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Parents Spend 4,000 Hours of Their Lives in a Brain Fog

Maurice Beer M.D.
August 18th, 2021 · 5 min read

In this article:

  • If you’re busy and stressed as a parent, it’s safe to bet that all roads lead to brain fog
  • The responsibilities of parenting can exacerbate brain fog, but they probably aren’t the root cause
  • Meet the hormones behind the mental haze
  • Some parent-friendly ways to fix brain fog
  • Before you fix the problem, you have to identify it

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Life goes by fast - especially if you’re zoning out all the time. Factors like stress or lack of sleep are obvious culprits for brain fog, but you might be dealing with an underlying hormonal imbalance too.

Takeaways:

  • Parenting and brain fog seem to go hand-in-hand, but they don’t necessarily have to.
  • It’s easy to lay the blame on sleep deprivation, anxiety, or simply being too busy, but many parents would benefit from looking at their hormone levels instead of their lifestyles.
  • Correcting a hormonal imbalance can seem like a big ask if you already have a lot on your plate, but at-home testing with follow-up support can demystify the entire process.

If you’re busy and stressed as a parent, it’s safe to bet that all roads lead to brain fog

You had a hard time getting to sleep last night, so now you keep forgetting where you set your phone. One of your kids is sick and the rest need chauffeuring all afternoon - and you forgot about the doctor’s appointment until 10 minutes after you were supposed to be there. No matter what’s going on, you keep spacing out, forgetting why you walked into a room, or desperately wishing for a nap. In fact, brain fog and parenting are so closely associated with each other, there’s even a term to describe it: “mommy brain”.
Basically, it’s easy to feel like there’s just no winning with brain fog. Even if it isn’t a constant problem for you, it tends to show up at the most inconvenient times, and then there’s no escaping it. However, since banishing brain fog isn’t as urgent as, say, making dinner or keeping the lawn looking decent, it often doesn’t get addressed at all.

The responsibilities of parenting can exacerbate brain fog, but they probably aren’t the root cause

Balancing kids, work, and life in general was already hard enough without a pandemic upending the daily routines of people across the world. You may have heard that survivors of COVID-19 often deal with brain fog, but it turns out that you can experience COVID-related brain fog without even being infected. For example, many parents have been juggling childcare and working from home simultaneously as offices and daycares alike have shut down. Others have been trying to put themselves through college while also homeschooling their kids. You might as well push your car down the road and call it “driving”; it’s no wonder that so many parents end up tired, cranky, or distracted throughout the day.
It only makes sense to blame your brain fog on day-to-day stressors, but this could be a case of missing the forest for the trees. It’s likely that the individual factors are just piling onto the original problem: brain fog caused by imbalanced hormones. As a result, no matter what you’re dealing with on a particular day, you could end up spending 4,000 hours of your life zoning out as a parent. That’s about 36 minutes per day, adding up to around 219 hours yearly.

Meet the hormones behind the mental haze

Hormonal balance can be a tricky subject to talk about without sounding like a nerd, but it’s still possible to pare it down to the essentials and still make sense. Where brain fog is concerned, there are three main hormones that are notorious for causing it when imbalanced, plus three sex hormones that are also frequently involved in a lack of mental clarity.
  • T3, one of the thyroid hormones
  • Cortisol, the stress hormone
  • Melatonin, the sleep hormone
  • Progesterone, generally higher in women
  • Estrogen, generally higher in women
  • Testosterone, generally higher in men
You’re probably already familiar with some or all of these - now it’s time to learn how they relate to brain fog.

T3, one of the thyroid hormones

Too little T3, and you have an underactive thyroid; too much, and your thyroid becomes overactive. In either case, people with thyroid disease have reported difficulty concentrating and memory problems - classic brain fog symptoms. Those with low T3 seem to have more issues with fatigue and forgetfulness, while high T3 can actually trigger a panic attack.

Cortisol, the stress hormone

People love to hate this hormone. After all, at elevated levels it’s responsible for not only brain fog, but things like acne, insomnia, and weight gain. Everybody needs some cortisol, but a lot of people simply have way too much, so their brains are essentially being flooded with fight-or-flight signals all day long. This results in issues with energy levels, concentration, and overall mental clarity.

Melatonin, the sleep hormone

If you’re having problems with melatonin, the biggest issue isn’t necessarily that it’s too high or too low; it’s that your body is producing it at the wrong times. Your body is supposed to have a set sleep/wake cycle, during which it produces melatonin when it’s time for you to sleep. If that cycle gets messed up, your body will probably be producing melatonin during the day instead of at night, resulting in effects like fatigue, absent-mindedness, and irritability.

Progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone

These three hormones have their own unique effects on the body, but they all follow similar patterns when it comes to causing brain fog. If any of them are causing mental fogginess, it’s likely because they’re too high, too low, or undergoing a sudden change. For example, brain fog is a symptom of both low testosterone in men, and low estrogen in women (think menopause). There’s no better example of sudden hormone changes than pregnancy, but it doesn’t stop when the baby is born. Postpartum depression is caused by a sudden drop in progesterone and estrogen in the days after delivery, typically accompanied by feelings of confusion and difficulty concentrating.
If your brain fog is being caused by out-of-whack hormones, the question is: how can you get them back into balance? And perhaps more importantly, how can you do it without feeling like you’ve taken on another career?

Some parent-friendly ways to fix brain fog

If you’re pretty sure that your hormones could use some improvement, you have plenty of options. For example, one easy change is to incorporate things like probiotics, omega-3s, and B vitamins into your diet for better mental clarity. If you’re getting them from foods like yogurt, salmon, or beef, you could even end up reducing anxiety or depression.
Supplements can also be a part of your path away from brain fog, but a quick word of caution is in order - make sure you only buy from reputable brands. Supplements can be full of undisclosed, toxic ingredients, or contain an amount of the active ingredient that’s wildly different from what’s on the label.
Another strategy is to look into products or services that could help parents take care of both themselves and their kids. Just because your brain fog is ultimately caused by imbalanced hormones doesn’t mean you can’t tackle it from multiple angles.

Before you fix the problem, you have to identify it

The good news? This might actually be the easiest part if you use Base’s at-home lab tests. There won’t be any doctor’s appointments to remember (or forget), and you don’t have to worry about spending hours on the internet deciphering your test results. All you have to do is complete a saliva or finger-prick test, mail your samples in the prepaid package, and go over your results when they appear in your Base app. Besides finding out where your hormones are at, you’ll also get personalized recommendations that will fit your lifestyle and priorities.
Nutrients, supplements, and tests aside, maybe all you need to get through a long afternoon is some inspiration. For instance, did you know that Allyson Felix broke an Olympic record set by Usain Bolt just 10 months after giving birth to her first child? You may never be known for breaking Olympic records, but you can still say along with her that “I always want to give more than I gave yesterday”.

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