When I was in grad school a few years ago, my POTS brain fog was at its worst. Before I had POTS, I never dealt with brain fog, but once I started experiencing it, it was really distressing. Whereas I usually felt like a mentally sharp, well-spoken person, I suddenly found myself feeling dumb, forgetful, and slow.
For example, I’d be having conversations with people and then mid-sentence completely blank out and forget where I was going with the sentence. Then I’d get embarrassed because I looked silly. Or, I’d be sitting at my desk during my internship, writing an article, and feel like I just couldn’t think of the word I wanted to use — or I couldn’t form the words to convey what I’d wanted to.
It was super frustrating, to say the least. And these were only two examples. Can anyone else relate? But I have some suggestions — both that I tried and those that I found in my research — that can help. Some ways to deal with brain fog include drinking a lot of water quickly, getting enough sleep, and writing things down. Read on to learn more tips and discover more about brain fog and POTS.
This blog post contains affiliate links, and I may earn from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you. Full disclaimer here. I am not a medical doctor. Always consult a doctor or medical professional before trying any new exercise or supplements shared in this blog.
Brain Fog Triggers
Before talking about ways to deal with brain fog, I think it’d be helpful to provide context by sharing some common brain fog triggers. According to a 2013 study on POTS and brain fog, the most commonly reported brain fog trigger by 138 patients was physical fatigue.
Other common triggers reported included not getting enough sleep, standing too long, and dehydration. Interestingly, some patients also reported that brain fog still occurred even if they were already lying down. In this case, brain fog was mostly caused by physical fatigue or not enough sleep.
Personally, I’ve definitely noticed that brain fog is worse for me when I’m dehydrated, tired, or overheated. But I think not getting a good night of sleep is the worst for my brain fog. On those days, it can feel almost impossible to get anything done.
Ways to Deal With Brain Fog
Now that I’ve talked about some brain fog triggers, let’s get into how to deal with it. Combat the fog by trying out these eight ways to overcome the cognitive difficulties brought on by brain fog.
Write Things Down
This suggestion helped me the most during grad school, during which I had to give presentations and actively participate in class discussions. I had this one literature class that was heavily discussion based since there were only about eight people in the class.
But I realized that every time I came to class with discussion questions or talking points to share with my peers, I forgot them as soon as class started. So I’d just sit there quietly, trying to break through the barrier of fog in my brain. Or, sometimes worse, I’d raise my hand and try to talk my way through it anyways, only to end up sounding incoherent and hard to follow.
So, I adapted very quickly and began to write these questions and points down before class. During class, I’d keep my notes out in front of me and would literally read off my questions, observations, and talking points to contribute to the discussion.
My professor didn’t care that I did this — she was more interested in the questions I raised for discussion, or points I brought up about the texts. It helped me deal with my POTS brain fog and still get a good grade in the class.
And you can apply this trick to any aspect of your daily life. Write down to-do lists of your tasks for the day. Scribble on notes any reminders or things you need to pick up at the store. If you’re going to make a phone call, make yourself a script in case you blank out on the call. (Does anyone else do this for every important phone call?!) You get the idea here.
Drink Water Quickly
This brain fog solution is one that I do all the time — and I now learned it’s backed up by the research in the above-mentioned study. Drinking a large amount of water quickly can help break through brain fog. In the study, participants drank 16 oz of water in less than five minutes. Sixty-three percent of participants found this helpful.
I noticed a successful pattern when I started trying this method while in school. I figured it made me feel better because I was dehydrated, and dehydration can make you feel tired. It’s cool to learn that there’s actual science behind this! And drinking a lot of water is a simple and quick solution to try, too. While the study didn’t specify how long it took for this method to take effect, for me, it usually works within 15-30 minutes.
Lie Down or Take a Power Nap
Since fatigue was often reported as a brain fog trigger in the study, lying down helped 81% of patients combat it. But simply lying down doesn’t always help my brain fog — sometimes I need to take a power nap for fifteen or twenty minutes. I swear by power naps, though. They work really well for me, and I feel so refreshed and alert after them.
Just be wary not to over-nap—that can have the opposite effect and make you feel more groggy. (Who else is thinking about those “I napped too long, and now I don’t know the year” memes right now?!)
But as with all things chronic illness, what works for one person may not always work well for someone else. Maybe just lying down and getting your feet up will help you. Give it a try to see!
Similar story here! Since heat can also cause or worsen POTS brain fog, avoiding heat and finding ways to cool off can help you deal with it. Usually, the heat makes me feel super lethargic. So during the summer, it can be a challenge to survive the heat.
But some of my best ways to stay cool — and further keep me mentally alert — are to drink ice cold water, use ice wraps or cooling towels (like the Chill Pal Cooling Towel!) to drape over my body, and soak my feet in a bucket of icy water. Taking a cool shower or going swimming can also be effective! And if you want to eat ice cream and popsicles, too, I fully support that.
Sometimes for me, brain fog settles in when I’ve spent too long working on something. In this case, it helps to stop whatever I’m doing and walk away from it for a short mental break. Usually, this break involves going for a walk outside, taking a power nap, or spending some time on a hobby. Often times, I find that when I return to a task after a break, I can think more clearly and easily. Even if you only have time for a 15-minute break, don’t underestimate the power of it!
However, prolonged standing can also cause brain fog for some people with POTS. In that case, it’s important to take breaks by getting off your feet, if possible.
Try DHA Fish Oil
This solution is another way to deal with POTS brain fog that I’ve tried. DHA fish oil provides an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids can help support your brain and nervous system, boosting cognition, memory, and mood. I use Nordic Naturals DHA in the strawberry flavor, which is nice because if the oil makes you burpy, your burps taste like strawberry and not yucky fish oil.
However, I want to give a word of warning to POTS patients. DHA fish oil may lower blood pressure, according to studies. I deal with low blood pressure with my POTS, so I never take this in the morning, which is when my blood pressure is often the lowest. Before taking this supplement, please discuss with your doctor or medical provider whether this would benefit you.
Get Quality Sleep
Not getting enough sleep or high-quality sleep can make brain fog worse. This makes sense though, right? We’ve all been there before where we’re groggy and maybe a bit cranky after a night of not sleeping well. So, if brain fog is something you’re living with, it’s a good idea to prioritize quality rest.
This can involve creating a calming sleep environment and making sure you’re going to bed at a time that allows you to get 7-9 hours of sleep. Some people prefer warmer or cooler sleeping environments, and some people need complete quiet or ambient white noise to fall asleep to. Figure out what helps you sleep best and put it into practice! While living in New York City, I often needed to sleep with a fan on and use Mack’s earplugs to drown out city noises that kept me up.
Try Exercising or Moving Around
This suggestion is one that can work well for some people but make brain fog worse for others. And I recognize that many people with POTS cannot exercise or find it difficult to exercise. Despite that, I still want to share it as a potential way to cope with brain fog, as I find that getting up and moving around makes me feel more alert, especially after sitting in one place for too long. The study found that regular cardio exercise was beneficial to half of the participants.
Brain fog can be a frustrating, distressing, and sometimes even embarrassing symptom to live with. And many of the ways to deal with POTS brain fog can work really well for some people and not so well for others. It’s important to figure out your triggers and experiment to find out which solutions work the best for you. If you have other tips for living with brain fog or have triggers not mentioned here, feel free to share them in the comments below!