Feeling foggy and unfocused? Or slogging through a project and your brain just won’t fire up the way you want it to? You may be one of the estimated 600 million people living with brain fog.
So what exactly is brain fog and how can you beat it? We picked the experts’ brains to break down what’s making you foggy and how to get clear, sharp, and focused so you can stay on top of your game.
What Is Brain Fog?
Brain fog is a general term that describes a variety of persistent symptoms. The most common symptoms are loss of mental clarity, inability to focus or concentrate, problems with learning or remembering, slow thinking, issues with language and finding words, clumsiness, and mental fatigue, according to health psychologist and neuroscientist Dr. Sabina Brennan, author of The Irish Times number one bestseller Beating Brain Fog and 100 Days to a Younger Brain.
Brain fog is not dementia or any other disease, disorder, or diagnosis, explains Dr. Brennan. Rather, “it is a sign or symptom of an underlying health condition, hormonal change, or lifestyle factors,” she says. This phenomenon also goes by other well-known names. Depending on the underlying cause, you may have heard it referred to as cog fog, mental fatigue, mental exhaustion, burnout, overwhelm, pregnancy brain, baby brain, menopause brain, fibro fog, or chemo brain.
The most important thing to focus on is that “brain fog is a warning that something is amiss,” says Dr. Brennan. “It’s a signal that you need to take action.” (If you are experiencing continual brain fog, always consult your doctor to rule out any health conditions.)
6 Tips to Clear the Fog for Good
So what are the main causes of brain fog, and what can you do to start feeling clearer, stat? Follow these tips to find focus, show up at your peak, and win the day.
1. Prioritize Rest
Some of the biggest contributors to brain fog are lack of quality sleep and stress, both common in midlife. And it’s not a coincidence that you feel dazed and confused after a restless night’s sleep. According to one study, sleep deprivation disrupts the brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other, leading to temporary lapses that affect memory and visual perception.
What you can do: Not everyone will be able to sleep off brain fog, but prioritizing sleep is a very good place to start. “Sleep is critical for learning, memory, insight, ideas, and finding solutions to problems,” says Dr. Brennan. She also notes that high-quality sleep is essential for clearing away metabolic waste and other toxins that can damage the brain such as the toxin beta-amyloid, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Brennan suggests sticking to a regular sleep schedule, getting at least one hour outside during the day, dimming the lights in your home after 8 pm, and turning off all devices that emit blue light, such as your phone and TV, at least an hour before bed. For more tips to sleep tight and wake up refreshed, check out this post.
2. Manage Stress
Research has consistently shown the link between stress and cognitive issues. In one study, participants who had elevated glucocorticoids, the main class of stress hormones, also showed a decline in memory performance and cognitive abilities. If your brain is busy processing ongoing stress, anxious feelings, or nagging thoughts, it won’t have as much capacity for focus, memory, and learning.
“Poorly managed chronic stress negatively impacts brain function, affecting learning and memory,” says Dr. Brennan. “Stress can even damage the structure of the brain.” That’s because stress may interfere with neuroplasticity, which is the ability of neural networks in the brain to change through growth and reorganization.
What you can do: To help calm your body and mind, try incorporating guided meditations, mindful breathing, and time in nature into your weekly schedule.
And remember the common saying, “Laughter is the best medicine.” According to Dr. Brennan, “Laughter is nature’s stress buster because it actually lowers cortisol levels.” One study even found a 20% reduction in agitation using humor therapy. Dr. Brennan recommends keeping a folder of funny videos, podcasts, or memes in your phone to look at any time you need.
3. Check Your Hormone Levels
Beginning around age 40, women see a decrease in estrogen and progesterone levels. Estrogen is a key hormone for cognition, notes Dr. Vinita Tandon, Lifeforce’s Medical Director and a board certified endocrinologist. “Estrogen helps you process information by changing the chemistry in your brain so that messages get transmitted from one neuron to another effectively.” Progesterone is also linked to mood and sleep, which both affect focus. “As both these hormones drop, a big complaint for women is that they can’t multitask as well, their short-term memory isn’t as good, and they feel less focused,” adds Dr. Tandon.
Hormonal changes bring on brain fog in men, too. Testosterone peaks around age 30 and declines 1 to 2% each year after that. Research suggests that low testosterone levels may be linked to cognition issues. Dr. Tandon explains that testosterone also converts to DHT (dihydrotestosterone), another hormone that influences cognition, learning, and memory.
What you can do: Your first step to clearing up the issue is knowing what you’re dealing with. That’s why we recommend starting with the Lifeforce Diagnostic, which measures over 40 biomarkers that drive your mental and physical performance. You’ll get a clear, holistic picture of your hormone health, nutrient levels, and more. From there, you can consult with a Lifeforce clinician to create a plan of action.
4. Eat Clean and Plant-Based
You know when you’re eating a lot of sugary, highly processed foods and you feel sluggish in your body? The same thing happens in your brain. “Your brain weighs only 2% of your body but consumes about 20 to 25% of the nutrients you eat,” says Dr. Brennan. In other words, poor input in your diet can lead to poor output in your brain power.
Gluten and wheat intolerances can be another reason you’re feeling foggy. According to Dr. Leah Johansen, Lifeforce physician and board certified functional medicine doctor, “Wheat intolerance causes increased intestinal permeability, which allows for microbial and dietary antigens to be absorbed into the bloodstream and cause neuroinflammation and subsequent brain fog.”
Saturated fats have also been linked to a decline in brain health and cognition, Dr. Brennan notes. And deficiencies in essential nutrients like vitamin B12, folate, iron, and omega-3s can also drain your brain power, she adds. (Not sure where you stand? The Lifeforce Diagnostic can measure your nutrient levels right at home to help you address any deficiencies.)
What you can do: According to numerous studies, the Mediterranean diet is a smart choice for brain health. Build your plate around plant-based foods like veggies, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains (if not causing bloating or constipation), herbs, and spices, with olive oil as the main source of added fat. Focus on fish rich in omega-3s with chicken and red meat occasionally, and enjoy fresh fruit for a hint of sweetness. Also make sure you drink up. “Your brain is a thirsty organ and can become dehydrated very quickly,” says Dr. Brennan.
5. Exercise Your Body and Mind
The mind-body connection is a powerful thing. “Your brain needs a healthy cardiovascular system to deliver the nutrients and oxygen it needs to survive and function well. Physical exercise is the best way to achieve this,” advises Dr. Brennan. “Exercise also releases feel-good hormones and brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which acts like fertilizer for the brain, promoting the growth of new brain cells.”
What you can do: Aim for a mix of cardio (whether it’s walking, jogging, or biking), strength training, and mobility work like stretching and yoga.
You also want to flex your mental muscles by constantly challenging yourself and learning new things. “The human brain was built for change and it thrives on challenge,” explains Dr. Tandon. “Neuroplasticity is the key to a healthy brain — in order to harness this fabulous flexibility, we must keep learning, keep on trying new things, and keep pushing ourselves beyond our comfort zone.”
6. Rise to Your Peak Mental Power
Lifeforce’s Peak Rise™️ is another powerful way to give your brain a boost. In addition to boosting your energy without the jitters or crash, it also helps sharpen your focus and mental edge. The premium-grade formula enhances how efficiently neurotransmitters signal to key neurons in the brain, impacting your memory, drive, and mental stamina. Peak Rise™️ also includes TeaCrine® and DynamineTM, which have been shown to amplify clarity, working memory, info processing speed, cognitive control, and accuracy. Plus, its Cognizin® Citicoline promotes brain energy, focus, and attention.
What you can do: Combine Peak Rise™️ with healthy lifestyle changes, as needed, and you may start to feel a boost in energy, working memory, and focus within one hour.
Want to learn more about Peak Rise™️? Check it out here.
This article was medically reviewed by:
Kerri Masutto, MD, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine, Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner
Leah Johansen, MD, Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner