Brain fog is one of those troubling things that lots of us suffer with but that is difficult to really identify or put your finger on. Often it will take a while before you notice that something is up and you may even wonder if it was always ‘so difficult to think’. While it’s hard to define though, brain fog generally involves a slightly ‘disconnected feeling’ that makes you somewhat indifferent to what’s going on around you and that makes it hard to put 100% into anything. You know you can do better, you know you have more to give, but you find yourself just staring at the wall or nodding without really taking anything in. Perhaps Pink Floyd put it best in their song Comfortably Numb.
There is no pain you are receding
A distant ship’s smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move
But I can’t hear what you’re saying
When I was a child I had a fever
My hands felt just like
Now I’ve got that feeling once again
I can’t explain
You would not understand
This is not how I am
I… Have become comfortably numb
Deep stuff. Well, if this sounds at all familiar, or if you just lack some of the energy, alertness or interest that you’re sure you had once upon a time, then you may be experiencing brain fog. Here’s what might be the matter and how you can deal with it…
What Causes Brain Fog?
There are many things that can cause brain fog, but often it’s a combination of factors that leads to the problem. If you are tired, or if you are low on energy, then one of the first things to go will be your concentration and your awareness. This is because the brain requires a lot of energy and a number of very specific nutrients. Ways to start getting energy back into the brain might include eating a healthier diet (filled with complex carbs and a range of amino acids), getting lots of exercise which will help to improve your circulation and get more blood and oxygen to your brain and just getting a lot of sleep.
Particularly important is to not only get a good amount of sleep, but also to get a very high quality of sleep. This means going to bed at the same time every night, making sure there isn’t too much light or noise, and investing in a comfortable bed. You should also avoid caffeine after 4pm and avoid eating altogether a couple of hours before you go to sleep.
Sleep has been shown to be important for our mental performance in a number of ways and different ‘stages’ of sleep have been shown to be important for different mental faculties. If you’re struggling with short term memory for instance, then it may be that you aren’t getting enough ‘SWS’ or ‘slow wave sleep’. REM sleep meanwhile is important for other things, so change your sleep habits and see if it helps.
Brain fog can also be a symptom of a number of other conditions, so it’s a good idea to consult with your doctor. For instance it may be that you aren’t getting enough sleep due to a sleep condition such as apnoea. This can be fixed relatively easily and you would be surprised just how much more alert you are after sleeping with a CPAP machine or similar.
Alternatively brain fog can be linked to a number of other conditions. Depression for example can commonly lead to a feeling of being disconnected from the world and needs to be addressed either through counselling or medication – don’t take this lightly. Brain fog can also be caused by conditions that restrict oxygen or sugar to the brain. For instance, if you find yourself feinting or feeling dizzy it could be due to anaemia or even diabetes – both of which should be addressed by going to a doctor.
Another common cause is a tiredness condition such as ME or chronic fatigue syndrome. This is something that should be diagnosed and treated too, though there are no known cures at the time of writing. One thing to consider though is that these conditions can often be linked to bacterial imbalances in the stomach and to food intolerances. Often wheat allergies are misdiagnosed as CFS, so if you are struggling to pay attention and to stay awake, try removing certain things from your diet and monitoring how it impacts on your energy levels.
It’s even possible that your detached feeling could be the result of sensory issues. If you can’t see properly, or if you are having difficulty hearing, then you will feel less ‘connected’ to what’s going on around you almost as though your head is filled with cotton wool. Trying on a pair of glasses or having your ears syringed can actually make a world of difference if this is the case.
Another possibility is that your lifestyle is causing you to fog up. One problem might be working in front of the computer – if you spend long hours staring at a screen then you shouldn’t be too surprised if your eyes start glazing over or if you find yourself without much to say to people. What’s important then is that you take the time to just unplug occasionally and to go and do something else. Taking the odd break at work can be helpful, as can taking a more substantial holiday to go and explore or do something else.
One of the most common causes of brain fog is stress and if you are constantly rushing from one deadline to the next it might be that you are wearing your brain out and doing yourself damage – find ways to manage this, to deal with it and reduce it. Another possibility is just that you are feeling indifferent – that perhaps your relationship isn’t exciting you or your work isn’t challenging you. If your environment never changes and you never experience anything exciting or new, then you shouldn’t be surprised when you start to sleep walk through life. It may just be time to mix things up – to set some new goals, change your look, fill your diary and put yourself out there.