Often when people think of menopause, irregular periods and hot flashes come to mind. But some women may notice another symptom: brain fog.
You’re reading a letter and suddenly realize that your thoughts have gone awry and you need to start over. Or paint a void when trying to remember someone’s name, or you find yourself standing in a room, wondering what you came to get.
The good news is that these little cognitive signals are probably not something you need to worry about in the long term.
Sleep and stress disturbances may be part of brain fog
Those times when you are less focused and a little forgetful are likely not just due to hormonal changes. Sleep quality, which may be related to night sweats during perimenopause, can definitely contribute. The increased stress that comes with this stage of life can sometimes make you feel lost and distracted. These factors can interfere with concentration and memory.
Not getting enough sleep can make you feel weird and sluggish. This may be the reason why you can’t remember her name: You weren’t paying enough attention when I told you her name in the first place.
Stress can have a similar effect by pulling your thoughts from the task, because you are busy, and anxious about something else.
What can you do to feel less blurry?
If this sounds like you, there are some things you can do to help clear the fog and restart your mind.
- Slower. Train yourself to recognize when you are distracted, take a moment to breathe and refocus on the task at hand. If you’ve just received some new information, try to find a quiet moment to give your mind a chance to process what you learned.
- Control your stress. Using mindfulness meditation or other stress-reducing strategies can also help you relax and be more present. This can help you to absorb and retrieve new information more easily.
- Get regular exercise. Physical activity not only benefits your body, but it also benefits your mind. One study found that just three days a week of moderate-intensity exercise seemed to increase the size of the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain involved in memory and learning.
- Improve your sleep habits. If you have poor sleep quality, work for it Strategies that can help you get more comfortable at night. Improve your sleep hygiene by making changes, such as moving away from electronic devices near bedtime and establishing a regular sleep schedule. Check with your doctor if home strategies don’t work.
- Use memory tricks. Have you ever used little tricks for remembering things when you were studying for a test at school? This same mental cheat can help you now, too. For example, create a mnemonic or rhyme to help you remember information. Or try using visual or verbal clues. Repeating information or instructions to yourself or another person is another way to help your brain store information more effectively.
Know when to seek help
You don’t have to worry about most small memory lapses. If changes caused by menopause – including irregular periods, difficulty sleeping due to night sweats, or brain fog – are bothering you, talk to your doctor about possible solutions.
It is also important to contact your doctor if
- Memory changes occur suddenly or are accompanied by hallucinations, paranoia, or delusions
- Memory lapses could put your safety at risk, such as affecting your driving or forgetting food on the stove.