big cause of brain fog, and meditation helps relieve stress. You can try using a meditation app or just set a timer for 5 minutes, sit comfortably, and focus on the feeling of your deep, slow breaths. Even 5 minutes of meditation can lower your stress levels and help clear your mind.
- Do puzzles. Keep your brain active with puzzles or trivia. This may not clear your brain fog immediately, but it can help your overall memory and cognitive health.
- Drink water. It’s free and good for you! A little extra water may cut through the fog and help your overall health.
Brain fog doesn’t have to clog up your days — and if it does, your doctor can help. With a few small tweaks to your lifestyle, you should be back in the clear in no time.