5 Potential Causes of Brain Fog

4 min readMay 22, 2024
Potential Causes of Brain Fog

You may have experienced feelings of uncertainty and “out of it”; perhaps after lack of sleep or too much drinking. Although occasional bouts of “brain fog” — especially those after a rough night — are common, chronic brain fog can affect your daily activities and even potentially reduce your quality of life, notes the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Brain fog is a non-medical general term used to describe subjective feelings of cognitive impairment that can manifest in a variety of ways. It is characterized by memory problems, difficulty concentrating or thinking, easily distracted, and a feeling of mental fuzziness.

Brain fog is a mild and temporary cognitive disorder involving difficulty with concentration, word finding, and memory. Some examples of brain fog can include forgetting what was being said, having trouble finding words, or having trouble focusing on the task at hand. Generally, instead of feeling cognitively sharp and clear as usual, you instead feel cognitively sluggish, mental tasks are more difficult than usual. There is no single cause of brain fog. Instead, there are many possible reasons why someone may experience cognitive delays and impairments. These causes may include the following:

Stress can bring problems to a person’s daily life in a variety of ways, especially when it comes to cognitive function.
Stress can cause a reduction in the brain’s ability to process information and make decisions due to increased blood pressure or a weakened immune system.
A 2017 study noted the major impact stress has on the body’s nervous system, and can even cause structural changes in the brain, leading to changes in memory and cognition. Overall, the researchers note that the effects of stress on cognitive function vary and are usually based on factors such as timing and intensity, but in general, intense stress can cause cognitive impairment, particularly in memory and judgment.

Poor Nutrition
Foods rich in vitamins, minerals and antioxidants support cognitive function and protect the brain from oxidative stress, while low-quality foods, such as processed foods, can have negative impacts. Refined sugar specifically increases inflammation and oxidative stress.
A 2022 study in Nutrients found that certain dietary components, including saturated fatty acids and simple sugars, contribute to decreased cognitive health (particularly impacting progressive learning and memory performance), even more than excessive calorie intake.

Sleeping Habits
If you’ve ever spent a night tossing and turning in bed, leaving yourself with red eyes and struggling to get through the next day, you probably understand the strong connection between sleep and cognitive function. However, several studies show that sleeping too much can also have an impact.
A 2017 study in Sleep, 10,000 participants completed tasks in three cognitive domains — short-term memory, reasoning abilities, and verbal abilities — and were asked about their sleep patterns. The researchers found that about half of all participants who slept less than or more than 7 to 8 hours showed impaired cognitive function.

The study also found that sleeping just 4 hours a night was the equivalent of 8 years of aging, and that sleeping more than usual (and closer to the optimal amount) before cognitive tests was associated with better performance — underscoring just how powerful the effects of a good night’s sleep can be.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that adults aged 18 to 60 aim for at least 7 hours per night, although the ideal amount of sleep varies from person to person. Babies, small children and adolescents should get more sleep to support their growth and development.

Hormonal Changes
Hormonal changes can also cause brain fog. Especially during pregnancy in women, the level of 2 hormones (progesterone and estrogen) will increase sharply. This change can impact memory and cause short-term cognitive impairment.
Likewise, the decrease in estrogen hormone levels during menopause in women can cause memory loss, wandering thoughts, and poor concentration.

Many medications have side effects, some of which may affect the brain, especially memory. Some medications that can cause memory loss and confusion include tricyclic antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, anti-seizure drugs, opioid analgesics, and more.

You need to see a doctor immediately if symptoms such as lack of consciousness persist or worsen. Brain fog can be a warning sign of an underlying health problem occurring in your body, so the doctor will perform a general physical examination and utilize some of the following information on the patient: daily diet; mental health; level of physical activity; Recent medication or supplement use.
In addition, you should also tell your doctor about any other symptoms you may experience.
People with hypothyroidism, for example, may experience brain fog along with other symptoms like hair loss, dry skin, brittle nails, or weight gain.
Doctors can also determine the cause of brain fog through blood tests.

Tips for Busting Up Brain Fog