Experiencing Brain Fog? Here's Why You Should Take A Look At Your Medication

You got a good night's sleep, you've eaten a nutritious meal, and you've enjoyed a little exercise today. So why does your brain feel like it's stuck in a swirling sea of fog? The mental cloudiness, difficulty focusing, and slow thinking that characterize the experience of brain fog can be difficult to shake. At its worst, it can feel like a physical barrier between you and the rest of the world and you're struggling to break through to the other side.

There are a number of reasons why a person may be experiencing brain fog. Stress, a lack of nutrition, as well as different health conditions such as ADHD, anxiety, depression, pregnancy, or a thyroid disorder can all potentially induce feelings of brain fog, according to experts at GoodRx.

In other cases, however, the cause of your brain fog may be related to something you reach for daily: your medications. While not all medicines are tied to brain fog, there are some specific types of drugs where brain fog is an associated side effect.

Brain fog related to sleep aids and pain medications

While anyone can experience brain fog no matter their age, medication-related brain fog tends to affect adults as they grow older and often begin taking more medications. "Memory issues can be common side effects for many drugs older adults often take for the first time in their lives," Dr. Mark Albers, a neurologist with the McCance Center for Brain Health at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, told Harvard Health Publishing. Sleep-aid drugs and pain medications are two types of medicines in particular often associated with brain fog.

When it comes to sleep aids, the effects of brain fog aren't restricted to prescription-strength drugs. Diphenhydramine — a type of antihistamine that can affect cognition in older adults – can often be found in over-the-counter sleep medications. But too, certain sleep-aid drugs that do require a prescription, such as Ambien, are known to disrupt the brain's consolidation process of converting short-term memories into long-term memories.

Additionally, chronic pain medications — including certain opioid analgesics and tricyclic antidepressants — have also been linked with confusion and memory difficulties as side effects.

Speak with your doctor about medication side effects

Sleep aids and pain medications aren't the only possible offenders that may cause brain fog. Rather, experts at Ochsner Health explain that blood pressure medications, chemotherapy drugs, and antihistamines could also be behind one's brain fog. For younger people, hormonal birth control can also prompt forgetfulness and memory issues.

It's also important to consider prescribed doses of these medications. "It depends on how much you take, how your body metabolizes the drug, and your individual sensitivity," Dr. Albers tells Harvard Health Publishing. For instance, older adults often metabolize drugs at a slower rate than younger individuals. Additionally, the blood-brain barrier wall — which filters out toxins and prevents them from entering the brain — weakens into older adulthood, potentially allowing more of the drug to make its way into the brain and impact cognition.

If you're struggling with brain fog, whether in the short-term or in the long run, talk with your doctor about what medications you're taking and any potential side effects. Switching medications, adjusting the dosage, or even changing up the timing of the medication may help relieve symptoms of brain fog.