Brain fog is a term that is often used in articles in the popular press, particularly with reference to menopause, pregnancy, depression, celiac disease, lupus and Meniere’s disease. A spin off is also the so called ‘grain brain’ that is used to justify the current trend towards gluten-free diets. Brain fog is popularly accepted to mean a feeling of mild confusion, an inability to focus or pay attention and a concomitant forgetfulness. People who are recovering from TBI (traumatic brain injury) may also have similar symptoms. In their case the cause is usually recognised by their doctor but the same tips mentioned below are still applicable.
In medical terms, this is a phenomenon rarely recognised by doctors and is attributed to a wide range of things including anxiety, depression and the side effects of various medications. This can be very frustrating and demoralising for those who are experiencing this as they may feel that they are being treated as hypochondriacs.
If the professionals won’t help you, there are some things that you try doing to help yourself.
First of all, make sure you are eating properly. Low blood sugar can make it hard to concentrate and big meals can make you sleepy. Aim for mini meals and healthy snacks to keep blood sugar levels stable through the day and avoid sugar spikes with their inevitable plunging lows. Have a look at our article on memory and diet for some tips on how to eat better for brain health.
Secondly, resist the temptation to keep on topping up on coffee. Although coffee is a stimulant and can give your brain a boost, too much caffeine can make you jittery and affect your ability to concentrate. Like any other stimulant, your body becomes accustomed to it with time so you need ever more cups of coffee to get the same effect and in the end you are likely to be bouncing off the walls but still unable to concentrate. Try to wean yourself back to one cup first thing in the morning and another at midday to tide you through the afternoon. Later than that and it may affect your sleep.
Which brings us to the third thing. Go to bed at a regular time and aim to have an uninterrupted 7-8 hours sleep. Sleep is major maintenance time for your brain and people who go short on sleep can wind up with long term health problems including an increased risk for dementia. Avoid arguments, TV, computers and anything else that gets you agitated or over-stimulated in the hour before bedtime. Alcohol is also not good as there is a tendency to sleep until the alcohol wears off and then lie awake for hours afterwards. Rather aim to wind down with a warm bath, relaxation techniques, a good book and soft music. Unless you have elderly parents who might have a medical emergency in the night, there is no need to have your phone on and in the bedroom. Make your bedroom a technology free zone. Avoid sleeping tablets unless absolutely necessary as they can contribute that feeling of wooly-headedness the next day. Keep a notebook and pencil next to the bed. If you find that thoughts and worries are buzzing around, keeping you awake, try writing them down and prioritising them. The physical act of writing things down puts you back in control and tells your mind that the subject has been dealt with so you can go to sleep.
During daylight hours you can make use of that technology you banished from the bedroom by utilising calendar functions, alarms, alerts and memos on your smartphone or tablet to remind you of the various things that you need to do through the day. If you have a plan in place for reminders then you don’t have to stress about forgetting things – and stress is something that adds to that feeling of brain fog. You can also refer back to that notebook next to the bed to see if there is anything you can act on to ensure a better night’s sleep tonight.
Minimise distractions in your living and working environment so that your brain has the chance to focus on one task at a time. Multi-tasking is fine in theory but in practice it can be distracting. Having the TV on even when you aren’t actually watching a program, monitoring your social media feeds and listening to your colleagues chatter about the weekend all distract your attention from your main focus and can make you forgetful as you have not fully absorbed what you are supposed to be focussing on. If you establish a routine with specific times for doing daily chores like shopping for groceries, meal planning and so on, you won’t be thinking about these things while trying to concentrate on your work.
We hope that some of these tips help you to minimise your experiences of brain fog. This article is not a substitute for a consultation with your doctor so if you find that you are still struggling, please make an appointment with an appropriately qualified health care professional.