In the modern world it’s easy to dismiss brain fog as an inevitable side effect of a busy lifestyle.
With so much to do, to juggle and to achieve plus our perception of little time to do it in, many of us have learned to live with and normalise the symptoms of brain fog. But these can worsen over time and become debilitating, affecting many aspects of life.
There are multiple factors which can contribute to and worsen the symptoms of brain fog. Addressing these individually can help you to tackle the root cause and alleviate, if not cure, your brain fog.
What is Brain Fog?
Brain fog is a type of cognitive dysfunction characterised by an inability to focus or concentrate, poor memory and lack of clarity. The severity and nature of brain fog varies from person to person but many report symptoms of insomnia, anxiety, fatigue, irritability and depression.
Left untreated, brain fog can cause a plethora of cognitive problems that make everyday tasks a challenge. The good news is there are lots of things you can do to help yourself and rule out more serious conditions that may be causing your symptoms.
Let’s take a look at five common causes of brain fog and what you can do to avoid them.
- Sleep Deprivation
Have you ever had to make the choice between getting enough sleep or finishing what you’re in the middle of?
It’s easy to convince yourself that you’ll survive with a few less hours shut-eye in favour of being more productive. However, poor sleep quality and lack of sleep in general are key causes of brain fog.
Sleep is as important for our bodies as eating, drinking and breathing. We need sleep to rest, recover and repair. But modern sleep cycles have strayed away from our ancestral natural sleep patterns, leaving us tired, irritable and more susceptible to brain fog.
Research has shown that a lack of sleep disrupts our brain cells ability to communicate with each other. This leads to temporary lapses in cognition which effect memory and visual perception – key components of brain fog.
Prioritising sleep and aiming for 6-8 hours each night should avoid these lapses – helping you to focus and feel more energised.
Stress is your body’s natural response to pressurised situations, which are all too common in modern life. Whether you’re worrying about work, family, money or health – reasons to feel stressed are never too far away. Sometimes just juggling everyday life is enough to exacerbate symptoms and contribute to brain fog.
When your mind feels stressed your body releases hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol as part of stress response system. Chronic activation of this system can impair health over time, including brain health.
Feeling stressed can leave you mentally exhausted, and your brain less able to think, reason and focus. Whilst it can be difficult to avoid some stressful situations, practicing self-help mechanisms such as meditation, relaxation and mindfulness can help to lower stress levels and lessen brain fog.
Nutritional deficiencies can present as a spectrum of symptoms, from fatigue to irritability to mood disorders. There is no doubt that nutrition and cognition go hand-in-hand, and that what we eat can promote healthy cognition and lessen brain fog. Vice-versa, not eating the right foods could deprive your brain of key nutrients and exacerbate your feelings of fog.
Macronutrients – Protein, carbohydrates and fat are needed in large amounts in the diet, hence macro! That’s because they’re our main source of energy. Diets eliminating any of these key food groups will leave you feeling tired, lacking energy and less able to concentrate.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Our brains are made up of 60% fat, most of this in the form of ‘docosahexaeonic acid’ or DHA – a type of Omega-3 fatty acid. Studies have shown that dietary intake of DHA promotes brain development and function and improves key aspects of cognition such as memory, learning and concentration.
Vitamins and Minerals – Falling short on micronutrient intake can cause similar symptoms to those experiencing brain fog – headaches, irritability, poor concentration and fatigue. A diet rich in fruit, vegetables, healthy fats and fibre will optimise nutritional intake and prevent deficiency.
- Hormonal Changes
Hormones are chemical messengers that play a part in most major bodily functions. They’re also heavily involved in the regulation of emotion, mood and cognition – meaning their balance can either improve or worsen symptoms of brain fog.
There are many reasons why hormonal balances will change over the course of a lifetime. Puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, certain medical conditions and the ageing process can all dramatically effect hormone production and control. Whilst some of these are unavoidable, knowing what is exacerbating your symptoms will only help you to manage them. Fluctuating hormone levels can affect memory, cognition and ability to focus.
Identifying a hormonal trigger for your brain fog can help you to manage your symptoms by addressing the root cause.
What’s more, knowing that whatever is making you feel so foggy is only temporary gives you some hope that your brain fog isn’t forever!
- Medical Conditions and their Medications
Needless to say, there are many medical conditions that can create symptoms of brain fog. What’s more, sometimes treating a medical condition can have added side effects that will worsen your symptoms.
Medications can make us drowsy, give us headaches and affect our sleep quality. If you have a chronic condition and find that your medication is creating brain fog, it may be necessary to explore alternative treatments.
Depending on which condition you have, establishing the root cause – rather than just focusing on alleviating symptoms – could be your way out of the fog.
Remember, persistent brain fog can also be an indication that something else is wrong. If you’ve worked through this list of five key causes and still can’t find a reason for your brain fog, it could be the case that your symptoms are a sign of an entirely different condition.
Brain fog can be contributed to and worsened by a number of factors. Knowing what triggers your brain fog is the first step to tackling it and living a life that is more focused, energised and productive.
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