Brain fog affects many healthy young and middle-aged people.
And while there are many illnesses and medications that can contribute to muddled thinking, that isn’t what I’m talking about today. I’m talking about otherwise healthy people who suspect that they are living under a cloud that compromises their mental clarity. They just don’t feel as sharp as they used to. They are always thinking with a “tired brain” Maybe they even find themselves frequently misplacing their keys or losing their train of thought. If you have this general feeling that your brain isn’t working as efficiently as it should, this post is for you.
A great way to handle brain fog is figure out what might be causing it. Because brain fog just isn’t just a “natural part of aging”. You’ll meet 80 and 90-year-olds who are as mentally sharp as a 30-year-old. But there are a few easy things to look for that can be making your thinking ability and your memory less than perfect
Your sleep is lacking in quantity or quality
Sleep is a time when your brain stores memories. And if sleep deprivation has become a way of life, it isn’t surprising to see how this might be affecting your memory. The important point is that it isn’t just those who are missing hours of sleep who might have their memories affected. Those who have poor quality of sleep may also find themselves thinking kind of foggy.
A study published in 2013 from the University of California, Berkeley shows that getting into a deep stage of sleep can by instrumental in moving memories from short term memory in the hippocampus to long term memories in the brain’s cortex. Without enough deep sleep, clarity of thinking starts to suffer. Click here for tips on how to get a good night’s sleep to alleviate brain fog and keep your memory in tip-top shape.
You aren’t getting as much protein as your think
Amino acids found in protein are instrumental in making many of the neurotransmittors that relay information from the brain to the rest of the body. If one of the key messengers of the brain malfunctions, it makes sense that brain fog would follow. The thing that’s tricky is that many are unaware of how little protein they eat.
When I look at my client’s food diaries, I’ll often see just a few ounces of meat. And there will be a large amount of carbohydrates. If you experience brain fog, you may want to try increasing your protein consumption. Additionally, vegetarians should be aware that vitamin B-12, lacking in vegetarian diets, is an essential nutrient for proper neurotransmittor function. So if you are eating a diet without animal protein, you must get vitamin B-12 it in another ways or the brain will suffer.
You’ve been stressed out for way to long
Everybody is stressed from time to time and that is a normal part of life. But many of us are experiencing extremely high levels of stress on a constant basis and this is when things get a little murky. Constant long term stress causes inflammation and hormonal imbalance, both of which have a side effect of brain fog.
If you find that you’re often stressed, you’ve probably already noticed an affect on your brain function. Personally, I’m becoming more and more a fan of meditation as a valuable tool for vibrant health. Youtube is a good place to start for free meditation videos, and I would also recommend the Omvana app to meditation newbies. You’ll get free meditations that can be done a few minutes at a time to help develop your practice.
Your blood sugar is imbalanced
I know that I tend to blame imbalanced blood sugar on a lot of things. But it is a growing problem, and even people who are outwardly skinny can still be suffering from blood sugar problems. Imbalanced blood sugar causes inflammation in the body as well as a spike in stress hormones. That’s right.. An imbalanced diet can create an excess of the same stress hormones associated with mental anxiety. So for someone suffering from brain fog, going back to basics in the diet is a must. This means that the focus should be on lots of healthy fruits and vegetables. It should be good, clean sources of protein. And there should be healthy fats like coconut oil, avocado, seeds and nuts.
You’ve neglected your digestive system
Digestion is more important to total body function than most people realize. And a digestive imbalance can cause more problems than just indigestion. In fact, inflammation is one of the first bodily reactions when there is any type of digestive disturbance. And just like with stress, the end result of this is very often brain fog.
Healing digestive issues is complex. But one of the best things to do is eat extra fruits and vegetables for their needed fiber and antioxidants. It is advisable to fill half of your plate with vegetables at every meal. Substituting whole grains for refined carbohydrates increases fiber intake and is easier on the digestive system. Additionally, eat good fats with a focus on omega-3s, flax seed oil, and coconut oil. Supplementing with a good quality probiotic can also be extremely helpful. Finally, taking a temporary break from common problem foods like dairy, eggs and wheat will often do wonders for the workings of the digestive system.
Please keep in mind…
If you are noticing brain fog for the first time, it is important to first pay a visit to your doctor. That way you can rule out anything else in your health that might need your attention. There are some more serious reasons why your thinking may be a little fuzzy.
Otherwise, small changes can ease brain fog and help raise that cloud under which you’re living. And if you’re still young enough to think that this is a problem you’ll handle later in life, don’t do that to your future self. It is better to get your body back into balance now. You don’t want a larger hurdle to get past later. Memory lapses or cloudy thinking aren’t “normal” at any age. So if you’re feeling the effects of brain fog, look to make some simple changes for a clearer tomorrow.
Jacqueline Gum says
Wow! This was really informative. Too many times, people blame brain fog on the aging process. I will say that sleep has so much to do with my brain fog! And that is something that seems to have affected me as I have grown older. Trying to combat that naturally at the present time. I’m aware of the protein, but I never thought about sugar or the digestive system. One thing I do every day is brain games:) Honestly, I have noticed a difference!
Jacqueline, sugar really interrupts sleep as well, so it can contribute to brain fog in more than one way. Yes, brain games are great. I’ve heard they are also really good in helping prevent against dementia as theyget older which a whole other growing problem in society.
Donna Janke says
Sleep, stress, and diet can certainly be factors in brain fog. I think I’ve had every one of the causes you’ve mentioned at some point in my life. Good post. We too easily shrug brain fog off as part of aging.
Donna, I always tell my husband that just because a lot of people experience something doesn’t mean it is “normal”. It is up to us as individuals to decide that we want better for ourselves and then take action.
I am a culprit of sleeping too few hours. I sleep on average five hours a night. My body has adjusted but I often feel tired. As I have young children, I do a lot of blogging, networking and working on my business late into the night. I also like to watch my favourite programmes as this is my only free time.
I agree that a bad diet can make you feel sluggish. I am low carbing at present along with walking. It has done me the world of good.
Wow, Phoenicia, 5 hours a night is very little. I think if you could work it up to at least 6 hours, you would do a lot better.
Marquita Herald says
Really interesting Erica! Like many others my biggest challenge is in the sleep department. When I’m up against a deadline I have a really hard time sleeping and easily fall into the habit of sleeping a couple of hours then getting up and working for awhile and then sleeping again, then back up. Then when I’ve met my deadline I’ll literally fall into bed and sleep for a whole day. Crazy I know but I’ve been that way my whole life – it’s how I survived working and going to college – so not sure I know how to quit. I thought when I was finally able to afford an assistant I wouldn’t feel the need to push myself so hard but that didn’t happen. I think I need to get a hobby, or maybe take a vacation. 🙂
Marquita, I’ve literally gotten to the point in my life when I schedule sleep. It is in my schedule, just like everything else. And I also give myself time to wind down. You are probably working right up until lights out which contributes to it being difficult to sleep. And if the overachiever in you still won’t let you sleep, remind yourself how much more productively you’ll work when you aren’t battling being tired.
To my great surprise I found out four years ago that I had hypothyroidism. Had never even heard about it before but it turns out it’s genetic and comes from my grandmother’s family. My cousin has it as well. Until you get the right amount of medication you get brain fog and believe me it’s both scary and horrible. You are aware that your brain is not working as it should. But even when you get the right amount of medication your brain is not perfect. What you have to do is keep a strict diet excluding meat, dairy product, wheat, barley, oats, rye. sugar and so forth. Then you get rid of brain fog. It’s worth mentioning because 500 million people in the world have hypothyroidism, often without knowing.
Catarina, thank you for sharing your story. You are a perfect example of why I say to see a doctor first. Because there are symptoms that can be an indication of something serious or they can be nothing. And it is really important to rule out the serious first.
Beth Niebuhr says
I can tell how much sleep I got last night by how easily I accomplish my tasks today. Too many people consider stress to be inevitable and don’t give themselves time to refresh by tuning out their distractions and turning off their phones. Great article.
Thank you, Beth. I think it can be challenging to turn off distractions. But as you said, the benefits can be worth it.
Sabrina Quairoli says
Great post Erica. I struggle with brain fog a lot when I was younger until I realized that my blood sugar was low whenever it happened. So, now I try to eat healthy snacks ever few hours and I have a great dairy-free kale and blueberries protein drink I drink in the morning that helps me stay sharp. Not sure why blueberries work great for me, but it does, so I go with it. =) Thanks for sharing!
Sabrina, they do say the blueberries are brain food! I think the protein from the shake probably makes you feel better too. A good source of protein in the morning can do wonders for how you feel.
Pamela Chollet says
I’ve recently began adding more protein to my diet and I have notice major changes. I felt this dull cloud of heaviness from the time I woke up until noon. I started having protein in the morning and I can’t believe the difference. I can feel more energy and clarity as soon as I finish breakfast . I was under the impression that eating healthy was the key. But, I’m discovering, it’s eating the right kind of healthy foods at the right time is the formula.
Pamela, I love how you say “the right kind of healthy foods”. I think Americans have been led wrong by being told that a bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice is a wholesome, healthy breakfast. As you noticed, protein in the morning will really make such a difference. I’m glad to hear that it has been improving your mornings.
William Rusho says
I know for me, my mind becomes cloudy and less clear when I am out of shape.
When I am a regular workout schedule, I am sharp. But as soon as I take some time off, I notice I forge where I put my car keys, sometimes where I put the car.
Thanks for sharing this with us.
That is a good point, William. Exercise will definitely help your body work more effectively which can include the brain. We don’t think of “working out our brains”, but we do.
Meredith @ The Palette Muse says
For me, brain fog was the main indication of my thyroid problem, so I agree that it’s really important to work your way through all these possible causes to see if you can make it better. It was only after I told my doctor that I knew it wasn’t related to any of these things that she realized something else must be going on. It pays to pay attention to what your body is trying to tell you!
Thyroid problems for women are so common. And they say that there are many women living with subclinical hypothyroidism. Their blood tests come back normal, but they are still experiencing symptoms. I’m glad you finally got it figured out so you didn’t have to keep suffering.
Ken Dowell says
At my age (65) it is easy to think that every problem you encounter, like brain fog, is just about getting older and there is not much you can do about it. Memory is an especially odd thing. Sometimes I’ll forget the name of something that I have used thousands of times. But then other times I’ll remember ridiculous things like my driver’s license number. Will keep this information in mind. (I’m still working on cutting down sugar after last week’s post.)
Yay…glad to hear you’re working on sugar! The brain is funny, isn’t it? I sometimes remember really ridiculous things as well. Though I’m really impressed with the driver’s license number. Seriously, I don’t even know my license plate number.
Mahal Hudson says
These are great points Erica! Thank you for always empowering us to love ourselves by being mindful about our health.
I do experience brain fog from time to time, I think. I know that stress has been a factor. Also, I need to be mindful about my diet especially with my sugar intake.
I love how you put it – empowering us to love ourselves. That’s a great way to look at it and I’m definitely going to steal that!
I didn’t realize there were so many things that could be impacting my brain! I’ve recently started to realize that brain fog state, but I’ve been blaming it on mom brain. I think I’m going to start working through these- starting with sleep and stress. Thanks Erica!
Caitlin, I’m sure there is such a thing as Mom brain. Though I imagine it results from a combination of stress (even if you’re enjoying every moment) and exhaustion.
Great article Erica as the fog in my brain seems to have thickened these last few weeks as I try to juggle too many things at once. Sleep is a major factor I know so will try and sort that out.
Tim, I think lack of sleep is a common theme. Somehow we feel that if we are short on time, sleep is the thing that has to go.
Lack of sleep is certainly my nemesis, but I tend to do well without eight hours of sleep. I can’t even remember the last time I slept that long. Stress was the one that used to make my brain feel burdened and foggy, but freelancing has decreased my stress levels significantly.
They’ve been coming out with studies lately that say that not everybody needs 8 hours a sleep. In fact, I just read about a study that looked at tribal people who live much more similarly to our ancestors and they were only sleeping 6 1/2 hours a night, though they were sleeping completely through the night without ever waking. The important thing to note when you wake in the morning is if you feel completely rested.
I know for me that I need to sleep more. I go to bed late and wake up early which is a no no. I also need to cut down on my carb intake. These are great points Erica! Thank you so much for sharing x
It’s good to at least have an understanding of why you’re feeling a certain way. That way, even if you don’t make changes, you are aware.
I love this post, I can relate to it a lot. My two key for irritation is extreme allergies and lack of sleep, this causes me to walk around brain dead (not literary God forbid) extremely exhausted. as a result i get extra cranky, over react and cry a lot. Thanks for this post LOVE IT!