What is Brain Fog?

What is Brain Fog?

By Dr. Theresa Williamson, MD, MPH
Neurosurgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School

We’ve all had that feeling when you can’t quite focus or easily forget things. There’s even a perfect name for this – Brain Fog. And it often comes from poor sleep.

As a mother to a young child, with a demanding career and family, I do a lot of juggling, so I’ve experienced Brain Fog too. But did you know Brain Fog is something that actually happens on a neurological level?

Q: What is Brain Fog? 

A: When neurons “lapse” in your brain, causing you to lose focus or forget things, we call it "Brain Fog". 

Q: What part of the brain controls focus and being able to recall?

A: In order for you to pay attention and remember things, three parts of your brain need to communicate with each other. These are the thalamus, frontoparietal cortex, and medial temporal lobe.

Q: Brain Fog isn’t serious, is it? 

A: Brain Fog isn't serious in the short term, but the brain’s behavior during Brain Fog is similar to having a concussion or other diseased brain states. So, if you consistently have Brain Fog, be sure to discuss it with your doctor. 

Q: What can I do to combat Brain Fog?

A: Getting a restful night’s sleep has been shown to provide many health benefits, including supporting a positive mood and clarity. Start by establishing a consistent sleep routine (also known as sleep hygiene) to find out what works best for you to relax. Check out a few tips below.

Establish a wind-down routine.

Taking a warm shower or bath, listening to music, journaling, reading, meditating before bed (we love Sleep by Headspace), and doing 10-15 minute gentle yoga stretches can get you in a relaxed state of mind. 

Make your room dark, cool + comfortable.

A relaxing environment is essential for a good night’s rest. Dimming the lights or using a bedside lamp to create a relaxing ambiance, plus using comfortable, cozy bedding with a cooler room temp is recommended.

Screens + sleep are not friends. 

That’s because light, especially the blue light that's generated from a smartphone, tablet or laptop screen, interferes with the release of melatonin, a hormone that tells your body it’s time to wind down. So say goodnight to those work emails and social scrolling by arranging to unplug at least 30-60 minutes before going to bed.

About The Author:
Dr. Theresa Williamson, MD, MPH Neurosurgeon Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, Health Equity Researcher and Champion for patient and community health. Teaching Faculty at the Harvard Center for Bioethics. She is passionate about being a champion for patient and community health and providing a voice for patients + providers to improve healthcare. She also founded and runs the Neurosurgical Equitable Wellness Lab and co-direct the Center for Neurotechnology Justice.

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