Causes and Cures for a Fuzzy or Foggy Brain

If you feel like you have a premature case of Alzheimer’s or a nasty hangover that refuses to go away, you just might be experiencing brain fog.

Feeling dazed, confused, and forgetful? Are focus dips, memory glitches, mental fatigue, headaches, a rapidly shrinking attention span and persistent sleep problems an everyday reality for you?

As unpleasant as they are, these symptoms aren’t necessarily a sign of untimely dementia or a nervous breakdown approaching at full speed. They may just be a side-effect of brain fog. In the fast-paced world we live in, foggy brain is an increasingly common problem and it can be a result of a wide range of organic and lifestyle-related factors.

While forgetfulness, confusion, and problems focusing aren’t a major health concern that can jeopardise your life, brain fog can chip off big chunks of your work productivity, social life, and overall quality of life. Just imagine occasionally forgetting to pick up the kids from school – or occasionally forgetting you have kids at all (okay, maybe not as drastic, but you get the point!) So, how do you know you have brain fog, what are its most common causes, and how can the condition be efficiently treated?

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Telltale needles in the mental haystack

The list of symptoms that may point to brain fog isn’t definitive, but experts have come up with about a dozen indicators which are commonly used to diagnose the condition, especially if they coincide or persist for extended periods of time. These symptoms include:

  • difficulties communicating and expressing your thoughts clearly (verbally or in writing)
  • problems concentrating on cognitively challenging tasks
  • a decline in work productivity or intellectual performance
  • a slowdown or impairments in decision-making processes
  • an erratic, disorganised, and/or interrupted train of thought
  • an increased frequency of errors in mentally demanding tasks
  • feelings of fatigue, drowsiness, inertia, and mental confusion
  • a sharp drop in cognitive faculties or full-scale cognitive impairments
  • a gradual decrease in learning and critical thinking abilities
  • forgetfulness and memory problems
  • a reduced attention span
  • a decline in social skills
  • poor rationalisation
  • depression, lethargy, energy dips or procrastination

The symptoms above can be preceded, accompanied, or followed by nervousness, anxiety, fear, panic, and high stress levels. Acute brain fog episodes can set in suddenly and intensify without warning, and unless diagnosed and remedied timely, can persist in a mild form for hours or days on end. If left unattended for long periods of time, brain fog can contribute to the onset or aggravation of various other psychological conditions, which is why you should take steps to identify it and establish its underlying causes, before the situation gets out of hand.


The most common causes of foggy brain

Most psychological hitches are the result of several different factors at play, and fuzzy brain isn’t an exception. Brain fog can be a side-effect of certain medications or medical conditions, but it can also be lifestyle and/or diet related. Here’s a quick overview of the most common causes, you might want to check out if you’ve ticked off more than three mind fog symptoms listed above.

1. Sleep problems

If you’re having difficulties falling (and staying) asleep, your mind can easily grow fuzzy ‘round the edges. Optimally, you should strive to get 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep every night, so that your grey matter can have enough time to recover and replenish. Failure to get enough sleep on one or two nights in a row won’t lead to brain fog right off, but if an odd sleepless night evolves into a full-scale disorder, such as insomnia or sleep apnea, chronic sleep deprivation can result in a decline in cognitive faculties, focus dips, daytime drowsiness, and mental fog.

2. High stress levels

Life in the 21st century can be more stressful than an average Jane and Joe can handle. As a multitasker trying to juggle responsibilities while struggling with high stress levels at work or in your immediate environment, you’ll be at a higher risk of developing brain fog. The same is true for individuals who have recently experienced a psychological trauma, such as a loved one’s passing or domestic abuse. Still, note that normal everyday stress levels won’t result in mental clouds all by themselves. If your cognitive function dips even though daily stress hasn’t budged an inch, it may be a symptom of another underlying brain fatigue cause at play, which you’ll need to address shortly.

3. It’s in your menu

In some cases, nutritional deficiencies can contribute to the onset of brain fog or lead to its aggravation. If you’re having problems focusing, following conversations, or recalling information, you should check your daily intake of magnesium, vitamin B12, iron, and essential amino acids. Allergies and intolerances to certain foods (particularly gluten and additives such as aspartame, sucralose, and monosodium glutamate) can also make your head feel fuzzy. The same goes for dehydration and diets low in brain-friendly carbs and healthy fats: if you want your brain to work, you need to feed it right.

4. Diabetes

Glucose may be the primary source of energy for the brain, but frequent or intense blood sugar fluctuations can result in brain fatigue and make your head feel foggy. For this reason, diabetes patients stand a higher risk of brain fog and related psychological hitches, such as depression and bipolar disorder. Apparently, too much sugar is no better for your brain than too little of it; as with everything in life, balance is the key to a clear brain and no mental clouds in sight.

5. Pregnancy

Studies have found pregnant ladies often experience impaired memory and cognition, due to altered bodily chemistry and hormone level oscillations. Fortunately for future moms, the fuzzy head feeling is short-lived and will go away as soon as a normal hormonal balance is restored post-delivery. (Unfortunately, pregnancy brain will soon be replaced by the stress of keeping the helpless human being in your care alive and out of harm’s way).

6. Menopause

Apart from pregnancy, menopause is another period in a lady’s life when brain fog is all too real a risk. It’s a well-known fact that hormonal fluctuations in menopause result in hot flashes and mood swings, but a 2009 study has found hormonal changes in this stage of life can also lead to memory problems and brain function dips. Menopause-related cognitive glitches usually set in about a year after the last period (i.e. at the age of 48-54), but fuzzy brain symptoms caused by hormonal factors in most cases disappear once the menopausal transition is over.

7. Depression

What came first, depression or brain fog? It can be difficult to establish whether brain fog is the result of depression and consequent cognitive underperformance, loss of motivation, and low energy levels, or vice versa. Unless the cause of the psychological hitch is identified and treated, brain fog and depression can evolve into a vicious cycle, which can be quite literally impossible to break out of. On top of that, a 2015 study conducted by a team of University of Michigan Medical School and Depression Center researchers has found that conditions such as bipolar disorder can lead to fuzzy thinking.

8. Neurological disorders

Certain neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and lupus have brain fog for a side-effect. The disorders which hinder communication between the central nervous system and the rest of the body, such as multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia, are characterised by attention span and mental performance dips, learning and communication difficulties, and memory hitches. Other medical conditions, such as chronic fatigue syndrome and lupus, can also contribute to confusion, mental sluggishness, concentration drops, and memory hitches.

9. Cancer treatment

Chemotherapy does kill cancer cells, but it takes a toll on brain power, too. Sometimes referred to as chemo brain, memory problems, problems concentrating, and cognitive issues which often afflict cancer patients on chemotherapy are in most cases short-lived, but they can still punch a deep hole in a person’s mental function. In most cases, the patient will fully recover from chemo brain relatively quickly upon the completion of treatment, but under certain circumstances, the fuzzy head feeling can persist for longer stretches of time due to the trauma of having cancer in the first place.

10. Certain medications

The pharmaceutical industry has reached vertiginous heights, but every medication still carries a certain risk. The use of prescription and over-the-counter blood pressure medicines, painkillers, and allergy reliefs such as Benadryl and Tylenol PM can result in confusion, short-term memory decline, and problems focusing. To stay on the safe side of the counter, you should inquire about the potentially negative side-effects of the medication in advance. Also, you should immediately contact your doctor if you notice the symptoms of mental function or memory drops once you start taking the medicine.


How to treat a fuzzy brain or brain fog

To keep your brain strong, fit and up for tough mental challenges even on less than stellar days, you should take steps to nip fuzzy head symptoms in the bud before they become chronic. If you’re looking to get the biggest cognitive bang out of your brain power, try these simple tricks and keep clouds out of sight – and out of mind, too.

1. Count your Zzzs, not sheep

Studies show that sleep is essential to the long-term smooth running of brain engines. If you periodically experience problems falling asleep or tend to wake frequently at night, you should limit your daily caffeine intake and take a break from 21st-century technology at least for a few days. By disconnecting from the web, you’ll regain inner peace, improve sleep quality, and extend restorative sleep sessions, all of which will help you recharge your brain and body, boost cognitive performance, and keep brain fog at bay.

2. Pick up the no-gluten plate

The easiest way to keep allergy-induced fuzzy head symptoms at bay is to ditch gluten and other allergens. By switching to a gluten-free diet, you’ll prevent brain fog, dial up your cognitive function, reduce your daily calorie intake, nudge weight loss onto the speedy lane, and promote toxin-flushing from your organism by a single dietary blow. To take your brain game to the next level, you can also go off dairy for a couple of weeks: it will help prevent cross-reactivity and minimize the damage to your digestive tract, allowing your gut flora to heal and strengthen and thus indirectly secure long-term brain and body health.

3. Clean up your dietary act

Apart from flushing gluten from your menu, you can also spring-clean your dietary act of simple sugars, such as refined sugar and starches. Reducing your simple carb intake will help you lose weight, ensure long-term physical and psychological wellbeing, and boost brain functions at the same time. To keep mental clouds at bay and max out brain gains, reach for second helpings of Omega-3, -6 and -9 fatty acids, magnesium, and complex B vitamins and up your daily water intake: that should be enough to keep your brain cells well-fed and optimally hydrated.

4. Stock up on brain boosters

To keep fog and fatigue away from your brain on super-busy days, try multivitamins and natural brain boosters. While multivitamin supplements will patch up the micronutrient gaps in your nutritional agenda, mind-boosting dietary supplements such as Omega-3, spirulina, magnesium, arctic root, citicoline, gotu kola, and vinpocetine will help you make the most of your brain power. It may also be a smart move to increase your daily intake of fresh fruit, vegetables and herbs: after all, natural nutrients are the best food for your brain and body.

5. Keep stress levels in check

They don’t call stress the silent killer of the 21st century for no reason. A multi-edged sword you should keep tabs on if you want to stay in peak physical and psychological shape, stress is a chief factor that can contribute to the development or aggravation of mind fog, depression, anxiety, and various other psychological problems. To stay on the sane side of the mental agenda, you should learn a few stress management techniques and take other proactive measures to reduce daily stress levels and thus prevent or alleviate brain fog.

6. Lay off the smokes and alcohol

Alcohol and nicotine aren’t only bad for your physical health: they’re a serious brain hazard, too. If you want to do your brain health a favor, lay off the tobacco and spirits: it’ll help minimize the release of free radicals in your body and hack lasting beauty and mental function by a single blow. Bonus point: by boarding the alcohol- and nicotine-free boat, you’ll get to save a lot of cash down the road, which you’ll be able to invest in books, language courses and other brain-friendly recreation options.

7. Take brain clouds for a walk

When clouds start to crowd your mind, it’s time to put on your boots made for walking and take your brain out for a hike. Regular physical activity is one of the most efficient deterrents to mind fog, as it sharpens mental faculties, promotes blood flow, and boosts the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the brain. Who’d have thought regular gym workouts can help you build peak shape fast, both figure- and brain-wise? If you’re not a huge fan of barbells, you can try outdoor sports such as cycling, running, or mountain climbing and dial up your cognitive functions equally efficiently.

8. Check you medicine cabinet

If you feel like your mind’s under the weather, it may be a smart idea to go over the medications and supplements you’ve started using of late, just to stay on the safe side of the pill tab. It would also be wise to educate yourself about the adverse side-effects of the medications you’re using, in case you haven’t done it so far. You should also run regular medical checkups, to ensure there are no underlying health issues that can contribute to the onset of mental fog.

9. Meditate in a healthy direction

If stress is rocking your brain’s boat and clouding your judgment, you should consider signing up for yoga or meditation classes. Not only will an Ommm session a day chase away dark brain clouds, it will also boost your mental clarity, improve your focus, unleash creative potential, and dial up sleep quality, while enhancing your physical health and emotional wellbeing. The best part? You can meditate whenever and wherever brain fuzz strikes home.

10. Take a brief break to reboot

High workplace stress levels are a force to be reckoned with, especially if they become chronic. If you notice your work productivity dropping, step back and consider taking some time off. Your brain needs time to rest and replenish, so that your output can remain as high as ever, despite rising fatigue and stress in the mix. If your brain cells are running on empty, you’ll only risk even greater stress and thicker brain fog, so don’t let it happen, for the sake of your physical and mental health and future financial safety.

Brain fog is an increasingly common problem nowadays: all work, a low-quality diet, and little play can take a heavy toll on brain cells, which is why you should be aware of the symptoms of brain fog and the best way to put an end to the issue as soon as you detect it. Don’t take confusion, mental fatigue, concentration hitches, and memory problems lightly.

It is up to you to take action to stay on the sharp side before the fog becomes too thick to handle. From the team at Lucid; be smart, and do your best to stay that way. After all, you only get one brain per lifetime, so try to keep it fit!

In case you couldn’t tell, we at Lucid are passionate about body betterment, neuro-enhancement, productivity & focus. To be kept up to date on any other blogs or infographics, add yourself to our community mailing list.

Aaron Weller

Aaron is the CEO & Co-Founder of Lucid. He brings a wealth of business smarts and startup experience to the team and is heading up the launch of future growth of the company.