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Published on March 18, 2021

What Is Brain Fog: Why It Happens And How To Get Over It

What Is Brain Fog: Why It Happens And How To Get Over It
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There’re several factors that can contribute to brain fog and for the purpose of this article, I will not be discussing one of those factors in particular (mental disorders) as it would become quite a lengthy article. Rather, I will be focusing on the average person in society and the challenges they (or you) may face with regards to brain fog, or simply put, a lack of mental clarity and focus.

Brain fog can come in many forms and often follows certain behaviors or circumstances that we humans find ourselves in such as lack of sleep (or low quality sleep), poor nutrition and hydration, stress, anxiety, and a number of other factors. Let’s dive into some of these in more detail!

Common Causes of Brain Fog

There’re 5 common causes of brain fog:

Lack of Sleep

One of the leading causes in my opinion, this also includes low quality sleep.

During sleep, the brain reorganizes and recharges itself, further it removes toxic waste byproducts which have accumulated throughout the day. This indicates and demonstrates that quality sleep can clear the brain (fog) and help maintain its normal functionality.

Poor Hydration

According to H.H. Mitchell, Journal of Biological Chemistry 158, the brain and heart are composed of 73% water.[1] This to me is a no-brainer (pun intended), and that one needs to drink water frequently in order to have high mental performance and clarity. The quality of water is also important, and I suggest natural spring water or alkaline water.

Poor Nutrition

The gut is often considered a second brain. Let’s keep this one simple in saying fast food and sugar is typically not going to yield mental clarity.

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Personally, I feel clearest when eating meals consisting of high quality protein such as salmon, steak, chicken, or in the case of a less meaty dish, I’ll load up on beans and leafy greens like spinach.

Lack of Exercise

According to Scientific America, exercise increases heart rate,[2] which pumps more oxygen to the brain. It also aids the release of hormones which provide an ideal environment for the growth of brain cells.

Additionally, exercise promotes brain plasticity by stimulating growth of new connections between cells in many important cortical areas of the brain.

Stress and Anxiety

Prolonged anxiety, stress, or panic attacks can cause your brain to release stress hormones on a regular basis. This can increase the frequency of symptoms such as headaches, dizziness, and depression. Needless to say brain fog follows chronic, and even acute stress or anxiety.

How to Get Over Brain Fog

There’re several approaches I personally use to get rid of brain fog, some being simple tricks or hacks and others being lifestyle adjustments. I’ll briefly touch on a few in the below breakdown. Let’s start by examining the quick hacks and then get into the lifestyle changes.

It’s important to note that supplementation can help with achieving mental clarity. I have created YouTube videos and this article about nootropics. Nootropics are an excellent way to support a lifestyle that already is conducive to mental clarity. I recommend you have a read on my previous article about brain boosters.

One of the simplest ways I have been able to overcome brain fog is by organizing. Creating lists is a great approach to organizing ones thoughts and actions. I feel much more focused after a detailed ‘to do’ listhas been created.

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I go beyond simply listing items but I create a legend of importance of those items using symbols. I use a star to indicate priority, a square box to indicate a secondary task, and a circle for quick tasks in between. Essentially, as I get through my daily or weekly list, I place a check-mark next to the completed items, or further notes if required.

1. Clean Up the Diet

The gut is comprised of 100 million neurons which is the network of nerve cells lining the digestive tract. This vast network is so extensive that it is often referred to as the ‘second brain’. This gut region of the body is technically known as the enteric nervous system, this network of neurons can often be overlooked, however it contains more nerve cells than the spinal cord or peripheral nervous system.

Poor diet can lead to inflammation of the gut, which essentially means ‘second brain fog’. Inflammation is one of the leading causes of illness and disease, and is often associated to poor eating habits as well as lack of hydration. Simply put, clean up your diet and you’ll notice remarkable clarity.

I suggest applying Intermittent Fasting at least 3 days a week and see how you feel.

Some foods to consider that can help boost your brain are fatty fish, frozen blueberries (there is an added benefit of freezing blueberries to increase the anti-oxidant properties, so I suggest giving that a shot), turmeric, broccoli, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, and nuts (such as walnuts). Of course all of these should be taken in moderation.

2. Sleep Better

During sleep, your brain repairs and restores itself, much like the rest of your body and its DNA and cells.

Quality sleep gives an opportunity to reduce DNA damage accumulated in the brain during wakefulness. Much research around sleep and its effects on the brain has found there is a link between sleep, chromosome dynamics, neuronal activity, and DNA damage and repair with direct physiological relevance to the entire organism.[3] Getting to sleep earlier and following a healthy circadian rhythm with quality sleep and REM cycles is of the utmost importance.

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3. Exercise Often

One of the more obvious remedies is regular exercise. There’s more than just brain boosting benefits that come with exercise.

Exercising often can enlarge the areas of the brain associated with memory, task management, coordination, planning and inhibition (the anterior cingulate cortex and the supplementary motor area).[4]

What does that mean in simple terms? Less brain fog! Exercises impact in terms of enlargement means that the developed parts of the brain function faster and more efficiently. Additionally when you exercise, oxygen flow to these areas of the brain is very beneficial.

4. Reduce Anxiety with Meditation

Meditation has been proven to reduce anxiety and depression by returning one to a more harmoneous state.

Mindfulness meditation is a wonderful practice that you can adopt whereby you focus on being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling in the moment, without interpretation or judgment.

Practicing mindfulness involves breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress.

Other meditation practices I suggest investigating are movement meditation, mantra meditation, transcendental meditation, and loving-kindness meditation. Personally, I have been practising meditation while in a float-tank (sensory deprivation tank), which allows me to clear the mind totally without any detraction from the senses.

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Maintaining Mental Clarity

Consistency is key when it comes to maintaining mental clarity. I suggest creating a routine or habit of practising good nutrition (with Intermittent Fasting incorporated), sleeping well, and getting regular exercise. If you need help on how to build a routine, check out this article: What Is a Routine? 9 Ways to Define a Routine That Works

After a routine has been established, you can start to experiment with nootropic supplements – and I suggest afterwards because until you have set your optimal routine, there’s no need to start supplementing for those added benefits.

Mental clarity won’t come over-night, so be prepared to commit to yourself and your own personal growth going forward!

Conclusion

Keeping the mind clear and functioning optimally is not as challenging as it may seem, and in fact as the fog dissipates, the new norm becomes mental clarity.

When the mind is clear, it can best guide and direct your daily life in the direction the is conducive to your highest potential.

I wish you all the best on your journey of mental clarity and encourage you to reach out with updates and progress! You can contact me across the various social media channels and tag me in your posts.

Featured photo credit: Sage Friedman via unsplash.com

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Reference

More by this author

Adam Evans

BioHacker, competitive athlete, researcher in many fields including health and fitness, science, philosophy, metaphysics, religion.

How to Break a Fast When You’re Intermittent Fasting 11 Health Benefits Of Ashwagandha (Backed By Science) Intermittent Fasting Diet for Beginners (The Complete Guide) 21 Healthy Dinner Recipes to Lose Weight and Gain Muscle Strength 10 Natural Brain Boosters to Enhance Memory, Energy, and Focus

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1 Shift Work Disorder: 17 Ways to Manage it Better 2 What Is the Best Time to Take Your Vitamins? 3 Do Vitamins and Supplements Help With Energy? 4 7 Ways Regular Exercise Boosts Your Mood And Energy 5 How To Take a Cold Shower For the Best Health Benefits

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Published on July 15, 2021

Shift Work Disorder: 17 Ways to Manage it Better

Shift Work Disorder: 17 Ways to Manage it Better
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Are you having trouble sleeping? Or do you feel like you can barely stay awake when you need to? Are you left tired and irritable, lacking the joy and motivation that life once brought? If these complaints are tied to your long or rotating work schedule, you may be suffering from shift work disorder—a common ailment among professions with schedules outside the typical 9 am to 6 pm range.[1]

Why does it matter? Let’s be honest—being tired stinks. It feels terrible and leaves you vulnerable to many health risks that well-rested people aren’t as susceptible to. Not only that, but it can also wreak havoc on your relationships and quality of life.

The good news is that there are plenty of ways to help manage this, and you can start trying them out today! Some of the solutions may not be what you expect. For instance, you might have linked improved sleep to exercise, but did you know that being compassionate with yourself can also have an impact?

Who Are Affected by Shift Work Disorder?

Twenty-five million people are shift workers in the country, so you are far from alone if you are struggling with this. Shift work disorder is a condition frequently affecting anyone who works a job where their schedule is outside standard business hours. Nurses, police officers, firefighters, and factory workers are common examples of professions with schedules that rotate around the clock.

Rotating shifts naturally leads to a change in one’s schedule, including sleep. As your sleep schedule becomes more chaotic, your body is unable to adjust and regulate itself and can result in having difficulty falling or staying asleep. This inevitably leads to less sleep, which is where some big problems can arise.

What Are the Symptoms?

Sleep is one of the most important (and underrated) aspects of our lives. Enough sleep and good quality sleep are critical to our emotional, mental, and physical health.

Insufficient sleep can lead to a significantly increased risk of physical health problems, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and gastrointestinal disorders. Mentally, being tired contributes to having scattered concentration, difficulty processing information, and being more likely to make mistakes or have an accident. Emotionally, the fallout of being chronically exhausted is linked to poor emotional regulation including being irritated more quickly, as well as an increased likelihood of developing anxiety and depression.[2]

Any of this sound familiar? If so, keep reading for some scientifically-based tips to help you manage your sleep better and get your life back.

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17 Ways to Manage Shift Work Disorder Better

Quality sleep, or the lack thereof, impacts us physically, mentally, and emotionally. The most impactful plan of attack against shift work disorder and to regain quality sleep must also reflect that.

I suggest reading through all of the tips and formulating a plan based on what you think will work for you. Start by trying out one thing and build from there as you are able. Remember to construct a plan that addresses your physical, mental, and emotional health.

Let’s start in the most obvious place first:

Your Job

1. Make Your Schedule the Best It Can Be

Randomly rotating shifts has been found to have the worst impact on our health.[3] If you have to rotate your schedule, request to rotate shifts in a clockwise fashion.

For example: work the day shift, rotate to the nights, then to the early morning shift, then start back on the day shift. Sounds silly? It’s not. Studies show that our bodies more easily adjust to changes in schedule when completed in a clockwise manner.[4] This is because of something called our circadian rhythm—24-hour cycles that are part of the body’s internal clock that carry out essential functions. The most commonly known of these is sleep. It has been discovered that our circadian rhythm adjusts forward more easily than it does backward.

2. Speak to Your Manager About Keeping Your Workplace Bright

Special lights have been designed to assist with circadian rhythm. It turns out that absorbing bright light that is most similar to sunlight can positively impact regulating our circadian rhythm.[5]

3. Avoid a Long Commute to and From Work

Having a long drive home after working a rotating shift is statistically not in your best interest. It’s been shown that fatigued/sleepy employees are 70% more likely to have a workplace accident and 33% more likely to be involved in a traffic accident.[6]

To avoid putting yourself at risk by driving when you’re not at your best, catch a nap before leaving work, pull over to sleep, or stay at a friend’s house nearby.

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4. Speak to Your Manager About Your Concerns

Many companies that operate around the clock are willing and able to make accommodations to those working alternative shifts. Whether it’s helping you find a schedule that works best for you or connecting you with other programs designed to support your well-being, being in good communication with your employer is to everyone’s benefit.

Sleep Attitudes and Environment

5. Change Your Perspective and Start Prioritizing Sleep

Here’s the deal: despite some pretty well-known dangerous effects of not getting enough sleep, somewhere along the line, our society began to think of sleep as a luxury. Some even consider it a badge of honor to “power through” without much (or any) sleep. People have been made to feel embarrassed or lazy if they get the recommended amount of sleep each night.

Here’s the bottom line: sleep is not a luxury.

Let me repeat that—sleep is not a luxury, and getting a consistent and healthy amount does not make you a slacker. Sleep is actually when our body does a lot of repair work on itself—blood vessels, muscles, and other organs. Sleep also boosts our immunity.

If we could help people feel as proud about sleeping as we do about them working out regularly or sticking to a healthy diet, people might be a lot healthier.

6. Make Your Sleep Space as Conducive to Rest as Possible

This means tweaking your environment so it’s as enticing as possible for your body to go to sleep. Keep the room dark using blackout blinds, reduce the temperature (our body rests best when slightly cool), limit interruptions (phone calls, visitors, noise), and remove electronic devices.[7]

Set yourself up for success by supporting yourself through your surroundings. If you wanted to lose weight, you wouldn’t frequently surround yourself with cookies, cake, and ice cream, right? Same idea here.

Personal Habits and Choices

7. Stick to a Regular Sleep Schedule as Closely as Possible—on Workdays and Days Off

This is obviously difficult when your schedule changes on the regular, but the more consistent you can keep your bedtime, the easier time your body has getting to sleep and staying that way.[8]

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8. Allow Yourself Time to Catch Up on Sleep

Having enough days off to rest and recuperate is an important aspect of protecting your health. You wouldn’t expect to be able to drive across the country on one tank of gas, right? Filling your own personal gas tank is just as important.

9. Take Naps, but Don’t Overdo It

It’s recommended by the Cleveland Clinic to take a 90-minute nap just before starting your shift and then a 30-minute nap during your “lunch break” at work.[9] Again, this is all about keeping some gas in your tank and not allowing yourself to get to the point where you are running on fumes. Short naps will help you stay refreshed and alert on the job.

10. Limit Caffeine to the Start of Your Shift

Most of us love a good hit of caffeine, especially when we are tired. But overdoing it or having caffeine too late in your shift can negatively impact your ability to get to sleep when you finally have the time to do so. Moderate your intake to help yourself get some quality sleep.

11. Avoid Alcohol Before Bed

Unwinding after work with a drink can be tempting. It can make you drowsy, which many people mistakenly believe will help them get better sleep. Unfortunately, alcohol will actually keep you awake (or wake you up later). This obviously impairs your ability to get the quality of sleep you are looking for.

12. Don’t Smoke

Much like alcohol, people turn to nicotine to “calm their nerves” or help them relax. Also, like alcohol, nicotine has been shown to disrupt sleep.[10] Cut back or cut this habit out as able.

13. Eat Well and Eat Smart

Choose convenient nutritious meals and snacks. Nutritious food is the foundation from which our body creates the needed chemicals for quality sleep. Foods high in saturated fat and sugar have been shown to have the worst impact on sleep.[11]

Also, timing is everything as they say. Eating too much or not enough before your shift can cause you to feel tired.

14. Get Regular Exercise

According to numerous studies, exercise can be as effective in treating sleep disorders as prescription medication.[12] Yes, you read that correctly—regular exercise is the bomb!

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This one can be tricky to convince people to do, especially if they are already tired and short on time. If you don’t have the time to hit the gym, take a brisk walk, dance around your living room to your favorite song, or mow your lawn. Despite feeling tired, getting up off the couch and moving around (moderate to vigorous exercise) is best for reducing the time it takes to get to sleep and improving the quality of sleep.

Mental and Emotional

15. Establish Consistent Practices That Help You Relax Before Bed

This can include yoga, deep breathing, a warm bath, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, meditation, and hypnosis. These are designed to reduce physical tension and quiet your mind from thoughts that are keeping you awake. There are lots of great apps and free videos that can help you with this.

16. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT as it’s known, works by helping you to identify thoughts and behaviors that make sleep worse and then developing new habits consisting of thoughts and behaviors that promote sleep. There are psychologists and life coaches who are specially certified in CBT that can help you with this.

17. Show Yourself Some Compassion

Sounds silly? Well, it’s not. A seven-year study conducted at the University of Mannheim concluded that the daily practice of self-compassion positively impacted people’s quality of sleep.[13]

The concept of showing ourselves compassion is foreign (and uncomfortable) to many of us. Try going easy on yourself for being grumpy, and give yourself some credit for the efforts you are making in tough circumstances. What would you say to your best friend if they were struggling with the same situation? I routinely ask my clients this question as it’s sometimes easier to be compassionate to others than ourselves. This tip might take some practice, but the effort could result in a better night’s sleep.

Final Thoughts

Okay, there you have it—17 different ways you can help yourself manage shift work disorder, feel more rested, more like yourself, and enjoy life again. To get started with your plan, pick out a few tips that you can implement today, but remember to choose a well-rounded approach—addressing the physical, mental and emotional.

Be patient with yourself. It takes time to build new habits. And show yourself some compassion and kindness—you might just be able to sleep better when you do.

Featured photo credit: Yuris Alhumaydy via unsplash.com

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Reference

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