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Harvard Health Blog
Sleep, stress, or hormones? Brain fog during perimenopause
- By Kelly Bilodeau, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch
Often when people think of perimenopause, 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 your thoughts have drifted off and you need to start again. Or you draw a blank when you’re trying to remember someone’s name, or find yourself standing in a room, wondering what you came there to get.
The good news is that these small cognitive blips are probably not anything you need to worry about long-term.
Sleep disturbances and stress may be part of brain fog
Those times when you are less focused and a bit forgetful are likely not just due to hormonal changes. Sleep quality, perhaps related to night sweats during perimenopause, could definitely contribute. Increased stress that sometimes accompanies this stage of life may also have you feeling frazzled and distracted. These factors can interfere with concentration and memory.
Not getting enough sleep can leave you feeling cranky and sluggish. This may be why you can’t remember what’s-her-name: you weren’t paying close enough attention when she told you her name in the first place.
Stress can have a similar effect by pulling your thoughts off task, because you’re preoccupied, worrying about something else.
What can you do to feel less foggy?
If this sounds like you, there are some things you can do to help lift the fog and get your brain re-engaged.
- Slow down. Train yourself to recognize when you’re distracted, and take a moment to breathe and refocus on the task at hand. If you’ve just taken in some 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 to relax and be more present. This can help you absorb new information and recall it more easily.
- Get regular exercise. Physical activity benefits not only your body, but also your mind. One study found that just three days a week of moderate-intensity exercise appeared to increase the size of the hippocampus, a part of the brain involved in memory and learning.
- Improve your sleep habits. If you are experiencing poor sleep quality, work on strategies that can help you get more rest at night. Improve your sleep hygiene by making changes, such as staying off electronic devices close to bedtime and establishing a regular sleep schedule. Check with your doctor if at-home strategies aren’t doing the trick.
- Use memory tricks. Did you ever use little tricks to remember things when you were studying for a test in school? Those same mental cheats can help you now as well. For example, make up a mnemonic or a rhyme to help you recall information. Or try using visual or verbal clues. Repeating information or instructions to yourself or someone else is another way to help your brain store information more effectively.
Know when to seek help
Most small memory lapses are nothing to worry about. If changes due to perimenopause — including irregular periods, trouble sleeping due to night sweats, or brain fog — bother you, talk to your doctor about possible solutions.
It’s also important to call your doctor if
- memory changes come on suddenly, or are accompanied by hallucinations, paranoia, or delusions
- memory lapses might put your safety at risk, such as affecting your driving or forgetting food cooking on the stove.
About the Author
Kelly Bilodeau, Former Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles.
No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
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Menopause and Perimenopause: Taking charge of the transition
Perimenopause is the long transition that precedes menopause. During this stage, your periods may become irregular and you may experience hot flashes and other changes.There are many things you can do to get through “the change” in the best shape possible. This guide will help you better understand the biological factors that underlie perimenopause and menopause and the symptoms you may experience. We’ll provide options on how to manage this change and offer advice about steps you can take now to ensure your long-term health.
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