From Foggy to Focused, How Quality Sleep Can Help Women Overcome Brain Fog

April 17, 2023

Valerie Cacho MD

Do you struggle to remember simple things, lose focus on routine tasks, or forget why you walked into the next room? These are common events that plague someone suffering from brain fog. BUT, did you know that the amount and quality of your sleep can leave you feeling foggy? If you could use more focus, clarity, and productivity in your life, keep reading to discover the relationship between sleep health and brain fog. Stay to the end for simple tips on how to overcome brain fog.

What is brain fog?

Brain fog is not a medical disorder, nevertheless it is a commonly used term that encompasses feeling forgetful, having difficulty with attention, confusion, or mental exhaustion. This feeling can be short-lived during times of excess stress and overwhelm but chronic brain fog can result from our lifestyle choices, specifically our nutrition, exercise levels, medication side effects, or street drug use. Women in midlife can experience brain fog due to fluctuations in our sex hormones from perimenopause and menopause which can lead to poor sleep, and in turn even more issues with our cognition.

The link between sleep and brain fog

Although we are unconscious during sleep, our brains are active and they run programs to improve our brain health while we rest. This includes cataloging and storing memories of the day from our short term to long term memory banks, repairing our brain cells, and lowering the hormone responsible for stress. Our brains are impressive organs! 

According to research from UCLA short term sleep deprivation can lead to lapses in attention like those of being at the legally intoxicated levels.

Additional research from UCLA suggests chronic sleep deprivation can lead to dementia due to increased levels of inflammation and from the build of the protein, beta-amyloid that is associated with Alzheimer’s disease. More about this brain toxin below.

As women we experience more sleep disturbances to due to higher rates of anxiety, depression, our role as caregivers in the family, in addition to biological changes in sleep from menses, pregnancy, to menopause. Read more in our post, “Top Sleep Challenges for Midlife Women, What You Need to Know.”

The role of brain toxins and the glymphatic system

During deep sleep the program in our brain to remove toxins and waste that have built up during the day is switched on. This program is called the glymphatic system and has often been described as the shampoo released during sleep to clean out the dirt and waste in our brain. 

One concerning toxin is beta-amyloid and lack of sleep results in less shampoo available to clean the beta-amyloid residue that has accumulated. Over time this residue turns in to plaques in our brain which can increase our risk for Alzheimer’s disease. However, it is only part of the picture for developing Alzheimer’s disease. Genetics, smoking history, presence or absence for heart disease or diabetes, and nutrition are also key factors being diagnosed with this condition. If you have any concerns about your brain health and risk for dementia please talk to healthcare professional.

5 sleep tips to relieve brain fog

Understanding how sleep impacts your brain health can drive you to better your sleep quality.

Try incorporating any (or all) 5 of these sleep tips:

  1. Prioritize sleep. Sleep is vital for your overall health and if it wasn’t clear, your brain health. Give sleep the love and attention it deserves because with improved sleep other facets of your life will also greatly improve. Schedule the last hour in the day for you own wind down ritual.
  2. Have a consistent bedtime and wakeup time. Keeping to a schedule is so important for our sleep drive and internal clock. Having irregular schedules can lead to sleep loss and even more brain fog. Ask anyone who does shift work or has a newborn baby at home.  
  3. Journal. An overactive mind tops the list of why women have a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep. Journaling your thoughts is an excellent way to process your these thoughts on paper and it frees up space for your mind to rest at night. For more on quieting a busy mind read, “How to Turn Off Your Brain So You Can Sleep.”
  4. Eat high fiber foods. Foods with high fiber can lead to better quality sleep by increasing the amount of deep sleep you get at night. Deep sleep is the sleep stages when the cleansing shampoo comes out at night. Load up on your favorite berries, beans, veggies, and whole grains to increase your daily fiber count.
  5. Stay active. Moving your body during the day can increase blood flow to your brain. Exercising is also great for your mood and can also make your body feel physically exhausted which leads to better sleep. If you need help getting started with an exercise program read “6 Steps to Creating a Sustainable Exercise Plan.”

Brain fog is frustrating, but it doesn’t need to be something you have to live with. By prioritizing sleep and implementing these sleep tips, you can improve your memory, productivity, and overall brain health. If you have tried all these things and still feel like you are in a haze, talk to a healthcare professional about your symptoms. Remember, better sleep leads to a better you.

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