You read the same paragraph over and over but can’t retain any information, struggle to find the sunglasses perched on your head, forget to attend the afternoon meeting and complain of lethargy and fatigue even though it’s only 3pm.
Sound familiar? This is brain fog, a common condition made worse by our busy lifestyles, poor diet and lack of sleep.
What causes brain fog?
Dr Clare Ballingall, a spokesperson for the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, says while brain fog isn’t an official medical condition, the symptoms are common.
“It’s not a medical term we would use, but a lot of people visit their GP with complaints like, ‘I’ve got a fuzzy head’, ‘I’m not very clear’, ‘I can’t concentrate’ and ‘I’m having trouble learning new things’,” she says.
Scientists continue to probe the mechanisms inside the brain that cause it to fog up, but Dr Ballingall says nine out of 10 cases can be attributed to lifestyle factors that sap energy and cognitive function.
“The main contributing factors are lifestyle things that we probably all trip up on from time to time – burning the candle at both ends, a sedentary lifestyle, and we know that stress impairs performance,” she says.
Poor sleep and poor sleep hygiene have to be the number one contributor.”
Nutritionist Kate Callaghan says eating too many refined carbohydrates – like potatoes, white bread, white rice, cakes and biscuits – causes energy levels to spike and crash a few hours later, triggering brain fog.
Plus, she says insufficient calories can also impair brain function.
“Not eating enough calories will contribute to your thyroid function down-regulating and that will, in turn, contribute to brain fog,” Ms Callaghan says.
How to clear the fog
Practising good sleep hygiene will drastically improve your chances of a sleeping better, which will help to prevent brain fog, says Dr Ballingall.
“People will go to bed with the TV on in their room, and I’m the biggest culprit checking my phone before bed, but we know technology is a stimulant and it wakes people up,” she says.
Instead, turn off all gadgets at least one hour before bedtime and use the bedroom for sleep and sex only.
If you’re still feeling foggy, research shows that a short power nap of between 30 and 60 minutes can help you feel more alert.
The Sleep Health Foundation recommends napping between 2pm and 3pm – when we typically feel most foggy – in a quiet, dark place.
Moving more will help to prevent brain fog by counteracting stress and the effects of a sedentary lifestyle.
Physical exercise helps to boost energy levels because it delivers oxygen and nutrients to the tissues and helps the heart work more efficiently.
A brisk walk or even 10 minutes of stretching at your desk improves blood flow and boosts energy.
Ms Callaghan says a wholefood diet will stabilise your energy levels and keep you feeling full.
“To prevent brain fog, minimise refined sugars and processed and packaged foods – stick to the perimeter of the supermarket and whole, fresh foods,” she says.
Angela Tufvesson is a freelance writer specialising in health, sustainability and lifestyle