Factors such as changes in your sleep pattern, stress, or engaging in activities that don’t interest you can impact your ability to focus.

There are several different reasons why you may not be able to focus; from medication side effects to not managing stress well in your environment. It may also be a sign of a deeper mental health concern.

A lack of focus can affect one’s professional and personal life. However, support and self-help techniques are available to help increase focus.

The following factors may contribute to having difficulty with concentration. Identifying the underlying reasons for lack of focus can help you discover strategies that best suit your needs.

One 2023 study explains that both partial and full sleep deprivation can have serious effects on your brain function, including alertness and attention.

When you don’t get enough restful sleep, you have a harder time focusing. You will also likely face difficulty with other cognitive functions like memory, learning, and decision-making.

Your diet also plays an important role in how well you focus. According to research from 2023, sudden fluctuations in your blood sugar levels can especially make it more difficult to concentrate.

Having an irregular eating schedule or consuming high intakes of simple sugar can impact you in this way.

Additionally, although caffeine may make you feel more alert temporarily, too much of it can have negative long-term effects on your overall focus.

Stress is a nervous system response, which means it directly impacts your brain.

  • Acute stress: Short-term stress may hone your focus temporarily.
  • Chronic stress: Experiencing high levels of stress over long periods of time can impact your daily functioning.

A 2020 study found that participants who were stressed were less likely to be accurate in tasks and be able to pay attention to relevant information.

Sometimes, you may have a hard time focusing for a simpler reason: You’re bored.

Lack of focus can result from situations that are too challenging or not challenging enough — we see this often with children at school. It can also be easy to lose focus when you aren’t in a work or school environment that suits your interests and capabilities.

If a medication or health condition is causing you not to be able to focus, it’s essential to treat the underlying cause. Consider speaking with a healthcare professional to manage symptoms possibly associated with:

Mental and physical health conditions

Medication side effects

  • antianxiety drugs like benzodiazepines
  • narcotic painkillers
  • sleep aids

Symptoms of being unable to focus

  • feeling lethargic
  • making careless mistakes
  • frequently losing or misplacing things
  • having a hard time making decisions promptly
  • forgetting important deadlines or appointments
  • feeling restless or having a hard time sitting still
  • not being able to follow along with complex instructions
  • needing people to repeat themselves when speaking to you
  • experiencing “brain fog” or feeling mentally blurred or cloudy
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  • Get enough restful sleep: Most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. Practice good sleep hygiene habits to ensure you’re getting all the rest you need.
  • Reduce simple sugars and caffeine intake: These foods can give you more temporary energy but can make it harder to focus in the long run.
  • Take a break and prioritize self-care: Trying to push yourself through brain fog can sometimes have the opposite of the desired effect. If you’re feeling unfocused, take a break. Rest your eyes from the screen, and get outside if possible.
  • Try to move your body every day: Physical exercise can help you sleep better and can also be helpful for mental health conditions like depression.
  • Focus on stress management: Consider small lifestyle changes that can help you manage your stress effectively. For example, you can set aside 15 to 30 minutes in your day to engage in a creative activity, such as cooking or drawing, that allows you to express yourself.
  • Reduce clutter: A small 2011 study indicates that being surrounded by physical clutter can make it more difficult for your brain to process information — and therefore, focus. If you can’t declutter your entire home, focus on the spaces where you most need to focus, and try to at least get the clutter out of your vision line.

If lack of focus is getting in the way of your daily activities then you may benefit from professional support. This may look like underperformance at work or consistently forgetting important meetings with friends.

Medical or psychological help can be an important factor in improving your focus. With the right treatment plan, your conditions can be well-managed.

A healthcare professional may recommend treatment options such as talk therapy, medication, or a combination of both.

Difficulty focusing can be caused by many different factors, including:

  • stress
  • health conditions
  • medication side effects
  • lifestyle habits like diet and sleep
  • an environment that doesn’t support you

It’s important to identify what’s behind your lack of focus so you can seek professional help if necessary.

A therapist can help you learn new skills to improve focus and explore the barriers that have been holding you back. Consider using the FindCare tool to help you find a mental health professional near you.