Having brain fog is a phenomenon in which it takes us more effort to focus and respond than what we think is reasonable. While it isn’t a medical condition, brain fog can feel similar to the effects of sleep deprivation and impair our daily lives.
What is brain fog?
The term brain fog is used by individuals to describe a mental state of sluggishness, fuzziness, or lack of mental clarity. It is characterized by a decrease in memory, attention, alertness, and word retrieval (Stoneridge Centers, n.d.), but these symptoms can vary from person to person. We all get to experience brain fog at some point in our lives. You might have had that fuzzy state after pulling out an all-nighter to study for your finals, or you might have had those times when you couldn’t because you were sick, or you probably had that hazy feeling after you finished those countless tasks you have for work. However, if your thinking hasn’t returned to normal after taking a break and if these challenges have started to interfere with your life for a prolonged period, this may already be an indication of an underlying condition or disorder (San Francisco Neuropsychology, 2020).
The causes and treatment of brain fog
Just like its symptoms themselves, the causes of brain fog can vary in each individual. However, these causes can be usually traced to a lifestyle that gives rise to hormonal imbalances (Bangkok Hospital, n.d.). A few of the most common causes of brain fog include:
Stress: Prolonged periods of stress can cause reduced blood flow to the brain, while elevated levels of stress can cause an increase in the body’s stress hormone called cortisol (Torres, 2020). Both of these conditions can exhaust the brain and negatively affect memory and cognitive functions. Chronic stress can also trigger low-grade inflammation in the brain, which can cause fatigue and a worsened mood in the individual (Chatterjee, 2021).
Diet and nutrition: Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can contribute to brain fog. A poor diet with cobalamin or vitamin B12 deficiency has been found to cause memory loss and hazy thoughts (Stoneridge Centers, n.d.). Unhealthy diets consisting of refined sugar and saturated fat may also promote inflammation in the brain and upset hormonal balance, thereby causing fatigue and brain fog.
Poor sleep: A lack of sleep typically causes attention and memory problems. Getting insufficient sleep naturally leads to feelings of exhaustion, which can make thinking more difficult.
Medication: Medications such as painkillers and benzodiazepines are known to cause brain fog as a side effect. If you suspect this, you may consult with your doctor to lower the dosage or to shift to an alternative medication.
Medical conditions: Certain medical conditions such as anemia, depression, and multiple sclerosis that cause inflammation, fatigue, and blood sugar levels can cause brain fog. Patients who have a history of Covid-19 have also been found to experience brain fog (Leigh, 2022)
Treating brain fog
The type of treatment may depend on the cause of brain fog. Fortunately, some of its effects can be alleviated with lifestyle changes such as the following:
Getting proper sleep and having a healthy sleep regimen
Consuming a balanced, nutrient-rich diet.
Consulting a doctor to ensure that your diet meets all vitamin requirements
Avoiding the consumption of alcohol
Lowering your stress levels or finding healthy ways to cope with stress
Taking mental breaks during the day
Having proper brain function is crucial for our well-being and can largely determine how we can thrive as individuals. If you think that brain fog is negatively affecting the quality of your life, consulting a professional can help you identify its causes and address them to regain your mental clarity. If you need extra help, know that the BPS team is here to help you achieve good mental health.
Bangkok Hospital. (n.d.) Brain Fog: Solutions To Help You Improve Concentration. https://www.bangkokhospital.com/en/content/brain-fog-syndrome
Chatterjee, R. (2021, May 7). If your brain feels foggy and you're tired all the time, you're not alone. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/05/06/992401123/if-your-brain-feels-foggy-and-youre-tired-all-the-time-youre-not-alone.
San Francisco Neuropsychology. (2020, July 25). Brain Fog. https://sanfrancisconeuropsychology.org/blog/brain-fog/
Stoneridge Centers. (n.d.) What Is Brain Fog and How Does It Relate to Mental Illness? https://pronghornpsych.com/how-does-brain-fog-relate-to-mental-illness/
Torres, C. (2020, October 21). Brain Fog - What are the symptoms, causes, treatments, and COVID 19 medical effects on brain health? University of Medicine and Health Sciences. https://www.umhs-sk.org/blog/brain-fog
Leigh, S. (2022, January 18). Cerebrospinal fluid offers clues to post-Covid ‘brain fog’. University of California San Francisco. https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2022/01/422156/cerebrospinal-fluid-offers-clues-post-covid-brain-fog