Tips for Managing Brain Fog and Fatigue
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last updated: November 2022
"I just read that last chapter. Why can’t I remember what happened?"
"I’ve never missed a deadline and just forgot a major one!"
"I feel like I’m slogging through thick pudding. I just can’t focus."
Do those thoughts sound familiar? Brain fog and fatigue are 2 symptoms common to some rare diseases. Brain fog may include problems concentrating, finding words, or performing basic math. It may also include problems getting or staying organized. Fatigue is a bone-deep weariness that makes it hard to get through daily life.1
What causes brain fog and fatigue?
Brain fog and fatigue may be caused by a wide variety of symptoms, including:2,3
- Chronic pain
- Poor sleep
- Chronic inflammation
Studies have shown that long-term inflammation can cause changes in the brain that lead to brain fog and fatigue. Doctors believe ongoing inflammation can disrupt the way the brain processes information and communicates to other areas of the body.2
Pain and stiffness can make it hard to sleep, which can lead to increasing levels of fatigue. Feeling exhausted can continue to make pain worse, which continues the cycle of pain and fatigue.2
Depression can interfere with sleep and decrease energy levels. People with chronic illnesses are more likely to have depression.2
Talk with your doctor
You should talk with your doctor, especially if brain fog and fatigue are new symptoms for you or are getting worse. Make sure your doctor knows about all the prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs and supplements you are taking. Sometimes new symptoms are more likely to be side effects or drug interactions, especially in people over age 65.1
There are many common health conditions that contribute to brain fog and fatigue that are easy to diagnose and treat. Examples would be anemia or dehydration. Whether or not your rare condition has been officially diagnosed, you may also need better control of symptoms like inflammation, depression, and pain.1,4-6
Managing your brain fog and fatigue
The good news is that you may be able to make some lifestyle changes to help you reduce brain fog and fatigue, or at least make them easier to manage. Many are even low or no cost.
Change your sleep routine
Sleep hygiene is a group of habits that can improve your chances of falling asleep, staying asleep, and sleeping well. Clean, comfy sheets are only one part of sleep hygiene. Keep a consistent sleep schedule. That means waking up and getting to bed around the same time every day. Keep your bedroom dark and at a comfortable temperature. Banish all electronics from the room and stop using them at least 30 minutes before bedtime. Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and heavy meals late in the day. All of this may help you sleep better and longer.1,6
You have probably heard it before. Regular exercise improves overall health. If you do not already exercise at least 30 minutes a day, make this part of your routine. Getting the blood pumping improves thinking and memory. It also helps make you tired for sleeping and reduces inflammation.1,7
Keep a symptom diary
Even when you feel your best, it can be hard to remember how you were feeling a week or a month ago. This is where a symptom diary can help. A symptom diary is simply a record of how you have been feeling. When you have a symptom, you record the day, the time of day, and anything you think may be important. Examples include what you were doing when a symptom first appeared or what you ate or how much sleep you got the night before. Over time, you may notice patterns. Share this information with your doctor so you can brainstorm ways to manage your trouble times.
Take your time
Set realistic expectations for yourself. Rest when you need to, ask for help, and say “no” or postpone plans if you do not feel up to it. Planning ahead for rest breaks can help. And stop multitasking. You may think you are getting more done, but multitasking actually irritates your brain and slows it down.5,8
Meditation and yoga are just 2 ways to help you focus and clear your mind. Another option: take multiple 5-minute breaks from brain activity. For example, take a short walk without talking on the phone or listening to a podcast. Just be in the moment. This helps rest and reset your brain so it can go back to work when you return.5,7
Try something new
Your brain likes to experience new things. Even simple new things excite the brain and help wake it up. Take a new route to the grocery store, sign up for a class, cook a new dish, or listen to some new music.1,5