Do you ever feel like in the middle of the work day you’ve expended your usefulness at work? After the caffeine rush has worn off, do you feel like you need a nap before you can do anything else productive? Your afternoon exhaustion or dip in energy isn’t just in your head — well, it is — but it’s a real issue called
brain fog, aka mental fog or clouding of consciousness. The symptoms of brain fog can vary, but it is characterized by fatigue, forgetfulness, poor memory, difficulty focusing, and overall decreased mental performance while working or performing tasks. Though anyone can suffer a bout of brain fog, it is routinely associated with chronic illnesses, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus, or Fibromyalgia (people who live with Fibromyalgia usually refer to brain fog as “ Fibro Fog”). Mental illnesses are also linked to more frequent episodes of brain fog.
"Imagine if you have injured a muscle and how sore it is to use. The same thing happens in the brain,"
Dr. Steven Gundry, MD, a cardiologist, author, and the medical director at The International Heart and Lung Institute Center for Restorative Medicine, tells Bustle.
While there is no official cause of brain fog, experts believe it can be influenced by number of factors, or a
combination of things. In addition to chronic illness, your sleep habits, hormones, and digestive health may play a role in worsening brain fog.
Fortunately, if you find yourself experiencing this type of mental exhaustion on the regular, small lifestyle changes can help you overcome this frustratingly fuzzy thinking. Here are seven ways to fight brain fog, according to science.
Studies have shown that sleep deprivation can have a profoundly
negative impact on your cognitive health — leading to memory problems, sluggishness, and changing how your brain functions at a cellular level (yes, really). Since brain fog is sometimes caused by fatigue, one of the most assured ways to cure a serious case of brain fog is by getting a good night’s rest. This means aiming to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep every night.
What's more, if you like to take naps, give it a go and give your brain a break. However, try to
limit your midday siesta to 20 minutes, since most experts agree napping for much longer than that can actually be detrimental to your health. Dusan Petkovic/Shutterstock
If your episodes of mental fatigue are frequent, it may be time to visit your doctor to rule out chronic illnesses commonly associated with brain fog. "It is essential to be tested. That way, your doctor can create a targeted treatment plan," Dr. Raphael Kellman, MD, the founder of
Kellman Wellness Center, says, adding that your physician will most likely test you for "phospholipid levels, omega levels, [and] possibly thyroid function."
Kellman says your doctor may recommend supplements, or incorporating more foods into your diets with "certain compounds that improve the brain, like
omega 3 and 6, phospholipids, magnesium, alpha GPC, [and] bacopa."
Change Your Diet To Include Brain-Boosting Foods
Gundry says that looking to the brain-gut connection can help explain brain fog. In fact, research has shown there's a
bilateral connection between your digestive health and mental health — meaning, if the healthy bacteria in your gut aren't happy, your brain probably won't be either (and vice versa). Try writing down your food intake along with your symptoms and note if any particular foods are associated with lower mental acuity.
While You're At It, Take Prebiotics and Probiotics
Since gut health can impact cognitive functioning, Kellman says to "improve the microbiome with diet, probiotics, [and] prebiotics" if you want to beat brain fog. According to the Mayo Clinic, both
prebiotics (aka, high-fiber foods that healthy gut bacteria feed on) and probiotics are naturally found in a variety of fruits, vegetables, and fermented foods you can find at pretty much every grocery store.
In some cases, your physician may recommend you take a
probiotic supplement to get an even wider array of healthy bacteria strains. However, it's important to note that some studies have shown probiotic supplements may not be effective for everyone, and they have been known to even cause brain fog due to an overgrowth of bacteria in the gut in some people. Just be sure to consult with your doctor before picking up a new supplement.
De-stress Your Life With Self-Care
"Stress or anxiety can be a cause [of brain fog]," says Kellman, so prioritizing
self-care is essential to beating mental fatigue. Meditation, taking a hot bath, and developing other healthy coping skills will help improve your mental health, and by extension, your brain fog. Even if you have a busy schedule, finding time for a few moments of mindfulness can be key: In fact, as The Conversation reported, a 2018 study discovered that just ten minutes of mindful meditation a day improved cognitive function. mimagephotography/Shutterstock
Sometimes the best way to clear your mind is by moving your body. According to Harvard Health, "The
benefits of exercise come directly from its ability to reduce insulin resistance, reduce inflammation, and stimulate the release of growth factors—chemicals in the brain that affect the health of brain cells, the growth of new blood vessels in the brain, and even the abundance and survival of new brain cells." What's more, a study published this past January discovered exercise can improve thinking skills in people as young as 20.
You don't need to do high intensity workouts, or go for a five-mile run everyday: Something as simple as a brisk
walk, or a short yoga session on your lunch break can do the trick.
Tune Out With A "Mindless" Activity
Zackary Drucker/The Gender Spectrum Collection
Next time someone gives you flack for watching an hour's worth of cat videos on YouTube (that's not only me, right?), just tell them you're treating your brain fog. No, seriously: As
Scientific American reported, previous studies suggested watching TV has negative health consequences, but mostly if watched in excess. As Forbes reported, taking a break from your responsibilities is healthy for your brain, and boosts overall productivity. Taking the occasional hour to watch a mindless show or play a video game, and slow down your thinking is beneficial — especially when brain fog can be exacerbated by anxiety, and chronic stress.
When you are experiencing brain fog, finding the motivation to do some of these activities may be difficult in the moment. However, your brain will thank you for taking the time to slow down, and smell the metaphorical roses. Brain fog is definitely frustrating, but by adopting a few lifestyle changes, and speaking with your doctor, you can give yourself the boost you need to beat the mental exhaustion.
This post was originally published on November 1, 2017. It was updated on July 1, 2019.