Beating Brain Fog
You may have heard the term, but what is “brain fog?” While it is not an official medical term, it is a loose term used to describe difficulty concentrating, chronic mental fatigue, and cognitive dysfunction. Brain fog affects everyone differently, but the most common symptoms include lack of concentration, forgetfulness, mental flatlining and chronic fatigue. It can make it difficult to perform tasks at work, have conversations and make up your mind.
What causes brain fog?
Lack of sleep, poor sleep hygiene or blue light exposure before bed can all contribute to brain fog. Looking at blue light before bedtime, such as scrolling on your cellphone, decreases the hormone melatonin, which is essential for deep REM sleep. Waking up in the middle of a sleep cycle can also cause you to feel more tired and foggy during the day. In addition to brain fog, excessive screen time can cause long term vision problems and other eye health issues. Computer vision syndrome (CVS), also known as digital eye strain, is associated with activities that stress the near vision such as using computers, cell phones and other devices. The symptoms associated with CVS are eye strain and ache, redness, dryness, double or blurred vision, as well as neck and shoulder pain. Harvard Medical School researched the effects of using a light emitting e-reader before bed verses a printed book and found that those in the e-reader group took longer to fall asleep, had less sleepiness, decreased melatonin secretion and lower levels of alertness the next morning -- all of which can attribute to brain fog.
Stress also contributes to brain fog. When your body is under chronic stress it activates the sympathetic nervous system releasing the hormone epinephrine. This fight-or-flight response causes your body to take its energy away from typical body functions and put it towards the stressor, which makes it harder to think clearly and focus and can exhaust your brain.
Vitamin deficiencies and food sensitivities can also cause you to feel foggy. Vitamin B12 is used for creating red blood cells, nerves and DNA, among other functions. Your body cannot make B12; therefore, it must be consumed completely from the diet. Foods that contain B12 are meat, eggs, poultry, dairy and other animal foods. Those following strict vegan or vegetarian diets are at risk for developing a B12 deficiency. A vitamin B12 deficiency can affect your energy levels and make you feel fatigued. Another vitamin deficiency associated with brain fog is vitamin D. Your brain has vitamin D receptors throughout and plays a critical role in helping you make memories. In 2015, research showed that older adults with low levels of vitamin D experienced memory loss faster than those with healthy levels. Through exposure to sunlight, our skin is actually able to make vitamin D. Spending five to 30 minutes in direct sunlight without sunscreen can help your body synthesize its own vitamin D. Eating vitamin D rich foods like salmon, tuna, mushrooms and eggs, or taking a vitamin supplement, is recommended if you aren’t able to get enough through sun exposure or diet.
Tips for decreasing brain fog and eye strain:
The 20-20-20 rule can help with eyestrain. Take a break from your screen every 20 minutes or so to stare at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Over time you will feel the difference in giving your eyes a break from the blue light emitted from your screen.
Light your workspace properly so that the level of light in the room is equal to the light from your screen. Sitting in a dark room looking at a bright screen can strain the eyes faster.
Getting adequate sleep every night plays a large roll in decreasing brain fog. When you sleep you consolidate memories; therefore, you can remember what you learned the day before. Check out our blog on 5 tips for better sleep.
Get up and engage in some sort of movement. Stretching or going for a walk gives you a break from staring at the screen and has been found to promote neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to form new neural connections through growth and reorganization. Movement also helps decrease stress, which can cause impaired memory.
Eating a balanced diet can help decrease brain fog. When you are lacking specific nutrients such as vitamin B12 and vitamin D, it affects how your brain functions. By eating a diet full of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats such as avocado and olive oil, whole grains and lean proteins, you can increase your brain function and have more energy during your day.
If you suffer from brain fog, know you are not alone. The next time you start notice difficulty concentrating, fatigue, forgetfulness, and blurred or double vision try these methods to help decrease eye strain and prevent brain fog from occurring.
Written by: Olivia Sellers, Wellness Workdays Dietetic Intern