When most women think about menopause, the classic menopause symptoms like hot flashes, mood swings, vaginal dryness, and sleep problems come to mind. But many women aren’t aware that another common complaint during menopause is “brain fog,” or problems with memory, confusion, and a wandering mind, which often relate to menopausal fatigue.
Why do fatigue and brain fog affect women around the time of menopause? Some researchers suggest that the fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels, which are the primary cause of most menopause symptoms, can be linked to poorer memory and cognitive decline (problems with thinking). What’s more, the hot flashes, night sweats, sleep disturbances, and mood swings can leave you feeling fatigued and mentally out of whack.
Symptoms of ‘Brain Fog’ and Fatigue in Menopause
If you are beginning to experience menopause symptoms, you may find that you suddenly have trouble sleeping through the night. This lack of sleep can cause you to feel tired and overwhelmed. It can also increase the chance that you experience the cognitive problems familiarly known as “brain fog.”
While brain fog often occurs as people get older, some researchers now believe that hormonal changes associated with menopause can also contribute to this problem. Symptoms of brain fog may include:
- Memory issues
- Difficulty focusing
- Decreased alertness
Help for Brain Fog in Menopause
While fatigue, brain fog, and other menopause symptoms are troublesome, the good news is that they will usually improve over time. Research shows that the intellectual edge lost during the period leading up to a woman’s last menstrual cycle does rebound in the later phases of menopause. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT), or estrogen and progesterone in the form of medications, can also help women better manage brain fog and fatigue. HRT, however, has been linked to many health problems. In addition, studies have not definitively determined that HRT helps improve cognitive function or sleep in postmenopausal women. Therefore, it is very important that you talk with your doctor about your particular symptoms as well as HRT’s individual risks and benefits before using this treatment.
“Hormone therapy isn’t for everyone, [but if you have symptoms], don’t suffer, talk to your doc,” advises Dr. Roger Lobo, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Columbia University in New York City.
Here are other practical ways you can help control the cognitive symptoms of menopause symptoms, including brain fog and fatigue:
- Eat right. A well-balanced diet can help you feel more energetic and mentally focused.
- Avoid known triggers. Stay away from hot or spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeine, which may bring on hot flashes that can contribute to fatigue.
- Exercise regularly. Being active can help preserve your brain function and aid memory.
- Cut the stress. Manage stress levels to help prevent hot flashes and insomnia, both of which can leave you tired and mentally drained.
- Focus on adequate sleep. Make sure you get plenty of sleep; it will help keep your memory sharp.
- Prepare to wind down. Avoid eating too much, smoking, working, or exercising too close to bedtime.
- Set the sleep stage. Pay attention to your environment by creating a dark, quiet, cool room with a fan on.
- Be consistent. Keep your sleep schedule regular by waking up and going to sleep at the same time each day.
If you find that fatigue, brain fog, and other menopause symptoms are still interfering with your everyday life after making these adjustments, talk with your doctor about other ways you can better manage them. There are medications and over-the-counter remedies available, other than HRT, that can be useful in managing certain menopause symptoms such as hot flashes. There’s no reason to brave the “fog” alone.