There are lots of reasons a person may wake up fuzzy-headed—one too many drinks the night before, not enough sleep, or maybe a combination of both. But for many men, this lack of cognitive clarity is a perpetual problem that goes beyond the occasional morning hangover.
In addition to the aforementioned triggers like overindulgence in alcohol or lack of rest, cloudy thinking can be attributed to a number of different causes. These include:
- Food sensitivities/allergies
- Medication side effects
No matter what’s behind it, feeling foggy doesn’t have to be your fate. Here are some tricks to help you boost your cognitive performance.
Also known as “smart drugs,” nootropics are getting a lot of attention for their potential ability to boost brain function. Popular in Silicon Valley with entrepreneurs hoping to edge out the competition as well as on college campuses across the country, nootropics purportedly help you stay sharp and focused, but the data on some of them (like piracetam) is far from conclusive. They also have side effects, which is why I’d recommend doing some trial and error to see what works for you.
Here are a couple of my favorite natural nootropics. See my post here for the complete list.
- Phosphatidylserine (PS) – Research indicates supplementing with PS derived from cows may help reduce the cognitive decline that often accompanies aging.
- L-theanine – Unlike stimulants such as Adderall that may cause jittery (and potentially serious) side effects, L-theanine can help you relax and focus at the same time.
For me, nothing clears away the fog like a few minutes of mindfulness. When talking to patients who think this useful and accessible tool might be a little too “out there” for them, I like to let the science speak for itself. Do you find it hard to focus at work because you’re so stressed out and wound up? Meditation has been proven to relieve anxiety, and research indicates meditation can help lower stress and prevent burnout for people in high-pressure and fast-paced fields like health care.
Meditation may also improve your memory and decision-making abilities by increasing the amount of grey matter in the frontal cortex of your brain. Studies involving brain scans and meditation found that meditators in their fifties had the same amount of grey matter in one part of the prefrontal cortex as people in their twenties in spite of the fact that the cortex is known to shrink as we age.
Intrigued by the science-backed benefits of meditation but unsure where to start? It’s as simple as downloading an app to your smartphone. You can see a list of my favorites here.
For some people, feeling foggy may be a side effect of nutrient deficiency. For example, insufficient B12 has been associated with problems with thinking and reasoning as well as memory loss. In one study involving 121 adults aged 65 and older, researchers found that participants who had the markers linked to vitamin B12 deficiency were more likely to have the lowest scores on tests that measured memory and concentration—as well as the smallest brains.
Nutrient deficiency is one of the more insidious causes of brain fog because you don’t know that you’re missing something, much less what you’re missing. That’s why I’m a big proponent of micronutrient testing. Knowing your body’s deficiencies can change your brain health because a few simple tweaks can fix problems you didn’t even know you had. It can also help you stop wasting money on pricey supplements you don’t need.
As I said at the beginning of this post, feeling foggy doesn’t have to be your fate. When you take charge of your own health, you realize that implementing a few simple lifestyle changes (like these tricks to boost your cognitive performance) are sometimes all it takes to elevate your game from average to exceptional.
Wondering what others areas of your health could use your attention? Consider taking my Optimal Men’s Health quiz. It’s designed to help you determine your next best step to getting healthier and closer to winning.
Myles Spar, MD, MPH is board-certified in Internal Medicine and in Integrative Medicine. As a clinician, teacher and researcher on faculty of two major medical centers, he has led the charge for a more proactive, holistic and personalized approach to care that focuses on cutting edge technology and preventative care. Dr. Spar has traveled with the NBA, presented a TEDx Talk, appeared on Dr. Oz, and been featured in publications such as the Men’s Journal and the Los Angeles Times.