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The science behind brain fog and how to stay focused

Summer Martin
brain fog, focus, confused

Are you feeling foggy?

Have you ever found yourself zoning out in the middle of an important meeting or forgetting simple tasks? You’re far from alone. Many adults report experiencing symptoms of brain fog. While these temporary lapses in memory or focus are common, persistent brain fog can affect your quality of life. 

But don’t worry. We’ve got you covered. 

Read on to discover the science behind brain fog and how our brain-sensing Muse S Headband and the Muse 2 Headband, can help you stay sharp and focused. 

What exactly is brain fog?

Brain fog isn’t just an afternoon slump or a catchy phrase; it’s a cognitive phenomenon recognized by scientists and healthcare professionals. So, what’s actually happening inside your head when you’re foggy? Well, chronic stress is a frequent culprit of these hazy moments. One study published by Frontiers in Psychology found that individuals with higher levels of perceived stress exhibited decreased cognitive performance, making them prime candidates for experiencing brain fog [1].

Research also shows that prolonged exposure to stress hormones, particularly cortisol, can block the brain’s ability to form new memories and retrieve old ones. Elevated cortisol levels have been directly linked to disruptions in synaptic regulation, leading to memory loss and decreased cognitive performance. [2]. 

And it doesn’t stop there. Our brain’s frontal lobe is like the headquarters of cognition. This crucial area controls a variety of functions, from problem-solving and decision-making to emotional control and, yes, focus. Any interference here can weaken your mental clarity. 

Common symptoms of brain fog include:

  • Feeling spaced out or confused
  • Feeling fatigued 
  • Needing more time to complete routine, simple tasks
  • Difficulty organizing thoughts or losing your train of thought
  • Having difficulty finding the right word

Feeling foggy can be more than just an inconvenience; it can be a sign that your brain is not operating at its best. 

The science-y part: brain fog and your brain

Curious about what’s happening in your brain when you experience brain fog? Well, the science is a bit complex, but stick with us as we break it down.

A study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences outlines that a major cause of brain fog is an imbalance in the neurotransmitters, primarily dopamine and serotonin, which are essential for mood regulation and brain function [3]. 

Another contributing factor is inflammation. Inflammation of neural pathways can disrupt the neurotransmission process, leading to cognitive dysfunction, including symptoms of brain fog [4]. These imbalances and disruptions often occur due to:

Understanding what’s happening in your brain is the first step to an effective intervention. Knowing how neurotransmitter imbalances and inflammation, along with triggers like stress and poor diet, affect you allows for more targeted solutions. 

brain fog, focus

Triggers that fog up your brain

We’ve all been there: meetings that drag on, deadlines loom, and your mind starts to wander. Understanding what triggers brain fog can help you get a grip on it. Here are some common culprits. 

Stress and anxiety

Under a lot of stress lately? That could be fogging up your cognitive windshield. Stress releases hormones that can interfere with clear thinking. For more tips on managing stress, check out 5 Tips to Stress Less. 


Think you’re good at juggling tasks? Science says otherwise. Multi-tasking can reduce your efficiency and focus, making you more susceptible to errors and lapses in attention. 


In the era of endless scrolling, our brains are bombarded with more information than they can process. This cognitive overload can lead to fatigue and brain fog. 

Lack of mindfulness

Being ‘in the moment’ isn’t just a catchy phrase; it’s a proven technique to enhance focus. Our brain-sensing headbands can help train you in mindfulness, helping you achieve better focus through guided sessions based on real-time EEG data. To delve deeper into the practice of mindfulness, see our comprehensive guide here

Bad air quality

You might not think about it, but the air around you affects your mental clarity [5]. Poor air quality can lead to fatigue and a fuzzy mind. 

Quick brain fog fixes and long-term strategies for mental clarity

Ever wondered why you think more clearly after a good night’s sleep or a workout? It’s not just in your head – well, actually, it is, but there’s science behind it. Here are quick fixes and long-term approaches to life brain fog and sharpen your mind.

Quick fixes for brain fog

Physical exercise

Exercise is not just good for your body; it’s also a natural brain booster. Just 30 minutes of moderate exercise can increase your mental sharpness for several hours. So, instead of hitting that afternoon coffee, go for a jog or a brisk walk. 


Your diet plays a crucial role in your cognitive functions. Foods rich in antioxidants, good fats, vitamins, and minerals nourish the brain and protect it from oxidative stress. Skip the sugary snacks and opt for brain foods like berries, leafy greens, and fish.


We’ve established that lack of sleep is a big brain fogger. Aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep, and if that’s not possible, don’t underestimate the power of a good power nap. Establishing a consistent sleep schedule contributes to a well-functioning mind over the long haul. Using our sleep tracker headband, Muse S, provides non-invasive insights into your sleep patterns, helping you optimize your sleep routine for the long term


Don’t forget to hydrate! Even mild dehydration can make you feel distracted and sluggish. Aim for at least 8 cups of water per day to keep your thinking cap functioning optimally. 

brain fog, confused

Long-term game: tips for sustaining mental clarity

Mindful meditation

Meditation is for anyone wanting a more focused mind. Multiple studies have shown that even 10-20 minutes of meditation a day can improve focus and cognitive performance. Our meditation subscription, paired with the Muse 2 Headband or the Muse S Headband, guides you through mindfulness practices, offering real-time feedback to hone your skills.

Lifelong learning

Mental stagnation can lead to decreased cognitive function. Engaging in lifelong learning – whether through books, courses, or new experiences – can keep your brain agile. Even dedicating 20 minutes per day to learning something new can make a difference. 

Breaks and time management

Frequent short breaks can enhance productivity and mental sharpness. Techniques like the Pomodoro Technique encourage short bursts of intense focus followed by a short break. This not only improves focus but also makes big tasks more manageable.

Limit distractions

From social media pings to background noise, distractions are focus-killers. Create a dedicated workspace and set boundaries to minimize distractions. Our brain focus headbands, Muse S and Muse 2, can help train you to focus better by offering real-time feedback, helping you recognize and manage distractions effectively.

Manage stress

Chronic stress has long-term cognitive consequences. Learning effective stress-management techniques can have a big impact on your mental clarity. From deep breathing exercises to seeking professional help, find what works for you. 

Social connections

Never underestimate the power of good social connections in sustaining cognitive health. Regular interactions, even if virtual, can keep your mind sharp and may even delay cognitive aging. 

By combining these long-term strategies with quick fixes, you’ll not only get quick relief but also set yourself up for long-term improvements in mental clarity. Implementing even a couple of these strategies can make a meaningful difference in your focus and cognition.

Say goodbye to brain fog for good

Living with brain fog is like walking through life with a blurred lens. The good news? You're not alone, and there are scientifically-backed methods to help lift the fog and sharpen your focus. From understanding how your diet and exercise affect your brain function to identifying triggers and implementing strategies for long-term mental clarity, the path to a more focused you is within reach.

Think of the Muse Headband as a personal brain fitness trainer. Equipped with real-time neurofeedback capabilities, we provide actionable insights into your cognitive functions. You can track fluctuations in focus, detect the onset of brain fog, and even monitor the quality of your meditation or sleep. This data-driven approach allows you to see improvements over time and also helps you take preemptive action before the fog sets in. 

Start today with our brain-sensing headbands and make brain fog a thing of the past. 


[1] Lukasik, K. M., Waris, O., Soveri, A., Lehtonen, M., & Laine, M. (2019). The Relationship of Anxiety and Stress With Working Memory Performance in a Large Non-depressed Sample. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 417351.

[2] Tafet, G. E., & Nemeroff, C. B. (2015, November 9). The Links Between Stress and Depression: Psychoneuroendocrinological, Genetic, and Environmental Interactions. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences. Retrieved September 13, 2023, from

[3] Teleanu, R. I., Niculescu, G., Roza, E., Vladâcenco, O., Grumezescu, A. M., & Teleanu, D. M. (2022). Neurotransmitters—Key Factors in Neurological and Neurodegenerative Disorders of the Central Nervous System. International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 23(11).

[4] Balter, L. J., Bosch, J. A., Aldred, S., Drayson, M. T., Veldhuijzen van Zanten, J. J., Higgs, S., Raymond, J. E., & Mazaheri, A. (2019). Selective effects of acute low-grade inflammation on human visual attention. NeuroImage, 202, 116098.

[5] Schmidt, Silke (2019). Brain Fog: Does Air Pollution Make Us Less Productive? Environmental Health Perspectives, 127:5, CID:052001.

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