If you’ve ever experienced brain fog, you know it can throw a wrench in everything from your mood to your motivation to your ability to concentrate and get things done. And whether that brain fog is a result of all the stress of the past two-plus years (we’re looking at you, pandemic) or the result of lingering COVID symptoms, if you’re experiencing brain fog on a regular basis, chances are, you’re ready to kick it to the curb — and move through your day with a better sense of focus and mental clarity.
But how, exactly, do you do that? Let’s take a look at strategies you can use to beat brain fog, increase mental clarity, and start feeling more focused, energetic, and motivated throughout the day:
Increase your water intake
Research has found that even mild dehydration can cause a decline in cognitive functioning, including issues with alertness — one of the telltale signs of brain fog. On the flip side, research has also found that proper hydration positively influences cognitive function — so, if you want to beat brain fog and increase mental clarity, one of the best things you can do?
Make sure you’re drinking enough water.
The general rule of thumb to stay properly hydrated is to drink eight eight-ounce cups of water per day, or 64 ounces total.
If downing eight glasses of water feels overwhelming, you can also hydrate through your diet. “Eat more foods that are high in water content, like cucumbers and melons,” says Dr. of physical therapy and holistic health and fitness coach Dr. Eni Kadar.
Eat for mental clarity
The foods you eat play a major role in how you feel — including whether you feel foggy or clear in the brain.
So, if you want to experience more mental clarity? Start by reviewing your diet.
Eating a lot of processed, high-fat, and / or high-sugar foods throughout the day? “High-fat and high-sugar foods are more difficult for your body to process and can contribute to brain fog,” says Kadar.
If you want to increase mental clarity, swap out those processed, high-sugar, and high-fat foods for a more whole foods-based diet.
“Focus on getting as many nutrient-dense foods into your diet as possible — nutrient dense meaning foods that are close to their natural state, that aren’t packaged, processed and have an expiry date,” says Kadar. “Think of vegetables, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, and meat.”
Because brain fog can also be caused by nutrient deficiencies (for example, one 2013 study found that eating more protein and increasing body iron can boost attention, memory, and overall cognitive performance), you’ll also want to incorporate as many different types of whole foods into your diet as possible. “Get as much variety of fruits and vegetables into your diet as possible to ensure an adequate amount of phytonutrients, vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients,” says Kadar.
“Skipping meals can often lead to brain fog, difficulty concentrating, and low overall energy,” says Lorencz. “[Eating] breakfast and eating at least every 5 hours has helped many of my clients think more clearly and have more energy during the day. ”
Exercise is a must for improving mental clarity; research shows that regular aerobic exercise actually increases the size of the hippocampus, the area of the brain associated with memory and learning.
So, if you want to beat brain fog and feel more mentally clear, you need to make exercise a priority.
The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week — so if you want to see your mental clarity improve, those benchmarks are a great place to start.
In addition to a regular fitness routine that gets your heart rate up (like regular jogs or trips to the gym), you should also aim to move more throughout the day, particularly if you have a job that has you at a desk all day long. .
“If you have a desk job or a sedentary job, aim to stand up and move around at least once an hour,” says Kadar. “This helps with blood flow and energy, and also helps minimize any lower back and hip pain.”
Improve your sleep hygiene
Another common cause of brain fog? Not getting enough high-quality sleep.
“Brain fog is closely linked to lack of sleep because of the way sleep deprivation affects our ability to think and focus,” says Dr. Po-Chang Hsu, Medical Expert at SleepingOcean.com. “Sleepiness slows down the thought process and decreases reaction time. Additionally, lack of sleep may have a negative effect on one’s memory. Research also suggests that sleep issues make it more difficult for brain cells to communicate with each other, typically causing mental lapses. ”
If you want to banish brain fog and increase mental clarity — and you suspect your sleep might have something to do with it — prioritizing getting more and / or better sleep is a must. And to do that, you’ll need to improve your habits around sleep, also known as sleep hygiene.
Your sleep schedule is a great place to start. “Establish a specific sleep schedule and follow it consistently,” says Hsu. “This means going to bed and waking up at approximately the same time every day — even during weekends.”
Getting into a regular schedule allows “brains and bodies more chances to get restful, deep sleep, as it’s easier for the brain to follow stable circadian rhythms when sleep patterns are consistent,” says Hsu.
In addition to getting on a more regular sleep schedule, other ways to improve sleep hygiene (and improve mental clarity in the process) include avoiding caffeine after 12pm, avoiding screens in the hour or two before bedtime (screens emit blue light that can mess with your body’s natural sleep cycle — also known as your circadian rhythm), and having a relaxing pre-bedtime ritual (like taking a bath or drinking a cup of hot tea) to signal to your brain and body that it’s time to go to sleep.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.
Deanna deBara is a freelance writer based in Portland, OR. She covers a wide range of wellness topics, including fitness, nutrition, relationships, and mental health. Her work has appeared on Greatist, Men’s Health, Ravishly, The Fix, What’s Good by The Vitamin Shoppe, and more.