Trouble Focusing: Common Causes, Related Health Conditions, and More

Medically reviewed by Neka Miller, PhD on January 10, 2020. Written by Kathryn Wall. Last updated July 2023. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

Problems with focus can greatly interfere with your ability to excel at work or at school, and with carrying out other important tasks. Concentration problems can have many possible causes, but understanding the possible reasons for your concentration problems can bring you one step closer towards achieving your short- and long-term goals—without the weight of feeling constantly distracted.

Abnormal levels of certain hormones—including testosterone, estrogen, and thyroid hormones—can contribute to trouble focusing. Check in on these hormones from the comfort of home with the at-home Testosterone Test or the Women’s Health Test (which checks estrogen and thyroid hormones, in addition to 6 other biomarkers).

So if you’re having trouble focusing, read on to learn more about related symptoms, common causes, and potential solutions.

What are the signs of trouble focusing?

Problems with focus and concentration affect each person differently. Some people may only have trouble focusing at work or school, while others may have trouble focusing when reading or doing other leisurely activities.

Common signs of concentration issues include:

  • Inability to perform normal daily tasks
  • Restlessness
  • Mental cloudiness or “brain fog”
  • Difficulty remembering things that happened a short time ago
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Lack of energy
  • Making careless mistakes
  • Missing important meetings, deadlines, or appointments
  • Losing things frequently or problems with remembering where things are
  • Inability to finish tasks in a timely manner

In many instances, signs of poor concentration are accompanied by stress, anxiety, and a general feeling of being overwhelmed.

Common causes of trouble focusing

Sleep deprivation

According to a 2007 study published in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, sleep deprivation impairs attention, working memory, long-term memory, and decision making. [1] Quality sleep is essential for optimal cognitive performance, while sleep loss increases blood pressure along with cortisol production, which can make you feel stressed. [2] So if you’re having difficulty concentrating and are struggling with getting a full, good night’s sleep, sleep deprivation may be contributing to your focus problems.

Anxiety and stress

Symptoms of anxiety such as constant fear, stress, and excessive worry can take you away from the present moment, making it harder to stay focused on something you’re doing. Experiencing some anxiety every now and then is normal, but experiencing excessive anxiety and worry that's difficult to control can impact your quality of life and may even indicate you’re suffering from an anxiety disorder. [3] If you suspect you have an anxiety disorder, talking with a mental healthcare professional is a good next step.

Abnormal hormone levels

According to studies, levels of hormones such as estrogen, testosterone, progesterone, and thyroid hormone that are outside of normal ranges can cause problems with cognition, memory, concentration, and many other brain and bodily processes. [4-7] If you think you may be having trouble focusing because of an abnormal hormone level, consider taking an at-home lab test such as the Testosterone Test, the Women’s Health Test (which checks 11 important biomarkers), or the at-home Thyroid Test (which measures the 3 main thyroid hormones as well as TPO antibodies).

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Signs and symptoms of ADHD can include frequent forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating. [8] While the symptoms of ADHD can seriously affect one’s quality of life, it can often be treated effectively using behavioral therapy and/or medication.

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)

An estimated 5.7% of U.S. adults will experience GAD at some point in their lifetime. [9] GAD is defined as excessive anxiety that occurs on most days of the week for at least 6 months. GAD is characterized by symptoms including restlessness, irritability, sleep problems, and trouble focusing. Psychotherapy, medication, and support group therapy can often treat the symptoms of GAD and provide relief. [10]

Seeking medical care for trouble focusing

If you’re having trouble focusing and remembering things on a regular basis, make an appointment with your healthcare provider to receive a proper diagnosis. Your healthcare provider can perform an evaluation and run any necessary tests to identify and treat the root cause of your concentration problems.

Consider making an appointment if you are experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Memory problems that seem to be getting worse
  • Decreased performance at work or school
  • Insomnia or other sleep disturbances
  • Unexplained fatigue and tiredness

Tips that may help improve focus

Here are some tips that may help improve your ability to focus well:

  • Exercise regularly, get plenty of quality sleep, and eat highly nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, and sources of lean protein.
  • Consider reducing your caffeine intake and practicing effective stress management techniques such as journaling, deep breathing, or meditation.
  • If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health disorder such as ADHD, be sure to adhere to the treatment plan suggested by your therapist or counselor.

Common questions about trouble focusing

Are concentration problems a normal part of aging?

The risk for focus and concentration problems may increase as one becomes older; however, the risk or severity of cognitive decline may be lowered with healthy lifestyle behaviors and/or medication. [11]

Why am I having trouble focusing when reading?

Reading can be an effective way to relax and relieve stress, but sometimes you may find yourself re-reading the same sentence over and over, or turning pages without remembering what you read. If you have trouble focusing when reading, meet with your healthcare provider for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Abnormal levels of certain hormones—including testosterone, estrogen, and thyroid hormones—can contribute to trouble focusing. Check in on these hormones from the comfort of home with the Testosterone Test, the Women’s Health Test (which checks estrogen, in addition to 10 other biomarkers), or the Thyroid Test (which measures the 3 main thyroid hormones as well as TPO antibodies).

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  1. Alhola P, Polo-Kantola P. Sleep deprivation: Impact on cognitive performance. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2007;3(5):553-567.
  2. Sleep Deprivation. StatPearls [Internet]. Published January 2023. Accessed July 30, 2023.
  3. Generalized Anxiety Disorder. StatPearls [Internet]. Published January 2023. Accessed July 30, 2023.
  4. Sherwin BB. Estrogen and cognitive functioning in women: lessons we have learned. Behav Neurosci. 2012;126(1):123-127. doi:10.1037/a0025539
  5. Fassnacht M, Tsagarakis S, Terzolo M, et al. European Society of Endocrinology clinical practice guidelines on the management of adrenal incidentalomas, in collaboration with the European Network for the Study of Adrenal Tumors. Eur J Endocrinol. 2023;189(1):G1-G42. doi:10.1093/ejendo/lvad066
  6. Henderson VW. Progesterone and human cognition. Climacteric. 2018;21(4):333-340. doi:10.1080/13697137.2018.1476484
  7. Bégin ME, Langlois MF, Lorrain D, Cunnane SC. Thyroid Function and Cognition during Aging. Curr Gerontol Geriatr Res. 2008;2008:474868. doi:10.1155/2008/474868
  8. What is ADHD? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed July 30, 2023.
  9. Generalized Anxiety Disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. Accessed July 30, 2023.
  10. Anxiety Disorders. National Institute of Mental Health. Accessed July 30, 2023.
  11. Randhawa SS, Varghese D. Geriatric Evaluation and Treatment of Age-Related Cognitive Decline. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; December 12, 2022.
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