We all want to feel vibrant and productive within our day, but brain fog symptoms like confusion, distractedness, fatigue, forgetfulness, and lack of clarity can impede our plans if we don’t take action. Brain fog every now and then is normal — everyone’s experienced a bad night’s sleep or had too much going on — but if the manifestations of brain fog are all too present in your daily life and lead to other cognitive symptoms, it’s time to address some potential causes.
A foggy brain can be described as a lack of focus and cognitive clarity, or an inability to efficiently sort and recall information. Luckily, brain fog isn’t in itself a lasting medical condition, but a sign that something else is going on. Ahead, read about some top causes of brain fog so you can clear up the cloudiness and shine brighter on a daily basis.
1. Diet and Gut Health
Nutrition provides us with our energy, and that goes for mental energy. When we’re reading, performing difficult mental tasks, or thinking critically, our bodies are burning more calories to keep up with the cognitive exertion, so it’s important that we’re feeding ourselves well in order to do our best thinking. In order to avoid one of the most common reasons for brain fog, consume a nutritious diet rich in natural ingredients that support brain health.
Reach for high-energy foods
As our body works to process extra sugar and carbohydrates, our blood sugar levels spike and then crash, and it’s during this postprandial crash that many will experience the dreaded “food coma” or “2 p.m. slump.” To avoid sluggishness or cognitive difficulties after you eat, try to keep track of foods that leave you with high energy or low energy and adjust your eating habits accordingly. Try adding these foods that help with brain fog and see if you notice a difference.
Address nutritional deficiencies
It’s hard to keep up with all of the nutrients that our bodies need to have in balance. Aiming for adequate protein and around 30 different plants in your diet per week can be a good way to cover some nutritional bases. A diet high in whole foods and low in ultra-processed foods is the first step, but it’s important to get a regular blood work panel done in order to see where you could be coming up short. Whether you realize it or not, a vitamin deficiency may be the reason for your foggy brain and memory issues.
Consume essential fatty acids
Essential fatty acids are, no surprise, essential to brain health and nerve function, so it’s important to get healthy fats like Omega-3 and Omega-6 regularly since they can’t be synthesized by your body. Some of the best brain foods include nuts and seeds like walnuts, almonds, chia, and flax, as well as extra virgin olive oil and avocados.
Pay attention to probiotics
We share our gut with trillions of microorganisms — around 10x those present elsewhere in our body. When these gut flora are in balance, we can expect better overall health as a result. Specifically, there’s a direct link between our gut microbiome and our brain health, so it’s a good idea to ensure that our internal cultures are being supported with probiotics found in fermented foods like kimchi and kombucha.
Supplement with nootropics
In addition to the foods we consume in our diets, there are also potent plants we can look to for herbal support. While we might not be serving up adaptogenic herbs in our home cooked meals, a nootropic blend like Brain Dust® focus supplement can be a powerful way to support everyday cognitive function. In one teaspoon a day, this powder provides a potent blend of adaptogens and herbs:
- + Organic Lion's Mane is known to be neuroprotective*
- + Ginkgo supports speedy processing*
- + Rhodiola promotes alertness and concentration*
- + Organic Ashwagandha root promotes mental stamina and clarity*
- + Organic Astragalus known to promote healthy blood flow*
- + Organic Maca traditionally used to promote energy and memory function*
2. Lack of Exercise
When you’re feeling foggy, exercise could be the last thing you want to do. But the research is clear that making time for exercise will have positive impacts on your mental performance, including memory and focus. In one study of 144 people aged 19 to 93, a single 15-minute session of moderate exercise on a stationary bike improved cognitive performance across all ages. When brain fog hits, simple movements like jumping or skipping, or walking briskly around the block, could help you shake it off.
3. Lack of Sleep
No surprise here, but a lack of sleep can be the cause of mental sluggishness. Poor sleep quality and disrupted rest will affect how your brain works. For instance, one thing that happens when you sleep is that your brain is actually clearing away “waste” and releasing information you don’t need to hold onto so that you can start fresh the next day. If this doesn’t happen, it’s no wonder you might feel distracted, with disorganized thoughts during your waking hours. Try to get at least 8 hours of restful sleep every night in order to avoid brain fog and chronic fatigue.
Feeling brain fog out of the blue? Try drinking some water and see if that helps. Our brain is sensitive to imbalanced hydration, so when you lose more than 2 percent of water in your body, you might notice symptoms like a shorter attention span, memory problems, and worsened decision-making skills. If you continue to be dehydrated, your brain cells can actually shrink in size, so it’s vital that you stay quenched.
5. Caffeine + Alcohol
If you’re used to having several cups of coffee each day, it’s possible that the caffeine isn’t giving you the same energy that it used to. If you’re brain fog despite keeping caffeinated, it could be a sign that it’s time to cut down or take a break. Letting your body readjust from the power of caffeine can be one step to reclaiming your energy when you’re faced with brain fog. Consider healthier alternatives to energy drinks and coffee next time you're looking for an energy boost.
It goes without saying, but alcohol and other mood-altering substances can also impair your mental clarity, both during use and later during a hangover. And remember that alcohol use significantly affects your sleep, so when it’s important to show up clear-headed, consider avoiding booze the night before.
Chronic stress, burnout, and overexertion are all culprits when it comes to brain fog. When your brain is already overworked, it becomes harder than usual to think critically and focus.
As a survival mechanism, the stress response can increase electrical activity in the fast-reaction part of your brain so you can deal with the “danger” at hand. But this can cloud your ability to rationalize, slow down, and focus, so that your thinking becomes foggy as a result. Stress also suppresses the hippocampus, or the memory and learning part of your brain, making it difficult to store and retrieve useful information.
7. Medical Conditions
Medical conditions, injury, and autoimmune disorders can also contribute to a feeling of brain fog. As such, brain fog can be symptomatic of an underlying issue or health condition. Any time you have a fever, you could experience temporary brain fog. If your brain fog becomes debilitating and goes beyond your standard mental fatigue, talk to your doctor, as it could be a sign of something more serious.
8. Life Cycle Stages
Brain fog is often reported during pregnancy, PMS, and menopause. When our bodies are meeting our monthly cycle or transitioning to a new life cycle, these internal changes can take a temporary toll on our mental faculties. In fact, around 50-80 percent of pregnant women have reported short-term memory issues and other cognitive problems during pregnancy.
Sleep deprivation as the result of pregnancy or hot flashes can be one reason for brain fog, while a pregnant person’s placenta can also produce hormones that cause them to feel distracted or blurry.
Modern medications can be much needed, but they also come with side effects. Meds like antihistamines, pain pills, bladder control drugs, and sedatives are all commonly associated with brain fog as a side effect. And if you’re on multiple prescription drugs at once, the chemicals can interact and exacerbate brain fog symptoms in unpredictable ways. If prescriptions could be the cause of your brain fog, talk to your doctor and holistic health care providers about a path forward.
10. Environmental Toxins
Toxins and endocrine disruptors in your house from mold, pet dandruff, and even harsh cleaning supplies can harm your health and cause brain fog. For instance, you might experience “chemical overload” and impaired neurobehavioral function after overexposure to harmful agents in household cleaning products from detergents to bleach.
11. Social Media Use
Studies have shown that social media use can affect your attention capacity and memory and information processing. The constant influx of information predisposes us to distraction and makes us less able to focus on one task, shortening our attention span.
Research also suggests that social media use affects our transactive memory, hindering how we organize and store information. In addition to receiving information in the form of feeds and explore pages, we’re also receiving information about that information in the forms of likes, comments, and other engagements.
Consider setting app limits and downtime on your phone or computer to keep you accountable, and replace social media time with reading, which has been shown to improve memory and focus, or brain-boosting games like crossword puzzles.
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Confusion, forgetfulness, and distraction are all inevitable at times — but if these symptoms have been significant enough for you to Google search “why do I have brain fog,” it’s time to tease out the possible causes!
Brain fog is more than just your normal fatigue at the end of the day or fuzziness before you’ve had your morning coffee. When it’s disrupting your daily life, mental sluggishness can be symptomatic of something serious, or point to lifestyle changes you might need to make in your diet or habits.
Aside from reviewing bloodwork, medications, and underlying health issues, there are some everyday habits you can adopt to help you boost your mental performance. Practicing proper sleep hygiene in order to get a full 8 hours of sleep per night, limiting alcohol, minimizing stress, reducing your screen time, and getting plenty of movement can all help clear up fogginess.
Your diet also plays a key role. Focus on feeding yourself high-energy, whole foods low in empty carbohydrates. Eating brain-healthy foods like minerals and healthy fats can further protect your mental wellness and prevent cognitive dysfunction. Finally, supplementing with a potent nootropic blend like Brain Dust® can help you combat the adverse effects of stress on your cognitive function.
- Harvard Health Publishing, Stuck in a brain fog? Look in your medicine cabinet. https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/stuck-in-a-brain-fog-look-in-your-medicine-cabinet
- Hogan, C. L., Mata, J., & Carstensen, L. L. (2013). Exercise holds immediate benefits for affect and cognition in younger and older adults. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3768113/
- Firth, J. et al (2019). The "online brain": how the Internet may be changing our cognition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6502424/
- Kilburn K. H. (2003). Brain but not lung functions impaired after a chlorine incident. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14620664/
- Meshi, Dar, et al (2015), The Emerging Neuroscience of Social Media. https://smnlab.msu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Meshi_2015_TICS.pdf
- National Institutes of Health, Omega-3 Fatty Acids https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Omega3FattyAcids-Consumer/
- The Well, All About Pregnancy Brain https://thewell.northwell.edu/pregnancy/pregnancy-brain