Sleep, stress, or hormones? Brain fog during perimenopause

Often times when people think of perimenopause, irregular periods and hot flashes come to mind. But some women may notice another symptom: brain fog.

You read a letter and suddenly realize that your thoughts have drifted and you need to start over. Or you draw a blank when trying to remember someone’s name, or find yourself standing in a room wondering what you came for there looking for.

The good news is, these little cognitive issues probably aren’t something you need to worry about in the long run.

Sleep disturbances and stress can be part of brain fog

Those times when you’re less focused and a little forgetful are probably not just due to hormonal changes. The quality of sleep, possibly linked to night sweats during perimenopause, could certainly contribute. The increased stress that sometimes accompanies this stage in life can also make you feel exhausted and distracted. These factors can interfere with concentration and memory.

If you don’t get enough sleep, you feel cranky and lazy. Maybe that’s why you can’t remember her name – you weren’t paying enough attention when she told you her name in the first place.

Stress can have a similar effect by removing your thoughts from the task, because you are worried, worrying about something else.

What can you do to make yourself less hazy?

If this sounds like you, there are some things you can do to help lift the fog and re-engage your brain.

  • Slow down. Practice recognizing when you are distracted and take a moment to breathe and refocus on the task at hand. If you’ve just picked up new information, try to find a quiet moment to give your brain a chance to process what you’ve learned.
  • Manage your stress. Using mindful meditation or other stress reduction strategies can also help you relax and be more present. It can help you absorb new information and recall it more easily.
  • Exercise regularly. Physical activity benefits not only your body, but also your mind. One study found that just three days a week of moderate-intensity exercise seemed to increase the size of the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory and learning.
  • Improve your sleeping habits. If you have poor quality sleep, develop strategies that can help you get more rest at night. Improve your sleep hygiene by making changes, such as staying away from electronic devices near bedtime and establishing a regular sleep schedule. Check with your doctor if home strategies aren’t working.
  • Use memory hints. Have you ever used little tips to remember things when you were studying for an exam in school? These same mental tricks can help you now as well. For example, make up a mnemonic or rhyme to help you remember information. Or try using visual or verbal cues. Repeating information or instructions to yourself or someone else is another way to help your brain store information more effectively.

Know when to ask for help

Most small memory gaps are nothing to worry about. If you are bothered by changes due to perimenopause – including irregular periods, trouble sleeping from night sweats, or brain fog – talk to your doctor about possible solutions.

It is also important to call your doctor if

  • memory changes come on suddenly or are accompanied by hallucinations, paranoia, or delusions
  • memory lapses can put your safety at risk, such as affecting your driving or forgetting to cook food on the stove.

Post-sleep, stress or hormones? Brain fog during perimenopause first appeared on Harvard Health Blog.

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Jothi Venkat

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