Most of us will be familiar with the term ‘brain fog’, which describes the uncomfortable feeling of being unable to think clearly and feeling spaced out.
For some people, brain fog may affect memory, while for others, it might mean that thinking is slower, making everyday activities more difficult. It can also involve confusion, fatigue, low motivation, trouble concentrating, and/or feeling numb to your emotions.
Brain fog is often likened to feeling as though you’re wading through thick mud or caught in a haze, where accessing your thoughts and emotions is more difficult.
There are a number of different reasons why brain fog can occur. And while it’s something that can be incredibly frustrating and exhausting to deal with, thankfully, there are some things we can do to help improve our thinking and concentration.
With that said, we’ve put together a list of 10 ways to beat brain fog.
What causes brain fog?
Brain fog itself isn’t a medical condition. Instead, it’s a symptom of other factors and medical conditions. Some of the most common reasons for brain fog include…
- Lack of sleep
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Other hormonal changes, such as thyroid disorders
- Food intolerance, for example, gluten intolerance – or allergies/sensitivities to certain foods, including peanuts, dairy, and aspartame
- Poor gut health
- Metal poisoning
- Medication or cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy
- Chronic health conditions, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease
Sometimes, brain fog may be caused by several interlinking factors. For example, menopause can cause depression, anxiety, and a lack of sleep, which can also cause brain fog.
10 ways to beat brain fog and boost your concentration
The best way to clear brain fog is to treat or manage the root cause. If you haven’t been diagnosed with a health condition but feel this may be the reason for your brain fog, it’s important to speak to your GP.
The same goes for medication. It’s worth checking with your doctor whether it could be affecting your ability to think clearly, as there may be alternative medications or treatments that you could use.
Other ways to beat brain fog and boost your concentration include…
1. Prioritise sleep
The importance of sleep can’t be overstated. When we’re sleep-deprived our brain cells struggle to communicate effectively, which makes it difficult to think clearly, concentrate, solve problems, control our emotions, learn, or process memories.
For example, scientists monitored the brain cells of sleep deprived people by asking them to complete a vigilance task and categorise images of various faces as quickly as possible. The results showed that their brain cells began to slow down as they got tired, and the task became more of a challenge.
In a follow-up report, lead study author Yuval Nir said, “We were fascinated to observe how sleep deprivation dampened brain cell activity. Unlike the usual rapid reaction, the neurons responded slowly, fired more weakly, and their transmissions dragged on longer than usual.”
Research also suggests that while we sleep, our brains do most of their housekeeping – such as ridding themselves of toxins (via a network of blood vessels known as the glymphatic system). This waste includes dead blood cells, tissue waste, leftover proteins, and ammonia, which can build up and affect brain function.
Without sufficient rest, leftover proteins can accumulate, clump together, and become toxic to the brain. For example, Alzheimer’s disease is thought to be caused by an abnormal build-up of proteins (amyloid and tau) in and around brain cells.
Experts recommend that healthy adults need between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. The best way to achieve this is to create a sleep schedule, which involves going to sleep and waking up at the same time every day.
It can also help to avoid using electronic devices, such as mobile phones and tablets at least 30 minutes before bed. The blue light they emit can interfere with our circadian rhythms and keep us awake.
For more tips on getting good quality sleep, visit the sleep and fatigue section of our website.
2. Focus on one task at a time
If you’re struggling to concentrate or to find the energy to complete tasks, try tackling one thing at a time. Multitasking can lead to scrambled thinking. It can also drain our energy, overwhelm us, and make it more difficult to focus – all of which can slow us down.
In fact, a UK study found that people who multitask by using different forms of media at once – such as texting while watching TV – have lower grey matter density than people who use one device at a time. Grey matter is a type of tissue in the brain that’s involved in information processing.
Additionally, this study found that participants who multitasked experienced a drop in IQ scores to the average range of an eight-year-old child.
If you struggle to stick to one task at a time and worry about things slipping through the net, it can be helpful to use calendars and create to-do lists. Sometimes, simply ticking things off a list can give us a sense of control, reward, and satisfaction – which can boost morale, motivation, and confidence.
3. Work on your memory
A certain amount of forgetfulness can be normal as we age. However, there are things we can do to boost our memory and keep it as sharp as possible – such as puzzle-solving.
Solving jigsaw puzzles has been shown to improve short-term memory because it reinforces connections between brain cells. Research has also found an association between doing crosswords later in life and a delayed onset of memory decline.
If you want to do some puzzles but are wondering where to start, check out our article; 11 online puzzles and games to tease your brain. And you can read more about the health benefits of jigsaw puzzles in our article, here.
Things like relying on road signs or paper maps – rather than GPS – can also help to engage our minds and challenge our memory. This is because we have to make more of a conscious effort to remember where we’re going.
Just look at London cab drivers who must memorise 25,000 streets and 20,000 landmarks before they can achieve their cabbie license. Studies have revealed that the average London cab driver has a larger-than-average hippocampus (the part of the brain responsible for storing memories).
4. Feed your brain
Diet has a significant impact on our brains and can influence mood and memory. Eating some foods and avoiding others has also been shown to slow brain ageing by 7.5 years.
For example, studies show that dark chocolate can stimulate blood flow to the brain. It can also encourage the growth of blood vessels and neurons in the areas of the brain involved in learning and memory.
Broccoli is another food that’s particularly good for your brain because it’s rich in vitamin K, which has been linked to improved memory in older adults. For more foods that can improve brain health, check out our article on the subject.
This means that it’s important to try and follow a healthy, balanced diet containing as many whole foods as possible. Whole foods are foods that haven’t been heavily processed, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Eating a balanced diet can also prevent nutrient deficiencies, which can lead to brain fog. For recipe inspiration, check out these 18 healthy 30-minute meals.
Note: Because food intolerances can cause brain fog, you should also speak to your doctor if you think that particular foods or drinks may not agree with you. They may refer you to a specialist for an allergy test.
5. Try new things
The development of new brain cells is important because they enhance our ability to learn and can improve our attention to detail and reaction times. They do this when they connect with other brain cells to form new learning pathways.
Stepping outside of your comfort zone and trying different things is one way to encourage this. What you decide to try is completely up to you. It could include anything from learning to knit or picking up a new language to trying a new sport or developing your baking skills.
You can find lots more ideas of new things to try in our article; 18 ways to step outside of your comfort zone.
Another way to create new learning pathways and sharpen your thinking is to carry out your usual tasks in a different way.
For example, you could write with the opposite hand, take a new route to the shops, or mix up your daily routine. Doing things differently can take your brain off autopilot mode, so it has to pay attention and work hard to develop new learning pathways.
6. Stay social
There’s a growing body of research that supports the link between social activities and sharper thinking.
More studies are needed to understand exactly why this is, but according to Age UK, meaningful interactions with others may provide a buffer against factors particularly harmful to brain function, such as stress. Being with others can also stimulate attention and memory and strengthen neurological pathways.
However, socialising can become more tricky as we age. If this sounds familiar, try to remember that there are plenty of other people in the same boat, and it’s never too late to make new connections.
Our articles, 11 ways to make new friends and 9 different ways to meet new people, have plenty of tips that’ll hopefully help you start meeting like-minded people. You could also consider joining Rest Less Events using the button below, where you can get involved with online social groups like book and lunch clubs.
7. Take proper breaks
It can be easy to forget to take breaks sometimes, but overworking can lead to stress and fatigue, which can cause or worsen brain fog.
For example, say you’ve got a project due at work that you’ve already put hours of time into, but still have lots left to do. Perhaps you’ve worked on it long enough that you’ve begun losing focus, overcorrecting your mistakes, and losing sight of whether it even makes sense, but feel compelled to carry on.
Rarely in situations like this do we regain our focus without stepping back, so try to take regular breaks – not only from your work but from other aspects of your life that may drain your energy.
While sleep is needed to rest and recharge, we also need to take other types of breaks – such as sensory rest, social rest, and creative rest – to be our most productive selves.
For example, if you’ve been doing something that’s mentally taxing, it’s important that your break incorporates mental rest and doesn’t involve simply switching to another similar task. Instead, you could go for a walk or do something that occupies your hands but not your mind. You can learn more about the seven types of rest in our article, here.
If you find it challenging to take breaks, try adding scheduled time into your diary as you would with anything else.
Healthline uses a great explanation to explain the importance of taking breaks…
“Think about driving through a heavy downpour: If you can’t see the road or concentrate over the sound of hail hitting your windshield, it’s wise to just pull over until things calm down. Same goes for trying to get things done when your brain’s feeling foggy.”
8. Incorporate regular exercise into your routine
Because our minds and bodies are so intimately connected, the amount of physical activity we do can affect how our brains function. Aside from the mood-boosting benefits that many of us are familiar with, exercise benefits brain health in various other ways.
Studies suggest that exercise can significantly improve people’s creative thinking, problem-solving abilities, and memory. It’s also been shown to clear brain fog and improve concentration.
For example, this study revealed that the attention span of pupils was improved when lessons were broken up with a 20-minute aerobics session.
Another study found that regular exercise may improve thinking skills in people with cognitive impairment. Participants were split into four groups, and those who took up aerobics three times a week had improved executive thinking skills (the skills associated with planning and control).
To get ideas for how you can incorporate exercise into your routine, why not visit the fitness and exercise section of our website? Here, you’ll find information on everything from how to increase your step count to playing pickleball.
9. Explore ways to manage stress and anxiety
Hormones that are released when we feel stressed and anxious – such as cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine – can overwhelm and exhaust the brain when they’re present for too long, making it more challenging to think clearly. Unfortunately, as brain fog increases, stress can increase as well, and the cycle continues.
To avoid getting caught in this loop and help clear a cloudy mind, it’s worth exploring ways to manage stress and anxiety. Learning to focus on the present moment – by becoming more aware of your thoughts, feelings, and surroundings – is an effective way to do this. This is because it can prevent rumination over the past and future and instil a sense of calmness and control.
Challenging negative thoughts and finding ways to help others can also be effective ways to cope with stress and anxiety. For more tips and advice, you might want to read our article on the subject.
Or, why not tune into one of the many stress-busting activities over on Rest Less Events, such as this 30-minute mindfulness meditation?
10. Get plenty of fresh air and stay hydrated
Fresh air and water play crucial roles in brain health, yet they’re often overlooked.
Oxygen is essential for healthy brain function and 20% of the air we breathe in is used by the brain – so our minds can feel tired and sluggish if we don’t get enough of it.
One of the best ways to get more oxygen is to head outside. For ideas of fun ways to do this, you might want to check out our article; 32 ways to connect with nature and feel inspired. From birdwatching to practising yoga outdoors, there’ll hopefully be an activity to suit your interests.
The NHS recommends we drink six to eight glasses of fluid a day to keep our brains functioning properly. Our brains are made up of 75% water, which means that even being slightly dehydrated can have a negative effect on brain function.
Check out our article, 11 tips for staying hydrated and why it’s important, for more information.
Brain fog can occur for many different reasons – including stress, a lack of sleep, having an underlying health condition, and/or going through menopause. And though it can be frustrating and disruptive to daily life, we hope that some of the tips in this article will be useful.
It’s also important to remember that you’re not alone. Brain fog is something that many of us experience at one time or another. However, if it’s affecting your quality of life or persists for a long time, it’s important to speak to your GP who can help you identify the root cause.
Brain fog isn’t always easily understood by those who haven’t suffered from it. But by communicating to others what’s going on, we can continue breaking the stigma around mental health and shine a light on the information and support that’s available.
For more tips on how to look after your mental health, you might want to visit the healthy mind section of our website.
Have you found any of the tips above particularly useful for clearing brain fog? Do you have any suggestions of your own that you’d like to share? We’d be interested in hearing from you in the comments below.