Brain fog is a common experience that can happen to anyone due to lack of sleep, certain medications, or exhaustion after heavy physical activity. However, many menstruating people experience brain fog right before menstruation, and sometimes the symptoms are so intense that they disrupt daily life.
Brain fog before your period is often accompanied by other symptoms of premenstrual syndrome that can be, at the very least, annoying. In severe cases, the inability to focus and engage your mind can harm your daily life and your work or school performance.
Before we move on to brain fog, let's review the fundamentals of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and why it comes with uncomfortable symptoms. It would be challenging to find a woman who hasn't experienced at least some symptoms of PMS.
While most of the time, PMS presents as mild symptoms right before menstruation starts, for some people, the symptoms can be so severe that their daily lives are disrupted.
Learn more about the monthly cycle.
Even though most women of reproductive age experience PMS, that doesn't mean PMS is normal and should be tolerated, especially when symptoms are severe.
In severe cases, when a person suffers from Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which is more serious than PMS, they experience extreme fatigue, cramps, nausea, a worsening mental state, depression, and anxiety.
And one of the common symptoms many menstruating people experience is brain fog.
Brain fog is a condition when a person feels mentally numb, struggles to think and concentrate, and becomes indecisive and apathetic. PMS isn't the only cause for brain fog; certain health conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome and some mental health disorders can cause brain fog.
However, doctors still don't agree on how PMS and brain fog are related, and some studies show no link between the two. Yet, many people experience it. Instead of PMS being the reason for brain fog, a number of different factors might contribute to less than sharp brain function.
Poor sleep before the period starts. One symptom of PMS is insomnia and poor sleep quality. Although experts can't agree on the reason people struggle with insomnia before menstruation, during the luteal stage of the menstrual cycle, hormonal fluctuations have been shown to disrupt sleep patterns and cause fragmented sleep.
So, if you sleep poorly during the night, it's likely that your brain won't be as sharp during the day.
Insufficient diet. The brain consumes a lot of energy, which it derives from macronutrients, micronutrients, vitamins, and minerals. If your body is also preparing for menstruation, which takes a lot of energy, and if you aren't eating enough nutrient-rich foods, you might lack the energy for healthy brain function.
People with food sensitivities also tend to feel sluggish after eating trigger foods such as peanuts, dairy, or gluten. If you have a slow metabolism, brain fog is also a common symptom after eating, but if this is the case, your experience of brain fog and fatigue should be consistent throughout the month.
Medication. A number of drugs cause tiredness and brain fog. Antidepressants, antihistamines, and some cancer treatment medicines can cause poor concentration and mental numbness. While your condition might worsen before your period, it shouldn't fluctuate too much if your brain fog is due to medication.
Depression and anxiety. Depression manifests in feelings of numbness, sadness, an inability to enjoy daily activities, and brain fog. Anxiety, which is often accompanied by depression, also consumes a lot of mental energy because you must deal with intrusive thoughts. Both conditions can cause brain fog also because of altered chemical production in the brain.
Anxious thoughts can also impair your thinking and concentration, making you feel overwhelmed and therefore unable to focus. Some women experience intensifying feelings of depression, anxiety, and emotional eating right before their periods because of premenstrual exacerbation (PME), which is characterised by a worsening mental state before menstruation.
Anaemia. Anaemia is a condition when the blood lacks sufficient healthy red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout the body. When your brain doesn't receive enough oxygen, you feel dizzy, fatigued, and foggy. Anaemia tends to worsen before and during your period starts your body uses more energy than usual and lose blood for several days.
Anaemia usually manifests as a result of inefficient iron absorption or a lack of iron intake. If your diet lacks essential minerals, you may be at a higher risk of developing anaemia.
Brain fog and the inability to concentrate can not only be annoying but can also impair your daily life and work performance. If brain fog isn't a symptom of illness or a side-effect of medication, you can try making some changes to your lifestyle to feel sharper, especially around menstruation.
Get more sleep. Sleep is crucial for your well-being. While it might seem impossible to tackle insomnia, there are steps you can take to help you fall asleep faster and rest more soundly. You can train yourself to go to bed at the same time by setting a sleep schedule. If every day (weekends included) you go to sleep at the same time, you will likely feel sleepier then; and if you wake up at the same time, your body will naturally feel more energised.
Limiting brain stimulation before sleep is also recommended. Avoid scrolling your phone or watching intense movies. The best way to relax is to dim the lights, put your screen away an hour or two before retiring, and enjoy something like reading a book or meditating, journaling, or soaking in a hot bath.
If you still struggle to sleep, try natural remedies such as magnesium supplements, lavender tea, chamomile tea (which also helps with period cramps), or melatonin. If that doesn't help, your doctor might prescribe a sleep aid.
Move your body. Movement and exercise stimulate your body and brain. When you work out, you utilise your energy resources more efficiently. Fresh air, sunlight, and physical activity during the day activate your brain and help you sleep better at night.
You might struggle to motivate yourself to move as the days before menstruation when your energy levels are plummeting. But the paradox is that the more you move, the more energy you will have. Of course, you shouldn't push yourself too hard. Light exercises such as yoga, walking, and gentle strength training are good options before your period.
Our bodies are designed to live with the natural rhythms of the day. So, if you spend the day sitting in dim light, you are likely to feel tired and have difficulty concentrating because your brain perceives it as resting time. During the night, the artificial lights everywhere around us also disrupt our body's natural rhythms.
Get enough vitamins. Your brain is one of the most active parts of your body; it consumes a lot of energy and vital compounds. B group vitamins are essential for a healthy brain. They boost mood, regulate the chemical processes in the brain, and preserve brain longevity. Vitamin D is also known to regulate mood and sharpen concentration. Magnesium is responsible for your nervous system and good sleep quality. Zinc and omega fatty acids have anti-inflammatory features and are the building blocks for a healthy brain.
A balanced diet should provide most of these compounds, but if you experience severe brain fog and PMS symptoms, you might want to consult with your doctor about the possibility of supplementing.
Test for hormonal imbalances. If your brain fog is a result of PMS, a hormonal imbalance might be to blame. Severe PMS has been linked to an insufficient amount of progesterone and oestrogen dominance. Also, women who suffer from elevated levels of androgens (male sex hormones) tend to suffer from brain fog more often.
While some endocrine problems can't be cured and only managed, you can still find ways to help yourself. Your doctor might prescribe hormone therapy or recommend some lifestyle changes, but you can also support your body and brain with a proper diet, a gentle fitness regimen, and sufficient sleep.
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