Brain Fog During Your Period Is Totally Normal But It Can Be Fought

For a number of women, menstruation strikes with more than just acne breakouts, abdominal spasms, and physical fatigue. Many have reported decreased mental clarity, fuzzy memory, and troubles with decision-making in the days leading up to their periods. If you have had this problem for a while, you're not imagining things. Menstruation can really mess with your head. This host of cognitive difficulties experienced during one's menstrual cycle is commonly referred to as "brain fog." WomanLog attributes brain fog to premenstrual syndrome, which is a set of uncomfortable emotional and physical symptoms that most women get right before their period. However, chronic fatigue syndrome and certain mental health disorders can also result in brain fog.

Period brain fog might also have to do with the fluctuations in a person's sex hormones, explains neuropsychologist Caroline Gurvich (via Jean Hailes). Sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone are reportedly linked with a person's cognitive abilities. Menstruation can cause hormone levels to go up and down, contributing to symptoms similar to brain fog, Gurvich explains. Although brain fog is normal, it can have a debilitating effect on your day-to-day activities and add a burden to your already uncomfortable period. And you don't have to put up with it. Below, check out ways to prep your body to lift every bout of brain fog the comes with your period.

Limit screen time before bed

Not getting enough sleep around your period can predispose you to brain fog. In the days leading up to and throughout your period, prioritize your sleep to give your brain all the rest it needs to function at full tilt the following day. That means no more TV-binging, phone calling, and doomscrolling around bedtime.

According to The Sleep Doctor, screen time in bed is bad news for your sleep quality due to the body's biological clock. An internal clock in your brain, your biological clock regulates your sleep-wake cycle. Lights and sounds from TVs and other technology devices can fool the brain into thinking it's in a different part of the sleep-wake cycle, negatively impacting your sleep and weakening your cognitive functions.

Getting quality sleep can also appease other menstrual symptoms and lighten the load of your period. "Managing better sleep during periods can help alleviate the painful cramps, improve your mood, reduce fatigue and discomfort, and make the period cycle more comfortable," consultant gynecologist and obstetrician Dr. Astha Dayal tells HealthShots.

Eat an iron-rich diet

Iron deficiency anemia can also cause brain fog. This condition occurs when you bleed a lot, and your body doesn't have enough iron to produce hemoglobin — a metalloprotein in your red blood cells that is responsible for carrying oxygenated blood from the respiratory organs to the rest of the body, per Mayo Clinic. Low anemia predisposes your brain to a lack of oxygen needed for smooth functioning, making you feel dizzy and weak as a result. To improve your cognitive impairment during your period, make sure your iron levels are sufficiently replenished. One way to do that is to consume an iron-rich diet.

According to the NHS, good sources of iron can be found in red meat, nuts, beans, dried fruits, cereals, and liver. Beverage-wise, pea protein shakes, pomegranate and date smoothies, prune juice, beetroot juice, pumpkin juice, and spinach juice are healthy plant-based iron sources. Keep in mind that your body can soak up more iron when it's digested in multiple small doses instead of a large one, so space out your iron consumption for optimal absorption. 

Manage your stress levels

Keeping your stress levels in check can do wonders for your brain fog. Stress can affect your period in more ways than one."Elevated cortisol levels are associated with poor cognitive functioning and impaired memory, which cause brain fog," says adult and child psychiatrist Dr. Rashmi Parmar (via HelloGiggles). Chronic stress and brain fog can contribute to each other. To minimize brain fog, it's important you make a conscious effort to check in with yourself and relax your mind whenever possible. If left unchecked, chronic stress can make periods more painful, or even stop them altogether.

When stress is in the way, the hormonal mechanisms between the brain and ovaries experience significant changes, which may have an adverse effect on the hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle. Stress in any shape and form can cause a hike in endorphins and cortisol production, which interrupts the hormone production and result in an abnormal menstrual cycle, says OB-GYN specialist Randa J. Jalloul to UTHealth Houston

Stay physically active

10 minutes of exercise per day can keep brain fog away. According to a study published in the Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services, getting physically active on a regular basis can be effective in banishing brain fog and clearing up your mind. Physical activity is associated with increased cognitive health: it can boost your mental clarity, enhance your problem-solving skills, and preserve your emotional equilibrium, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out.

A 1995 study published in Sports Medicine reveals that exercising stimulates the production of neurotrophins — growth factors that regulate the development and function of vertebrate nervous systems — which result in better memory and learning skills. Working out regularly also boosts levels of neurotrophins and serotonin and norepinephrine, two neurotransmitters that improve mood and information processing in the brain. Exercises that have been shown to improve brain health include aerobic activity, physical training, and mind-body practices like dancing, yoga, and taichi. When you're on your period, you can opt for low-intensity exercises that don't make you uncomfortable or interfere with your menstrual cycle. A breezy walk in the park or a few stretches to get your blood flowing will do. 

Do one thing at a time

There's growing evidence that multitasking is bad for your cognitive health and can worsen your brain fog. Engaging in multiple tasks at once might make you feel productive, but it's actually frustrating your brain and causing it to slow down, according to cognitive neuroscientist Sandra Bond Chapman from the Center for BrainHealth. At all times, focus on one goal at a time — with as few distractions and interruptions as possible — and try to finish it within a 30-minute period of time.

Trying to juggle between tasks at the same time can create interference among several brain networks responsible for attention and cognitive control, such as the frontoparietal control network, the dorsal attention network, and the ventral attention network, says Kevin Paul Madore, a neuroscientist at Stanford University. This switching back and forth can result in lower processing and cognitive mistakes. Aside from single-tasking, practice deep thinking instead of just going through the motion. Chapman asserts that when people think more deeply, their brain's central executive network where clear thinking, goal-setting, and decision-making take place, connects at a 30% faster rate. "That's like regaining almost two decades of neural function," explains Chapman.

Engage in cognitive retraining

If your brain fog gets really bad and you've tried every organic method but to no avail, you might as well seek more advanced intervention from cognitive retraining, or cognitive rehabilitation therapies. Technically a brain reset, cognitive therapies are often recommended for patients recovering from brain injuries or Covid-19. According to PsychicMotivator, cognitive retraining is a set of targeted therapies and exercises focused on restoring cognitive capacity — including memory, attention, and visual-spatial analysis — by way of repetition and mastery. For instance, you might be asked to play games or solve puzzles with increasing degrees of difficulty to hone your cognitive processing and psychosocial functioning as well as build your confidence.

A study published in the journal Neuropsychology Review suggests that moderate cognitive impairment, which usually comes before dementia due to age-related cognitive problems, may be treated with cognitive retraining. However, the authors stress that more research is needed to confirm the findings.

Everyone's condition differs, so there's no one-size-fits-all cognitive retraining treatment. Your healthcare professional will put you through some tests to get a finger on your condition before prescribing you any treatment. If your brain fog is not a one-off thing and it gets worse every time, the sooner you talk to a psychotherapist or a neurofeedback practitioner — the better.