The Cognitive Science Behind Brain Fog

Have you ever experienced moments of mental cloudiness, difficulty concentrating, or sluggishness in your thinking? If so, you may have encountered brain fog. This phenomenon can affect anyone and can hinder cognitive performance and daily functioning. It can be very short-term, lasting just a couple hours, or long-term, lasting for weeks or months, depending on the cause. But what exactly is brain fog, and what does cognitive science tell us about its origins and effects? In this article, we look at what brain fog is, explore its causes, symptoms, and potential remedies based on cognitive science.

Cognition and brain fog

Brain fog describes a collection of symptoms that can impair cognitive function and mental clarity. It is characterized by effects such as forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, confusion, reduced mental agility, and feeling mentally drained. While it isn’t recognized as a medical condition on its own, brain fog often accompanies underlying conditions or lifestyle factors that affect cognitive processes.

Brain fog can impair many aspects of cognition, including the following:


Cognitive science suggests that brain fog can result from an overload of cognitive processes. When our attentional resources are spread too thin or constantly diverted, cognitive performance suffers. Intense multitasking, information overload, or excessive mental demands can contribute to brain fog. 

Working memory

Working memory refers to our ability to hold and manipulate information in our minds on a temporary basis. Limited working memory capacity can lead to difficulties in focusing, retaining information, and problem-solving, manifesting as brain fog.

Executive Functions

Brain fog can be linked to impaired executive functioning, which include skills like planning, decision-making, and inhibiting undesirable behaviors. When executive functions are compromised, it becomes harder to stay organized, manage time, and sustain attention.

What causes brain fog?

Brain fog can have a wide variety of causes, but here are some of the most common:

Lack of sleep

Insufficient or poor-quality sleep can lead to cognitive impairment and brain fog. During sleep, the brain encodes memories, clears metabolic waste, and restores optimal functioning. Without adequate sleep, cognitive performance can suffer.

Chronic stress

Prolonged stress can overwhelm the brain’s capacity to cope, leading to cognitive impairments. Stress hormones like cortisol can disrupt attention, memory, and decision-making processes, contributing to brain fog.

Nutritional deficiencies

Inadequate intake of essential nutrients, such as vitamins B12, D, and omega-3 fatty acids, can impact brain health and cognitive function. Nutritional deficiencies may arise due to poor diet, digestion issues, or restrictive eating patterns.

Hormonal changes

Hormonal fluctuations during menopause, pregnancy, or conditions like hypothyroidism can disrupt neurotransmitter levels and impair cognitive function, possibly resulting in brain fog.

Medications and medical conditions

Certain medications, including antihistamines, sedatives, chemotherapy treatment, and antidepressants, may have cognitive side effects that contribute to brain fog. Additionally, medical conditions like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, and autoimmune disorders are often associated with brain fog symptoms.

COVID-19 has been a major cause of brain fog for many people during the pandemic and beyond. If you’ve had COVID and have persistent brain fog, there are resources to learn more and address the condition.


Inflammation in the body has been associated with brain fog. Chronic inflammation, whether originating from physical ailments or an unhealthy lifestyle, can contribute to brain fog by affecting neurotransmitter balance and neuron communication.

Strategies to alleviate brain fog

Prioritize sleep

Make sleep a priority by ensuring a consistent sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and optimizing your sleep environment for quality rest.

Manage stress

Incorporate stress management techniques into your daily routine, such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, and engaging in activities that promote relaxation and well-being.

Eat a balanced diet

A diet that includes a healthy variety of nutrients serves your cognitive health in the long run. A balanced diet without too many sweets and unhealthy fats is ideal for staying on top of your brain health.

Get exercise

Getting some physical activity into your day can help to improve sleep and alleviate stress. These positive effects may help to alleviate brain fog symptoms.

Seek help if symptoms persist

If healthy lifestyle changes don’t seem to be helping, don’t hesitate to seek help from a doctor. Brain fog could be coming from an unexpected source, such as a medication. Consult your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your brain and cognitive health.


  • Brain fog is a collection of symptoms that can impair cognitive function and mental clarity.
  • Brain fog can affect a variety of cognitive functions, such as attention, executive functions, and working memory.
  • It can have multiple different causes such as lack of sleep, stress, or illness.
  • There are ways to alleviate brain fog. However, if you experience it persistently, seeking medical advice is a good idea.
Aly Castle

Aly is HappyNeuron Pro’s Content Specialist. She is passionate about mental health and well-being and loves utilizing her design background to share important cognitive information clearly and understandably.

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