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How To Get Rid of Brain Fog? 9 Methods To Try

Feeling fuzzy, slow, and tired? You might have brain fog. Clear it up by lowering your sleep debt and getting in sync with your circadian rhythm.
Written by
Jeff Kahn, M.S., Rise Science Co-Founder
Reviewed by
Chester Wu, MD, Rise Science Medical Reviewer
Our Editorial Standards
We bring sleep research out of the lab and into your life. Every post begins with peer-reviewed studies — not third-party sources — to make sure we only share advice that can be defended to a room full of sleep scientists. Learn more.
Updated Regularly
We regularly update our articles to explain the latest research and shifts in scientific consensus in a simple and actionable way.
Published
2022-12-19
Updated
20 MINS
Woman with brain fog feeling fuzzy and tired

Have you ever tried to read an email, but struggled to focus on the words? Or taken a peek out of the window only to find yourself daydreaming for 20 minutes? Or perhaps you regularly find yourself struggling to do day-to-day tasks as it feels like your brain is moving at a snail’s pace. If so, you might be experiencing what’s known as “brain fog.” 

Brain fog is when you feel fuzzy, mentally slow, tired, and disorientated. It may make it hard to focus or cause memory problems, and generally tank your productivity and quality of life. 

Brain fog itself isn’t a condition, however. Instead, it’s the name for the group of symptoms many of us experience, and it can be caused by a whole host of things. 

Below, we’ll dive into what brain fog is, what causes it, and how you can get rid of it. Plus, we’ll cover how the RISE app can help fix a huge cause of brain fog — poor sleep. 

What is Brain Fog?

Brain fog is the name for a common set of symptoms that typically involve cognitive impairment of some kind, including having a lack of focus, experiencing memory problems, or feeling easily distracted and spaced out. 

At first, it can be hard to tell brain fog apart from general fatigue or — if you’re really hit hard by it — more serious conditions like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. However, brain fog doesn’t progressively worsen in the way conditions like dementia do, and you can use the RISE app to rule out things like sleep deprivation (more on how to do this soon). 

Brain fog isn’t well-defined in the scientific community, but it can easily impact your mood, productivity, and quality of life. Plus, it can be a sign of an underlying health condition or something (like sleep deprivation) that can lead to serious health problems — so brain fog is worth getting to the bottom of. 

What Are the Symptoms of Brain Fog?

As brain fog isn’t a condition in its own right, it doesn’t have set symptoms so to speak. Instead, it’s caused by other conditions, and the common symptoms of those conditions are what we know as brain fog.

The characteristics of brain fog include:

  • Mental fatigue 
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Memory problems
  • Feeling mentally slow, or experiencing actual cognitive impairment  
  • Disorientation 
  • Feeling fuzzy, scattered, easily distracted, or like you’re in a daze
  • Having trouble with speech and language 

What Causes Brain Fog?

Brain fog has quite a few culprits. The most common causes are: 

  • High sleep debt: Sleep debt is the running total of how much sleep you owe your body compared to your sleep need — the genetically determined number of hours of sleep you need. The RISE app can work out your individual sleep need and how much sleep debt you’re carrying. We recommend keeping sleep debt below five hours to maximize your energy and mental performance. If your sleep debt is higher, this might be behind your brain fog as sleep deprivation can cause lapses in attention, a decline in cognitive abilities, memory loss, and fatigue. Insufficient sleep can even cause symptoms that look a lot like concussion. Sleep debt from sleep disorders like sleep apnea can also cause brain fog symptoms. 
  • Staying up late or pulling an all-nighter: You don’t need high sleep debt to build up over time for a lack of sleep to cause brain fog, however. The “recycle rate” of the brain is about 16 hours, meaning staying awake for longer than this can cause your mental performance to start taking a hit. When you’ve been awake for about 18 to 20 hours, you’ll have the same level of cognitive impairment as if you had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.1%, which is higher than the legal driving limit. We cover ways to feel more energetic after an all-nighter here.
  • Sleep inertia: There is one form of short-term brain fog that hits us all each morning: sleep inertia. Sleep inertia is the name for that groggy feeling you get right after waking up. It leaves us feeling sleepy and impairs our mental performance first thing and can last about 90 minutes, or even up to four hours in some people. 
  • Not living in sync with your circadian rhythm: Your circadian rhythm is your body’s roughly 24-hour biological clock. You might be out of sync with it if you’re a shift worker, you’re living at odds with your chronotype (you might be a night owl living in an early bird world), or you have social jet lag — such as when you go to sleep later on the weekends than during the week. When you’re out of sync with your circadian rhythm, you might feel low on energy, have trouble concentrating, and feel more irritable. Your attention, information processing, and visual-motor performance take a hit, and you’ll be increasing your risk of everything from obesity to depression.
  • Poor diet: Eating processed foods, having nutritional or vitamin deficiencies in things like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B12, or vitamin D, experiencing regular blood sugar crashes and imbalances, or drinking too much alcohol can lead to low energy and reduced mental performance. Your lunch may be the reason for brain fog in the afternoon, and you might also experience brain fog if you have food sensitivities. For example, if you eat gluten and have celiac disease. Even mild dehydration can cause fatigue, poor mood, and impaired cognitive functioning.
  • Stress: Chronic stress can reduce your mental performance, especially your memory and judgment. Stress can also easily cause sleep loss, making brain fog even worse. 
  • Being sick: You won’t feel great when you’re sick and your body will be focusing on healing itself, rather than performing at its best. Even the common cold can impair your cognitive function. 
  • COVID-19: You may feel mentally slow both while ill with COVID-19 and after you’ve recovered from the initial illness if you suffer from long COVID, which you’re more at risk of developing if you’re female, have breathing problems, or ended up in intensive care with COVID. Brain fog from COVID could be caused by the illness itself or from problems it causes — like sleep loss. 
  • Hormonal changes during your menstrual cycle: In the luteal phase of your menstrual cycle, you have higher levels of alertness and cognitive performance compared to the follicular phase (menstruation happens during this phase). While on your period, cramps may keep you awake at night, leading to sleep debt
  • Pregnancy: When pregnant, you not only have trouble sleeping, you’ll have increased levels of estrogen and progesterone, which act as sedatives, and you might have nausea, an iron deficiency, and lower blood pressure — which all contribute to you not feeling your best. 
  • Menopause: You might experience cognitive changes if you’re going through menopause including trouble recalling words and numbers, difficulty concentrating, feeling easily distracted, or forgetting appointments or where you put your keys. Memory difficulties may clear up for women postmenopause, and treating issues like sleep disturbances can help boost cognition. 
  • Medications: Certain medications like antidepressants or treatments like chemotherapy can cause brain fog symptoms like fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, and memory loss — also known as chemo brain. 
  • Health conditions: Certain health issues come with brain fog symptoms. These include thyroid dysfunction (hypothyroidism), chronic fatigue syndrome, autoimmune diseases, small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), fibromyalgia, postural tachycardia syndrome (POTS), diabetes, ADHD, multiple sclerosis, and depression. 

How to Get Rid of Brain Fog?

The best way to get rid of brain fog will all depend on what’s causing the symptoms in the first place. And that can be hard to figure out. There’s not a simple test you can do to get diagnosed with brain fog, and it may be caused by several things at once.

Luckily, many of the ways to treat brain fog are simple lifestyle changes and healthy brain habits you can do that will improve your health and quality of life overall. Even if you find a health condition is behind your fuzzy thinking, these treatments will help boost your energy and mood while you seek treatment. 

1. Lower your Sleep Debt 

RISE app screenshot showing how much sleep debt you have
The RISE app can tell you how much sleep debt you have.

Many of the symptoms of brain fog — difficulty concentrating, forgetfulness, feeling mentally slow — are also symptoms of sleep deprivation. In fact, as so many of us are sleep deprived, your brain fog may simply be a result of not getting enough sleep each night. And even if brain fog is caused by something else, sleep debt may be adding to the problem. 

Not getting enough sleep can also make other conditions — like obesity, stress, or depression — worse, which can also contribute to brain fog symptoms. 

Research shows sleep deprivation can make tasks feel harder to do. Plus, not getting enough sleep can lower your immune system, making you more likely to get sick and worsen any existing brain fog. 

Use the RISE app to find out how much sleep debt you have. If it’s more than five hours, you can pay it back by: 

  • ​​Taking naps: Naps can pay down sleep debt, but they also can boost alertness, reaction times, and accuracy. Check RISE for the best time to get some extra shut-eye.
  • Going to bed a little earlier. 
  • Sleeping in a little later: Limit this to an hour or two to avoid disrupting your circadian rhythm. More on that soon.
  • Improving your sleep hygiene: Focus on sleep hygiene habits that help you fall asleep faster and wake up less often during the night, so you can get more sleep overall. More on what to do soon.

You can also use the RISE app to make sure you’re keeping on top of your sleep debt and rule out sleep deprivation if your brain fog persists.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to view their sleep debt.

2. Live in Sync with Your Circadian Rhythm

Living in sync with your circadian rhythm can help you feel sleepy at bedtime, making it easier to meet your sleep need. But it can also help boost energy levels and mental performance, and alleviate brain fog. 

Here’s how to live in sync with your circadian rhythm: 

  • Keep a regular sleep schedule: Irregular sleep schedules can lead to low energy and poor mood. And research shows keeping a regular sleep schedule can make you feel more alert, even if you get the same amount of sleep on an irregular schedule. So, aim to go to bed and wake up at the same times each day. It may even help you get more work done — the more social jet lag you have, the more likely you are to procrastinate
  • Go to bed in your Melatonin Window: This is what we call the roughly one-hour window of time when your body’s rate of melatonin production is at its highest. As melatonin is the sleep hormone, going to sleep during this window will help you fall and stay asleep. 
  • Eat your meals at roughly the same times each day: Eating has the power to change the timing of your circadian rhythm. Eating too close to bedtime can also keep you awake with digestive issues. Keep meals to roughly the same times each day, and avoid eating altogether two to three hours before bed

RISE can predict your circadian rhythm each day, so you can see when your body wants to wake up, wind down for bed, and go to sleep. You can then sync up your daily life with it. RISE can also remind you when to have your final meal of the day. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to see their upcoming energy peaks and dips on the Energy screen.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their avoid late meals reminder.

3. Improve Your Sleep Hygiene 

RISE app screenshot showing when to get and avoid bright light
The RISE app can tell you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits.

Sleep hygiene is the name for the set of healthy sleep habits you can do to help you fall and stay asleep at night and get the most restful, healthy sleep possible.

Here’s what to do: 

  • Get bright light first thing and avoid it close to bedtime: Light in the morning resets your circadian rhythm for the day, making sure you feel sleepy come bedtime. But bright light can keep you up in the evening. Get at least 10 minutes of natural light as soon as possible after waking up (30 minutes if using a light therapy lamp) and dim the lights and put on blue-light blocking glasses 90 minutes before bed. 
  • Avoid caffeine, large meals, intense exercise, and alcohol too late in the day: All four can keep you up or wake you up during the night. 
  • Do a calming bedtime routine: This will help slow your body and mind down for sleep, and help alleviate stress and anxiety — another cause of brain fog. We cover healthy ways to wind-down at night here.
  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and quiet: Aim for 65 to 68 degrees Fahrenheit, use blackout curtains, and wear earplugs and an eye mask
  • Avoid sleep aids: Over-the-counter sleep aids can come with brain fog-like side effects such as confusion, grogginess, and reduced attention, memory, and daytime performance. Focus on sleep hygiene to help you fall and stay asleep instead. 

The RISE app can guide you through 20+ sleep hygiene habits each day and tell you the ideal time to do them based on your circadian rhythm to make them more effective. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their 20+ in-app habit notifications. 

4. Learn How to Manage Sleep Inertia 

Sleep inertia may be caused by adenosine, a natural compound that builds up in your system all the time you’re awake. As adenosine builds, you start feeling drowsy and get the urge to sleep — also called sleep pressure. Adenosine is purged by your body as you sleep, but when you wake up, there are still trace amounts lingering in your system, causing this residual tiredness.

But sleep inertia doesn’t just make you feel tired. When you have sleep inertia you may experience: 

  • Disorientation 
  • Impaired brain function — including reduced reaction time, alertness, and decision-making skills 
  • Lack of coordination 
  • Poor mood 

Sound familiar? The symptoms of sleep inertia are similar to those of brain fog. 

Your sleep inertia may fade about 90 minutes after waking, but it may linger for up to four hours in some people — that’s a whole morning of feeling foggy. 

You may not be able to escape sleep-inertia-induced brain fog altogether, but there are some actions you can take to shake it off faster. Keeping sleep debt low and staying in circadian alignment will help you feel as best you can. But you can also add these habits to your morning routine: 

  • Drink coffee: Caffeine blocks adenosine receptors in your brain, boosting alertness.  
  • Exercise: Just 30 seconds of high-intensity exercise can help you feel more alert. 
  • Get out in natural light: This will signal to your brain that it’s time to wake up.  
  • Check RISE for when your grogginess is expected to fade: RISE can tell when you’ll most likely feel sleep inertia and when you can expect your energy levels to start rising. You can then plan your day accordingly, doing easy tasks while feeling foggy and saving difficult tasks for when sleep inertia has lifted. 

Learn more about how RISE helps you craft an energy-boosting morning routine here.

5. Exercise 

Regular exercise isn’t just good for your waistline, it can also increase blood flow to your brain. Exercise — both one-off bouts and regular physical activity — can improve memory function and both aerobic and strength exercises have been shown to improve executive function, including attention and susceptibility to distractions. Even a 10-minute walk can boost your energy more than a sugary snack. 

Luckily, exercising can also help you relieve stress and fall asleep at night. Just be sure to avoid intense exercise within an hour of bedtime or it may keep you awake

Check RISE for when you’ll have the most energy to exercise and when you should focus on winding down for bed instead. Learn more about the best times to workout here.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their avoid late workouts reminder.

6. Eat the Right Foods (at the Right Times)

RISE app screenshot showing when to avoid late meals
The RISE app can tell you when to avoid late meals.

Eating a healthy diet full of fruits, veggies, whole grains, healthy fats, and proteins will ensure nutritional and vitamin deficiencies aren’t the reason for your brain fog. Probiotics and fermented foods can also help to keep your gut healthy, which contributes to brain health and function.

Even what you eat for breakfast can have an impact on how alert you feel each morning. A 2022 study found a high-carb breakfast made people feel more alert, whereas a high-protein breakfast containing the same amount of calories lowered alertness levels. A high-sugar breakfast (without accompanying fats and proteins) also tanked energy levels. 

What you eat can also impact your sleep Research published in 2022 found diets high in fiber, fruits, vegetables, and anti-inflammatory foods and low in saturated fat were linked to better sleep quality (although experts don’t have an agreed-upon definition for sleep quality yet).

We covered foods that give you energy in more detail here.

Remember to drink enough water and avoid drinking too much alcohol and caffeine each day or consuming them too close to bedtime as they can keep or wake you up.

Beyond what you eat, you should also think about when you eat. Eating too close to bedtime can keep you up late into the night, hiking up your sleep debt. And eating at odd times can throw off your circadian rhythm. 

Research is conflicting, but there is some evidence to show intermittent fasting may be good for your brain health, energy levels, gut health, and blood sugar levels. More research needs to be done, however, so for now, it’s recommended you eat all your meals within a 12-hour window.  

Check the RISE app for when your last meal of the day should be and when you should stop drinking caffeine and alcohol. 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their avoid late meals reminder.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their limit caffeine reminder.

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to set up their avoid late alcohol reminder.

7. Lower Your Stress Levels

As stress can keep you up at night and impair your mental performance, focus on keeping it in check. 

You may have to make big lifestyle changes like cutting down on work responsibilities, speaking to a therapist, or hiring more childcare. But small daily behaviors like taking frequent breaks, getting out in nature, speaking with loved ones, and doing a relaxing hobby can also help. Meditation can help slow your mind and it’s also been shown to boost memory, too. 

RISE can guide you through relaxation exercises like diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation to help you ease stress and anxiety. Learn more about 4 science-backed relaxation techniques for sleep here. 

8. Learn to Ride the Wave 

RISE app screenshot showing your peak and dip energy times
The RISE app can predict your circadian rhythm each day.

There are times in life when brain fog will hit you and you can’t do anything about it. Perhaps you have a health issue, you’re pregnant, or you’re stuck in bed with COVID. In these times, keeping sleep debt low and living in sync with your circadian rhythm can help you feel as best as possible. You can also learn to ride the wave and make the most of the energy and mental capacity you do have. 

The RISE app shows you your predictable peaks and dips in energy each day. This allows you to schedule your daily tasks to match when you’ll be feeling alert, clear-headed, and probably at your most productive

To help further, we have a few guides on specific times you might be feeling brain foggy: 

RISE users on iOS 1.202 and above can click here to see their circadian rhythm on the Energy screen.

9. Speak to a Doctor About Your Medication or Getting Tested for a Health Condition 

If you think brain fog is a side effect of your medication, speak to your doctor about trying a different prescription. And, if you think it’s due to a medical condition, reach out to a healthcare provider to get tested and discuss treatment options.  

If you have symptoms like morning headaches, excessive daytime tiredness, or find yourself waking up gasping for breath, you can also get tested for sleep apnea. The sleep disorder can cause brain fog-like symptoms including difficulty concentrating, impaired memory, and mood swings. You can learn more about how to know if you have sleep apnea here. 

You can also get tested for vitamin deficiencies and prescribed the right supplements for you. 

Banish Brain Fog with a Good Night’s Sleep  

Battling brain fog is no easy feat. It’s hard to tell what exactly is causing your symptoms and there’s no simple test for it, either. One thing you can do that’s guaranteed to help you feel better, whether you have brain fog or something else entirely, is improve your sleep. 

Lowering your sleep debt and living in sync with your circadian rhythm can boost everything from your energy levels to your mental health to your cognitive function, and they can reduce the risk of health conditions that can cause a fuzzy brain. 

The RISE app can help. Use the app to find out your individual sleep need and how much sleep debt you’re carrying, and to see a prediction of your circadian rhythm each day. RISE can also remind you when to do 20+ sleep hygiene habits to help you sleep soundly each night and have more mental clarity each day.

Summary FAQs

Are brain fog and fatigue the same thing?

Brain fog and fatigue may not necessarily be the same things. When you have brain fog, you’ll feel fatigue, but you may also have cognitive symptoms like trouble concentrating, memory issues, disorientation, and having trouble with speech and language.

Symptoms of brain fog

Symptoms of brain fog include difficulty concentrating, memory problems, disorientation, mental fatigue, trouble with speech and language, and feeling easily distracted, mentally slow, fuzzy, and scattered.

How long does brain fog last?

How long brain fog lasts will all depend on what’s causing it. If you have brain fog from sleep deprivation, for example, symptoms will improve when you start getting more sleep. If it’s caused by long COVID, on the other hand, symptoms may last for much longer and be harder to shift.

What are causes of brain fog?

Brain fog can be caused by high sleep debt, living out of sync with your circadian rhythm, staying awake for too long, poor diet, vitamin deficiencies, stress, being sick, COVID, medication, health conditions like depression or ADHD, or hormonal changes like those during pregnancy, your menstrual cycle, or menopause.

How do you get rid of brain fog?

How you get rid of brain fog will all depend on what’s causing it and, unfortunately, it has many possible causes. Lowering your sleep debt and living in sync with your circadian rhythm will help boost your energy, mood, and cognitive function. Exercising, lowering stress, and eating a healthy diet can all help, too.

What are natural remedies for brain fog?

Natural remedies for brain fog include lifestyle changes like lowering your sleep debt, living in sync with your circadian rhythm, exercising, lowering stress, eating a healthy diet, and cutting down on processed foods and sugar.

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