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What is Brain Fog and What Causes It?

May 8, 2021

What is Brain Fog and What Causes It?


If you have found yourself feeling fatigued, distracted or just not with it, you are likely dealing with brain fog. This is a condition that unfortunately comes with our “always on”, “needed it yesterday”, fast-paced lifestyle.

Brain fog is the lack of feeling calm, optimistic and motivated. Symptoms of anxiety and depression are often accompanied by a lack of desire to do much of anything. It is likely this condition leads to constant inflammation in the body and hormonal imbalances. Of course, stress is a huge contributor to brain fog as well.


Brain fog symptoms can include:

  1. Consistent difficulty concentrating
  2. Mild depression often with feeling of hopelessness
  3. Moodiness and irritability
  4. Trouble sleeping through the night, waking often for no reason
  5. Difficulty with memory, forgetfulness


The causes of brain fog are varied but often start with lack of sleep. This lack of sleep might be due to not getting enough sleep or not being able to sleep when we have a chance to sleep. Stresses and life-worries often start the cycle of sleep deprivation that leads to multiple symptoms of brain fog. The cycle can be vicious and brain fog sets in as quality sleep goes away.


On a medical basis, brain fog is caused by increased levels of inflammation combined with irregular balances in three hormones that determine our energy, ability to focus and our mood: dopamine, serotonin and cortisol. Dopamine and serotonin give us the wonderful feelings of joy, happiness and motivation. Cortisol is known as the “stress hormone” and it keeps us awake and alert.


While brain fog is often associated with stress and difficulties sleeping, our eating habits can cause a nasty case of brain fog as well. Consistently poor nutrition from fast food and low nutrition meals can bring on brain fog. Diets that are high in refined carbohydrates and sugar can lead to brain fog with depression and fatigue. Drinking excessive amounts of caffeine or alcohol contribute to reduced brain function and can lead to dehydration.


The good news is that brain fog can readily be reversible if we follow some basic health-related lifestyle modifications:


  1. Focus on good nutrition with vegetables, fruits and lean proteins. Greatly reduce or completely eliminate processed sugar intake, artificial sweeteners and processed carbohydrates.
  2. Reduce or minimize stress levels. Make time for quiet, calm periods with no electronic stimulation. This means turn off the cell phone, emails, texts, video games and bright lights. Take walks, listen to music, spend time with a pet.
  3. Get consistent sleep at the same time every night. Whether we get 6 or 7 or 8 hours of sleep make sure it is the same time each night. No television or checking emails within 30 minutes of going to bed.
  4. Exercise on a regular basis. Consistent, moderate exercise releases natural endorphins that help boost stamina and improve mood. Exercise can also help to naturally reset healthy levels of hormones and help with getting to sleep when your head finally hits the pillow.


Suffering with brain fog can be life-altering and lead to depression and poor overall health. Take the time to make positive changes and look forward to improving vitality, stress reduction and nights of restful sleep. Be well.


- Dr. Sterling

Category: Cognitive