When someone is struggling with brain fog, it can be more serious than simply not feeling like they can focus or concentrate. Brain fog can be a symptom of severe underlying conditions that need treatment. 

Brain fog can also put you and the people around you at risk. For example, if you suffer from brain fog, you may be more likely to engage in distracted driving. Most people tend to think about cellphone use as being the only form of distracted driving.

In reality, there are three forms of distracted driving. There’s manual distraction, visual distraction, and cognitive distraction. If you’re dealing with brain fog, you may have all three types of distraction behind the wheel, but especially cognitive distraction. 

Just three seconds of driver distraction can lead to a car crash. Brain fog, in that sense, can ultimately be deadly. 

Symptoms of brain fog can include having a hard time focusing on what you’re doing, multitasking, or recalling things. It can also make it hard to pay attention to your surroundings and cause symptoms, including mental and physical fatigue and headaches. 

Figuring out the underlying causes of brain fog is a big part of eliminating the problem and keeping yourself and people around you safe.

The following are six of the most common causes of brain fog. 

1. Stress and Anxiety

People often experience brain fog when they’re anxious or experiencing high-stress levels. If you feel that both anxiety and brain fog are regularly interfering with everyday activities, you should get medical attention. 

Anxiety takes up a lot of our mental resources, so we have to use more energy to focus on something besides our anxiety. You might feel like your anxious thoughts are constantly intruding on your thoughts, and that makes it tougher to think clearly and concentrate. 

When you’re trying to do a relatively simple task, the effects of anxiety and brain fog can actually be more obvious because you’re using less cognitive space. 

2. Hormonal Imbalance

If your hormones aren’t balanced, it can contribute to brain fog. There are several hormones that work with each other to help keep your mind clear and functioning optimally. 

Cortisol is one, and another is serotonin. Dopamine plays a role too. If these hormones aren’t working properly, you can experience sadness, sluggishness, and emotional ups and downs. 

If you have brain fog, one of these hormones could be the culprit, or more specifically, an imbalance. 

When women are pregnant, estrogen and progesterone levels go up, and that can cause short-term cognitive impairment. 

A drop in estrogen that occurs during menopause can also cause poor concentration and cloud thinking. 

3. Medical Conditions

There are medical conditions that can potentially be associated with brain fog. The conditions most often associated with less-than-clear thinking are ones that are linked to changes in blood glucose level, fatigue, and inflammation. 

Conditions with brain fog as a symptom include:

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Anemia
  • Depression
  • Diabetes
  • Migraine
  • Alzheimer’s 
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis and lupus
  • Dehydration
  • Viral infections, including COVID-19
  • Migraine

4. Lack of Sleep

Driving while drowsy can be as risky as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. A lack of sleep can also cloud your thinking. 

An estimated one-in-three adults in the U.S. aren’t getting enough sleep, and there are serious potential symptoms. 

When you don’t get sufficient sleep, it affects the ability of your brain cells to communicate with one another. That can lead to mental lapses. Those lapses can also affect visual perception and memory. 

These effects explain why people who are tired are at risk of causing accidents. Someone who’s sleep deprived will have a brain that will take longer to register what they’re perceiving. 

Along with trying your best to get more sleep, some of the things that can make you feel energized include getting natural light in the morning, which boosts energy and mood, exercising, and even listening to music. When you listen to music, it can change the connections between your auditory brain areas and the areas responsible for memory. 

5. Medications

A lot of medications can contribute to brain fog, and many are unsafe to take before you drive. Some of the many medicines linked to brain fog include:

  • Benzodiazepines are short-term anxiety medicines. Benzodiazepines include Xanax, Ativan, Valium and Klonpin. The medications affect the areas of the brain that help you transfer events from short to long-term memories. 
  • Cholesterol medicines can impair memory and other mental blood processes. They’re thought to have this effect because they reduce brain levels of cholesterol. In the brain, cholesterol is vital to forming connections between nerve cells. 
  • Antiseizure medicines, such as Tegretol and Neurontin, affect the central nervous system, and that can lead to brain fog and memory loss. 
  • Beta-blockers are blood pressure medicines that also slow the heart rate. They can help with migraines, tremors, and other conditions too. Beta-blockers can block the activity of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, and that can lead to brain fog and related symptoms. 
  • Sleep aids, known as Z drugs, include Lunesta, Ambien, and Sonata. These can cause amnesia, and they can also trigger strange or dangerous behaviors. Taking these medicines can lead to brain fog and impairment even the next morning. 

6. Diet

Certain nutrient deficiencies play a role in brain fog, as can undereat. When you don’t eat enough, you’re at a greater risk of nutritional deficiencies. 

Vitamin D is one nutrient that is thought to play a role in brain function. People with low levels of vitamin D may notice impacts on their brain function, and they may have a higher risk of depression.  

Another nutrient that affects brain health in significant ways is vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is a micronutrient that can lead to issues in thinking, judgment, and memory if there’s a deficiency. 

Finally, iron helps form healthy blood cells, but it’s also part of brain development and cognitive function. If someone has either high or low levels of iron, it could change their memory, attention, and behavior, and all are associated with brain fog.