9 reasons you have brain fog and what you can do about it
One minute your productivity is skyrocketing and the next, your brain draws a blank and turns to mush as you struggle to focus.
Sound familiar? You're not alone.
Introducing brain fog – the condition that affects thousands of people every day.
So what exactly is brain fog and why does it occur?
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Clinical psychologist Ashley Craig describes it as "fatigue, reduced alertness, increased confusion and the unwillingness to continue being involved in a task".
Craig says brain fog can be the result of a multitude of factors, but is a medically backed condition that occurs when the brain isn't functioning well.
"When you become confused or tired the body begins to want to sleep and rest – what happens is that the brain's beta activity levels reduce and move into slow wave activity," said the Professor of Rehabilitation Studies at the University of Sydney Medical School and Kolling Institute of Medical Research.
Craig says it's important to note though, that fatigue or brain fog isn't the same thing as sleepiness and drowsiness. So what's triggering your fog? These are the nine factors.
1. YOUR BLOOD SUGAR IS IMBALANCED
"Glucose is the fuel used by our brain, muscles and body to function well and unlike skeletal muscles, the brain has no ability to store glucose so if we don't have a balanced supply of glucose, symptoms like confusion, forgetfulness and irritability can occur," says Gigi Cumbers, Sydney-based nutritionist at Hard Candy.
"By making sure we have well-balanced macronutrients throughout the day, this will deter a blood sugar spike.
"To do this, we need to consume sufficient portions of protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates at each meal and avoid things like caffeine on an empty stomach, high-carb low-fat meals and highly processed refined carbohydrates."
2. YOU'RE STRESSED OR DEPRESSED
An unhealthy work-life balance can majorly affect your brain's ability to be alert. Photo: 123RF
Long work hours, high pressure to perform and an unhealthy work/life balance could definitely be affecting your brain, big time.
"The brain is greedy in terms of oxygen. When you're stressed it requires more oxygen as it assumes you need to think better. So you get more and be temporarily alert however with time, chronic stress means we begin to take short cuts in all other areas of our lives because we're fatigued," says Craig.
"So even if we're not diagnosed as stressed or depressed, once we become tired and feel like we 'just can't do it', life becomes awful – motivation is gone, problem-solving capacity is reduced and you also don't feel like going out, so brain fog becomes an entity in its own right, which then can lead to depression."
While extremely common, Craig warns it can still be incredibly dangerous, so stay on top of it by taking a little "me time" out each day to rest and recover.
3. YOUR LATE-NIGHT FACEBOOKING IS TO BLAME
Blue light is proven to affect your sleep cycle. Photo: 123RF
Flicking through social media before bed might help you mentally wind down but physically it's wreaking havoc in your body.
"When it's dark and we flood our brain with light, it affects our circadian rhythm and leads to the dysfunctional release of melatonin, which over time destroys your normal sleep/wake cycle," says Craig.
And it's the blue light found in computer and smartphone screens in particular, that's proven to delay REM (rapid eye movement) sleep by an extra 30 minutes, according to the Department of Sleep Medicine in Germany.
It's adviseable for people to take a digital detox an hour before slumber.
4. YOU'RE NOT DRINKING ENOUGH WATER
Have the right amount of H2O in your system. Photo: 123RF
Sorry to say, but yes, that two litres a day can drastically affect you beyond general thirst.
"The cardiovascular system and brain require stable blood flow, so water is extremely important for assisting good blood flow and helping the brain produce oxygen," says Craig.
And this also means cutting back on the late-night wine and arvo coffee habit.
"While people might use alcohol as a sleep draft and think it won't hurt you, it does dehydrate you – as does coffee. Both are diuretics so they reduce the amount of water in the body that we need to function well."
5. YOU DON'T GET ALONG WITH GLUTEN
A recent study by Monash University has found gluten can trigger brain fog.
The research used participants who suffered from coeliac disease and who had not gone on a gluten-free diet for more than four weeks and tracked them for a year without gluten.
The tests concluded that as their intestines healed, so too did their cognitive ability. During the outset, the test actually found their level of cognitive impairment was comparable with a 0.05 per cent blood alcohol level.
While only a small pilot test, it could have significant meaning for those with undiagnosed coeliac disease who may experience brain fog frequently.
6. YOUR MEDICATION COULD BE INTERFERING
Craig says it's a common symptom for those experiencing depression, chronic pain or having cancer treatment to experience fatigue.
"Anti-depressants are classed as psychotropic drugs – so any opiate can cause fatigue because they act on the brain and affect things like sexual activity and the ability to work or focus for long hours," says Craig.
"A small dosage of anti-depressants might be okay for some people but sometimes it won't work well, so specialists increase the drug to a higher dosage. But that inevitably causes fatigue or 'brain fog'."
If your medication could be a concern, talk to your doctor or specialist.
7. YOU'RE NOT EATING ENOUGH
People who are too skinny often lose track midway through conversations, says a psychologist. Photo: 123RF
"Concentration is impacted greatly when people are severely underweight," says clinical psychologist Louisa Hoey, who specialises in weight management and weight loss.
"People who are underweight often lose track midway through conversations. This is in part, due to the lack of energy needed for the brain to function, but also, those who become diagnosed anorexic are obsessed with food, so they spend all their time thinking about it – what they have eaten, what they are going to eat and how they are going to conceal what they ate, and aren't engaging in the present," says Hoey.
"Psychologists believe this is probably a survival mechanism: if the body is starved of food, the brain will only be able to think about food, so therefore there is no room to concentrate on other things," says Hoey.
8. YOUR IRON LEVELS ARE LOW
"Iron deficiency can be a major cause of brain fog affecting memory, learning difficulties, poor concentration, headaches and mood," says Kim Figl, in-house nutritionist at Pressed Juices Bondi Junction.
"It's proven as well that iron is important to both the structural and functional parts of our brain – studies show an iron deficiency during adolescence can cause irreversible structural changes to regions in the brain."
Why does this occur? "Low iron can be the result of a lack in your diet due to poor absorption caused by various gut issues or due to bleeding and untreated coeliac disease," says Figl. "It can be particularly common in children, menstruating women and pregnant women."
Unsure if you're deficient? Figl advises speaking with a health professional to determine the cause and best treatment. To fuel up naturally, add iron rich foods such as red meat, fish, dark leafy greens and legumes to your daily diet.
9. YOU LACK A BALANCED DIET
Poor diet = poor sleep, so without the right nutrients, our whole body becomes out of whack.
"Sleep is a condition which requires melatonin. Melatonin is a neurochemical in the brain that your body produces and releases when it gets dark. However it's only produced if you have a good base diet of proteins, carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables," says Craig.
"So, if you eat fast foods and sugar, you don't produce melatonin or serotonin – which is vital for keeping you happy and alert."
Read: turn in early and avoid sugary late night snacks for a clear head.