Over periods in the day I feel this “brain fog” or feel very mentally drained. I usually comfortably spend a lot of time thinking, but at these times my brain feels empty. Too tired to think, and to focus takes a lot of conscious effort and energy.
It’s especially apparent during conversations, when I suddenly realize I haven’t been hearing anything they’re saying. It’s not that I get distracted- I just disconnect and don’t even notice the disconnection starting. I have to consciously force my attention.

It scares me because I feel that my brain isn’t working as well as it should, what I’m used to. I don’t drink, or do drugs, or anything that could affect my mental clarity in such a way.

The only trend I’ve noticed is that it consistently seems to be linked to the surroundings. It feels like there are too many things going on; overwhelming. It’s not that I can’t handle it- I can deal with it fine during the situation- but afterwards it makes me very tired. I feel that I need to get away to rest. At least once a day, I find myself wanting to sleep, or spend time alone, or just sit in a dark room. Even though I’m quite introverted, I’ve wanted to enjoy social interactions with people. But I’ve realized that there’s a certain limit to what I can take. If I push it- despite wanting to be able to- the consequences affect my functioning and ability to think straight.

I didn’t use to be like this. It’s strange. But then, it may be because I never had the opportunity to observe it since I was never in such a busy environment. I was quite isolated before, because of anxiety.

I’d really like to understand why… implement some changes that would allow me to function better on a day-to-day basis. Is there anything that could help to minimize this, like avoiding certain foods or sleeping more?

It’s making me uncharacteristically anxious, as I feel it could directly impact my academics. The only way I can currently avoid feeling like this is when I actively limit my participation in the “outside world”. I also don’t want to be missing out on life, but it seems like avoiding much of it is the only way I can function normally anymore.
Is there anything I can do?

A. You asked about sleeping more but you did include how much you sleep. If you are only sleeping 4 to 6 hours per night, for instance, it’s possible that this problem is related to sleep deprivation. Even if you are sleeping more, it still might not be enough for you. How much sleep one needs varies. The average person does not get enough sleep. Many people are constantly on the go.

There are a surprising number of side effects of sleep deprivation. These can include misperceptions in judgment and mood instability. It can also affect the ability to learn, focus, remember information, and can increase the possibility of accidents and injury. If you are not sleeping enough, it’s possible that you are misperceiving situations and judging them incorrectly.

You mentioned feeling tired at certain points of the day. People tend to feel particularly tired after they’ve had a meal. It’s very common for people to be quite sleepy after lunch leading to less productivity in the afternoon of their workday. There’s actually something called post-lunch fatigue. It’s natural for our bodies to want to shut down after a meal but unfortunately the workday doesn’t end at 2 o’clock, for most of us. These “brain fog” events could also be linked to your diet, specifically caffeine or sugar intake.

Relatedly, studies have shown that stress and emotional exhaustion are linked to hypersensitivity and hearing problems. Hearing may not be the problem per se but rather an inability to focus. If so, then an attention deficit disorder could be present.

Alternatively, there might be nothing wrong. It’s not unusual to want to be alone at times or to set limits regarding how much time you spend with others. This is especially common with introverts, a trait that you use to describe yourself. It’s both normal and healthy to want to be alone at certain times. The reason why you prefer to be alone is the key to understanding whether your desire to be alone is healthy or a sign of a deeper problem.

You were concerned enough about this problem to write to us at Psych Central. In that case it would be advantageous to consult a mental health professional in person who will gather all of the facts and determine if something is wrong. If so, there is likely an easy fix. Good luck. Please take care.

Dr. Kristina Randle