Can’t recall where you placed your keys? Or maybe you find your mind wandering while you’re trying to focus on making a grocery list? Blame brain fog, which is more common than ever. In a recent survey, 45% of people admitted to losing their train of thought at least once daily, while 58% percent said they frequently forget other’ names. Fortunately, help for a foggy head is at hand. In fact, research reveals clearing away mental cloudiness can be quick and easy. Here’s how to get rid of brain fog fast, whenever (and however) it strikes.
The most common causes of brain fog
First thing’s first: Foggy thinking is temporary and doesn’t signal memory loss. Everything from the weather to menopausal hormone swings can scatter your thoughts. In fact, estrogen helps the brain think quickly. And slumps and surges of the hormone during menopause cause 70% of us to sometimes blank on words or names, according to research in Aging. (Click through to see how spearmint tea can help brain fog triggered by PCOS hormone swings.)
Another sneaky cause: Warm, muggy days, which can increase memory lapses and mental fuzziness by as much as 114%, according to research in the journal PLOS Medicine. Heat inhibits the production of dopamine, a brain chemical that hones focus and attention. On the flip side, chilly days can increase dehydration by reducing your thirst response by 40%. This leaves many of us mentally sluggish and scattered. Fortunately, no matter the underlying cause of your brain blips, help is here!
How to get rid of brain fog that flares up in the morning
Wake up to ‘Good Vibrations’
Waking up to music rather than a buzzing or beeping alarm reduces your odds of feeling foggy in the morning (a phenomenon known as sleep inertia) by up to 50%. So say researchers reporting in the journal PloS One. Experts explain that, unlike alarm tones, pleasant melodies clear early-morning cobwebs by activating brain regions that govern focus and attention. For best benefits, they recommend choosing melodic wakeup songs that are easy to sing or hum (think ‘Good Vibrations’ by the Beach Boys or ‘Happy’ by Pharrell). Two apps that let you awaken to pleasant melodies: Sleep Alarm Clock With Music (available for Apple) and Mornify – Wake Up to Music (available for Android). (Click through to see how listening to music in a healing frequency cleared one woman’s brain fog.)
Savor a citrusy sip after you wake
Everything from snoring to sleeping in a too-warm room can deplete your body’s hydration levels overnight. And running just 2% low on fluids impairs performance on tasks requiring attention and memory skills, say experts reporting in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. While drinking H2O first thing seems like an obvious fix, you can amp up the benefits just by squeezing fresh lemon juice into your glass. Women’s health expert Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, says acids in lemon juice speed water absorption in the small intestine. And as a result, drinking lemon reverses dehydration-induced brain fog more effectively than sipping plain water.
Prefer oranges to lemons? You’re in luck. Compounds called flavonoids in oranges and their juice have a powerful ability to blast brain fog by boosting blood flow to the brain. In fact, a study in the European Journal of Nutrition found sipping 8 oz. of orange juice boosted folks’ alertness and mental performance by 71% for two hours. Plus, OJ improved psychomotor speed, a person’s ability to process information and physically respond to it (for example, making a correction while driving when someone veers into your lane). (Click through to see more simple ways to boost hydration and beat brain fog.)
How to get rid of brain fog that lowers productivity
Enjoy a stroll around the block
If you have a busy day ahead but find your mind constantly wandering off task, lace up your shoes and go for a stroll. “One of the best ways to enhance brain function is aerobic exercise,” notes neurologist David Perlmutter, MD. And it doesn’t mean you have clock long runs or hit the gym. Spending a mere 10 minutes puttering in your garden or walking around the block enhances memory and mental accuracy by 27% for four hours, findings in the journal Scientific Reports suggest. Turns out even brief bouts of physical activity ups production of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) a protein that revs recall and mental processing. (Click through to our sister site to see how walking slowly can burn fat.)
Nibble a chocolate treat
Milk chocolate is full of substances that boost brainpower, including theobromine and phenethylamine, reports Bryan Raudenbush, PhD, professor of physical therapy neuroscience and research at Wheeling University. In his study, subjects who nibbled 3 oz. (about three to four mini bars or one standard-sized bar) demonstrated significant improvements in reaction time, problem-solving skills and visual memory within 15 minutes. (Watching your caffeine intake? Click through to discover how much caffeine is in chocolate.)
Chat with a friend for 10 minutes
When it comes to whisking away brain fog, there’s nothing like tapping into the power of your social sphere. So says neuroscientist Sandra Bond Chapman, PhD, who notes, “Connecting with others stimulates every area of your brain, enhancing clarity of thinking.” And according to a study in Social Psychological and Personality Science, conversation with friends boosts executive function (the ability to focus, pan and multitask) within 10 minutes.
Tip: If you’re chatting with a friend on your phone, put it out of sight before you return to the tasks at hand. Findings in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research reveal your brain can’t help thinking about your phone when it’s visible, even if you’re not using it. This creates a distraction that saps concentration and lowers productivity.
How to get rid of brain fog that hampers your focus
Pause to mentally send out loving thoughts
As many as 50% of folks who meditate do so to boost their memory and concentration. And for good reason: Mindfulness meditation boosts blood flow to the prefrontal cortex of the brain, the seat of attention and focus, explains psychiatrist Daniel Amen, MD. One of his favorite techniques, loving kindness meditation, is as easy as it is comforting. To do, offer yourself well wishes, such as, “May I be peaceful. May I be calm.” Then send out those well wishes to others in the world to create a cascade of positivity that makes you feel happier, more alert and in control. (Click through for a beautiful guided loving kindness meditation from psychologist Tara Brach, PhD.)
Grab a cool can from the fridge
Wrapping your hand around a bottle or can that’s been chilling in the fridge provides a brain boost that’s almost instant. In study published in Psychological Research, people who chilled one palm for 20 seconds performed 39% better on tests of attention and focus afterwards than they did on tests they took after warming their palms. We associate sensations of warmth with safety, which can lower alertness. But cold sensations have the opposite effect: They put us in a mental ‘on guard’ mode that makes us more attentive. (Click through for more about the power of cold water to tone your nervous system.)
Take a whiff of rosemary essential oil
Inhaling the aroma of pure rosemary essential oil also stimulates the brain’s prefrontal cortex to boost mental stamina within 5 minutes, study in Scientia Pharmaceutica reveals. And Linda Page, ND, PhD, author of Healthy Healing, says the perks last up to 1 hour per sniff. Credit goes to the stimulating effects of compounds such as α-pinene and cineole that abound in the herbal oil. (Click through to discover how to grow your own rosemary from cuttings.)
No rosemary oil handy? Reach for cinnamon instead. The warm and comforting aroma of cinnamon provides an instant lift when you’re feeling tired or unfocused, says Dr. Amen. He explains that the scent activates mood and memory centers in the brain. And in a study Dr. Raudenbush conducted, inhaling the spicy aroma spurred significant increases in attention and alertness.
Munch on an apple
Or chomp on a stick of gum. Just two minutes of chewing enhances mental performance by 41%, according to researchers reporting in Frontiers in Neuroanatomy . And the brain-boosting benefits last for at least half an hour. Experts explain that chewing boosts delivery of energizing oxygen to the brain while activating brain regions that govern memory and mental processing.
How to get rid of brain fog that blocks your recall
Take an imaginary trip
When brain fog does a number on your memory, take a mental step back — literally. Findings in the journal Cognition suggest imagining yourself walking backwards can foil forgetfulness and help you reclaim those misplaced car keys. Turns out the trick triggers a phenomenon called the “mnemonic time-travel effect.” This takes brain back to when a memory was first filed away, automatically making it easier to retrieve.
Sniff an old childhood book
If foggy thinking is preventing you from recalling details a favorite memory from years ago, try this trick: Sniff an object associated with the memory, such as an old book you read on vacation or wooden pencil like you used to use in school. Research in the journal Human-Computer Interaction found doing so unlocks memory centers of the brain even better than looking at photos. This helps even fuzzy memories quickly snap into focus. (Click through to see more ways your favorite nostalgic memories can boost your health.)
Sing the alphabet song
Can’t recall the word or name on the tip of your tongue? This frustrating phenomenon called lethologica happens when dulled neural pathways block the brain from pulling words out of “storage.” The fix: Slowly whisper the alphabet song to yourself — or sing it aloud if you prefer! — thinking about each letter as you mouth or say it. Research in the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests hearing the first letter of the word you’re looking for acts as a cue that signals your brain to release it at last.
Read on for more ways to outsmart brain fog:
- This ‘Miracle’ Juice Cured One Woman’s Chronic Brain Fog
- 6 Things You Can Do in 6 Seconds to Clear Your Brain Fog
- The Superfood-Brain Fog Connection: Studies Show 6 Foods Help Clear Mind and Improve Focus
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.