Have you ever been sitting at your desk at work? Have you ever been sitting there at your desk?
“This desk is so messy.”
“This desk should be bigger.”
“I should buy a boat.”
“Wow, I need to get some coffee.”
Yes? Then you know the feeling. That ever-elusive, just can’t put your finger on it feeling of fog that comes over your brain at the most inconvenient times. Brain fog is a pretty common complaint, and not being able to think clearly can become quite disconcerting. You start to wonder. Do I have a brain tumor? Did I have a stroke? Is something seriously wrong with me?
Fortunately, there are a lot of not so serious causes of brain fog; however, if it persists, you should talk to your physician about it, especially if you take prescription medications. It may be as simple as making some adjustments to your medication regime.
What is Brain Fog?
According to SteadyMD Doctor and Whole30 coach, Rick Henrikson, “brain fog is the inability to have a sharp memory or to lack a sharp focus.You just really feel like you’re not yourself, and you’re unable to think clearly.”
It isn’t a disease or even a diagnosis; it is just a term used for specific symptoms that can affect your ability to think. Your thoughts may feel disorganized, making it difficult to concentrate or put your thoughts into words. As you can imagine, being a writer, brain health and mental clarity are essential to my job.
7 Causes of Brain Fog
Inflammation is the body’s way of protecting itself against harmful invaders. An army of cells and proteins deploys in response to illness or injury. If you cut yourself, this army immediately goes to the site of cut and fights off harmful bacteria that are trying to enter your body through the cut. Part of the army is fighting; part of the army is laying down a barrier to keep out invaders.
In cases of illness, the army is circulating in your bloodstream, fighting off harmful cells that have entered your body. It is a state of high alert for your system.
In some cases, the body remains on high alert after the invader has gone, and systemic inflammation is the result.
Systemic inflammation can cause:
- Body and joint pain
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Depression, anxiety, brain fog
- Constipation, diarrhea, acid reflux
- Weight gain or weight loss
- Frequent infections
Be sure to seek medical advice if you feel that you have chronic inflammation as long term inflammation can be detrimental to your health. Although there is no specific blood test for chronic inflammation, there are markers in your blood that can indicate inflammation is present. A medical professional will be able to monitor and treat chronic inflammation.
Medication Side Effects
Some drugs have a sedative effect and can cause chronic fatigue or brain fog symptoms. Some common medications include:
- Blood pressure medication
- Sleep aids
- Anti-anxiety medication
- Anti-nausea medication
- Chemotherapy for cancer
Also, taking several medications at once can lead to fog brain as those medications tend to interact with each other. Be sure that your doctor is aware of all the medicines you are taking. Take inventory of your medications regularly and speak with your doctor to make sure that each drug you are taking is still required to maintain your health.
Low Blood Sugar
You don’t have to be diabetic to experience changes in your blood sugar. There are two reasons that you might experience significant drips in blood sugar. Optimal health and memory function requires stable blood sugar levels.
- After eating a large meal that is high in carbohydrates:
Carbohydrates are broken down into different types of sugars in your body; one of them is Glucose. The primary energy source for your cells is Glucose, and the body produces insulin to help it get into your blood cells for transport. Sometimes your body will produce more insulin than your body needs for this task, causing your blood sugar to drop too low.
- When skipping meals:
If you skip meals a lot, and your blood sugar drops regularly, the brain stops telling the pancreas to produce insulin to keep your sugar from dropping too low. This can lead to dizziness, decreased concentration, loss of consciousness, and even death if it goes untreated.
Keep snacks on hand that provide carbohydrates, protein, and fat. Good examples of these are cheese and crackers, peanut butter and crackers, nuts, or yogurt.
Your brain contains about 75% water, having a full reserve of water is essential for optimal brain function. Not getting enough water causes the brain to function at a slow speed. Water delivers nutrients to the brain and carries away toxins. For this process to work, your body must be adequately hydrated.
Everyone has different water requirements depending on their height, weight, and body composition. The color and odor of your urine can provide the best clue as to whether you are drinking enough water. Ideally, your urine should be pale yellow with very little odor. If your urine is dark yellow or brownish and has a strong smell, you need to drink more water. Staying hydrated is essential to good health, optimal memory function and concentration.
Lack of Exercise (Physical and Mental)
Research from the University of British Columbia found that aerobic exercise specifically boosts the size of the hippocampus. The hippocampus is the part of the brain that is precisely involved in learning and memory function. You don’t have to go to the gym and do a power workout to feel the benefits of exercising. Going for a brisk walk will get your heart pumping and increase oxygen to your brain. Adding regular physical exercise to your health regimen can improve memory and combat fatigue syndrome. However, it is good practice to seek medical advice before starting any new type of exercise program.
Another type of exercise that people often forget is mental exercise. Just like your heart, your brain is an exercisable muscle. Reading provides a power workout for your brain, and you won’t even feel like you left the house. Studies show that people who read regularly showed a decreased incidence of brain lesions and reported less incidence of age-related memory decline.
Learn something new, do a crossword puzzle every day just keep your brain busy with things to figure out. That type of mental fatigue won’t cause brain fog; it will improve your brain health.
Lack of Sleep
According to the Centers For Disease Control, one in three people don’t get enough sleep. The amount of sleep isn’t the only factor, either. Good sleep health involves appropriate timing, a regular sleep schedule, and good quality sleep. People have varying sleep duration needs, but having a regular bedtime and making sure your sleep is optimal will stave off sleepiness and brain fog.
Studies conducted on patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome have found that sleep disorders are responsible for about 20% of cases of CFA. Patients were diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea, narcolepsy, or were diagnosed with an alternative sleep disorder at a three-year follow-up.
If you feel that you have healthy sleep habits, and are getting adequate sleep, but you still feel exhausted during the day, discuss this with your physician.
While exercising can increase the size of your hippocampus (the part of the brain involved in memory and brain function), the reverse is true for stress. Extended periods of acute stress causes the hippocampus to shrink.
Anxiety, in general, has been linked to feelings of detachment and brain fog. Learning methods of self-relaxation, such as meditation, guided imagery, self-hypnosis, journaling, and breathing exercises, will help improve stress levels. Yoga and exercising have also proved to reduce stress and anxiety.
Quick Fixes For Brain Fog
Despite all your best efforts, you may still find yourself sitting in a fog at times. Below is a list of some “quick fixes” that may help get you back on track:
- Chew some gum
- Drink some cold water
- Go for a brisk walk
- Expose yourself to sunlight
A Final Word
Regardless of the cause, brain fog is uncomfortable, disconcerting, and a downright nuisance when you are trying to work. Your healthcare provider will be able to rule out any underlying issues that may be contributing to your brain fog. Otherwise, adopting a healthy lifestyle filled with plenty of sleep, water, exercise, nutritious food, and stress management is the best option by far.