Written by Dr. Valentina Quintana MD on:

Do you ever feel like your head is too cloudy? Like you can’t think straight, everything is a foggy mess, and worse, it hurts? If so, you’re not alone.

Millions of people around the world suffer from headache and brain fog. This can be incredibly frustrating and debilitating.

In this article, we will explore the causes of brain fog and headache and provide tips on how to clear them up!

Let’s get started.

What is the difference between brain fog and headache?

Brain fog is a mild cognitive impairment that can be characterized by temporary confusion, forgetfulness, and mental fatigue.

On the other hand, a headache is a pain or throbbing sensation in the head. It is often associated with a migraine attack (i.e, migraine brain fog).

Brain fog can also become a lingering cognitive dysfunction that could last from a few weeks to a few months, depending on the severity of the underlying cause.

Conversely, headaches often last from a few minutes to several hours.

There are also different types of headaches. Some of the most common are the following:

  • Tension headache: This is the most common type of headache. It feels like a band of pressure wrapped around your head.
  • Cluster headache: This type of headache comes in cycles or clusters. They are incredibly painful and can last for weeks or months at a time.
  • Migraine headache: Migraine pain or migraines are severe headaches that can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and sensitivity to light and sound.
  • Sinus headache: A sinus headache is caused by inflammation of the sinuses. It is often accompanied by a fever and facial pain or pressure.
  • Thunderclap headache: A thunderclap headache is a sudden, severe headache that feels like a clap of thunder. It is often a warning sign of a more serious condition, such as an aneurysm.

While brain fog and headache are two distinct conditions, they often occur together. This is because they share many of the same causes.

What causes headache and brain fog?

There are many potential causes of brain fog and headaches. Some of the most common include:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Sleep disorder (e.g., insomnia, apnea)
  • Lack of movement or exercise
  • Dehydration
  • Poor diet and food sensitivities
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Chronic stress
  • Allergies
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Mood disorders
  • Neurological disorders
  • Medical conditions (e.g., chronic fatigue syndrome)
  • Treatment and medication side effects (e.g., chemo brain)

While this list is not exhaustive, it gives you an idea of some of the most common causes of headaches and brain fog.

How to Clear Headache Brain Fog

The good news is that there are many things you can do to clear up brain fog and headaches and improve your central nervous system.

Some of the most effective steps you can take are the following:

Prioritize sleep quality

Studies reveal that sleep deprivation can lead to cognitive impairment and headaches, and could worsen health conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome and migraine symptoms.

While several research shows that getting enough sleep is important for brain health, the quality of your sleep is just as critical.

To improve the quality of your sleep, make sure to:

  • Establish a regular sleep schedule and stick to it.
  • Create a relaxing bedtime routine (e.g., skin care, meditation, yoga).
  • Keep electronic devices out of the bedroom or don’t use any devices when in bed.
  • Sleep in a dark, quiet, and cool environment.
  • Limit eating and consuming caffeine and alcohol a couple of hours before bed.

Maintain a healthy diet

What you eat has a direct impact on your brain health. Studies show that a poor diet is linked to an increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

A diet rich in whole foods, healthy fats, and antioxidants can help improve cognitive function and clear brain fog.

Conversely, eating processed foods, sugary snacks, and refined carbs can contribute to brain fog and headaches.

To maintain a healthy diet:

  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Choose whole grains over processed or refined carbs.
  • Opt for lean protein sources, such as grilled chicken or fish, tofu, legumes, and eggs.
  • Include healthy fats in your diet, such as avocados, olive oil, nuts, and seeds.

Consider supplementation

If you suspect that you have a nutrient deficiency, then supplementation may be necessary.

Research suggests that nutritional deficiencies, such as vitamin D, B12, and omega-three fatty acids, are linked to an increased risk of cognitive disorders, which cause brain fog and headaches.

While one study suggests that supplements can help restore nutrient levels and improve other symptoms of brain fog and fatigue, as well as enhance energy levels and cognition.

Some of the most recognized dietary supplements that support brain health are:

  • Vitamin A Acetate
  • Vitamin B complex
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Iron
  • Magnesium
  • Omega-3 fatty acid

However, it’s important to speak with a doctor before starting any supplement regimen, as it may interact with medications you may be taking or other supplements.

Exercise regularly

Exercise is not only good for your physical health, but also your mental well-being.

Studies show that regular exercise can help improve mood, brain function, and sleep quality by regulating your blood pressure as well as the neurotransmitters in your brain.

Furthermore, exercise has been shown to be an effective treatment for conditions that cause brain fog and headaches, such as depression and anxiety.

While any type of exercise is beneficial, some forms are more effective than others.

For example, research suggests that aerobic exercises, such as jogging, swimming, and cycling, can help to improve brain function and cognitive performance.

Anaerobic exercises, such as weightlifting and sprinting, have also been shown to be beneficial for brain health.

If you find it difficult to get started on exercise, here are some tips: 

  • Start with small goals, such as exercising for 20-30 minutes a day.
  • Choose an activity that you enjoy or are interested in, such as hiking, dancing, or playing tennis.
  • Find a workout buddy to help keep you accountable and motivated.
  • Join a class or group to make exercising more fun and social.

Get enough sunlight exposure.

Sunlight is essential for the body to produce vitamin D. This vitamin is important for brain health as it’s been linked to a reduced risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

Here are some tips for when exposure to sunlight to get vitamin D: 

  • Spend time outside during the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest.
  • Make sure to expose your skin by wearing light-colored clothing and removing any sunscreen.
  • Don’t stay out for too long, as this can increase your risk of skin cancer.
  • Make an effort to get 10–30 minutes of mid-day sunshine on at least five days each week.

Rehydrate as often as possible

Dehydration can lead to a number of symptoms that cause brain fog and headaches,  including fatigue, dizziness, and lightheadedness.

One study found that even mild dehydration can already impact cognitive function.

For this reason, it’s important to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day.

The best way to stay hydrated is to drink water regularly throughout the day.

Other fluids, such as herbal teas, fruit juices, and soups, can also help to keep you hydrated.

Limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol

While caffeine and alcohol are both legal drugs that are widely consumed, they can cause dehydration and should be limited.

Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it causes you to urinate more often and can lead to dehydration. Alcohol is also a diuretic and can cause you to urinate more frequently.

Furthermore, alcohol inhibits the production of vasopressin, a hormone that helps the body reabsorb water. This can lead to excessive urination and dehydration.

To avoid these effects, it’s best to limit your intake of caffeine and alcohol.

If you do drink caffeinated beverages, make sure to also drink extra water to stay hydrated. 

Similarly, if you drink alcohol, make sure to alternate alcoholic beverages with water. 

Manage your stress levels

Chronic stress can have a negative impact on your physical and mental health.

In fact, research shows that chronic stress is a risk factor for conditions that cause brain fog and headaches, such as depression, anxiety, and migraines.

There are a number of ways to manage stress, such as exercise, relaxation techniques, and counseling.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Start with minor changes. Don’t try to do everything at once.
  • Choose one or two stress-reduction techniques and stick with them.
  • Make time for yourself. Set aside time each day to do something that you enjoy.
  • Talk to someone. Share your worries and concerns with a friend, family member, or therapist. 

Spend time in nature

Studies suggest that spending time in nature is one of the best things that you can do for your brain and overall mental health. 

One study found that people who spent time in nature had lower levels of stress hormones and improved memory and attention.

Another study found that spending time in nature can help reduce rumination, a type of thinking that’s associated with anxiety and depression.

So, if you’re feeling stressed and anxious or you can’t seem to have mental clarity, spend some time outside in nature.

Here are a few tips: 

  • Take a walk in the park.
  • Sit under a tree in your backyard and read a book.
  • Visit a nearby lake or river.
  • Take a hike in the woods.
  • Get some sunlight.

Sharpen your mind with brain games

If you want to improve your mental clarity and focus, try playing brain games.

Brain games are activities that challenge your cognitive skills and help to keep your mind sharp.

There are a number of brain games that you can play, such as crosswords, chess, Sudoku, and memory games. You can also try online brain games or apps.

A few studies have shown that brain games can improve cognitive function in older adults.

One study found that people who played brain games have improved working memory, attention, executive function, and processing speed in young adults.

Another study found that brain games can help to reduce the risk of developing dementia.

So, if you’re looking for a way to improve your mental clarity, try playing some brain-training games.

The Bottom Line

Dealing with headache pain and brain fog can be frustrating and debilitating, especially if they go on interrupting your daily life for weeks and even months.

The condition can negatively impact your productivity at work, your relationships, and the general quality of your life.

Thankfully, there are steps you can take to clear your headache and brain fog, such as the recommendations we listed above.

And remember that brain fog treatment depends on how well you change your lifestyle for the better.

If you want to learn more about brain fog treatment options and how to improve your overall brain health, we have plenty of helpful resources on our blog

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