Common Causes of Spacing Out and How to Know When to See a Doctor

Spacing out is relatively common. You may have experienced it yourself and you have probably wondered what it means. You may have noticed a friend or family member spacing out. Spacing out might be a medical emergency or the warning sign of a serious health problem, but most of the time it isn't.

Here are some important clues to help you figure out what it really means if you have been told that it seems your 'head is in the clouds.'

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Causes of Spacing Out

Generally, 'spacing out' means that you are not in the moment, that your mind is somewhere else. Daydreaming is the most common kind of spacing out and is generally nothing to worry about. But there are more serious kinds of spacing out that can be caused by a medical condition.

Here's a list of the potential medical causes behind spacing out:

Transient Ischemic Attack

transient ischemic attack is a brief reversible stroke that does not cause permanent damage. Sometimes, people who experience a TIA are aware of what is going on, but occasionally people are not able to communicate during a TIA and sometimes people who experience a TIA cannot remember the event itself.


A seizure is usually associated with impairment of consciousness and some loss of awareness. While seizures are typically associated with uncontrolled body movements, some seizures manifest as a brief episode of loss of awareness without unusual body movements. This type of stroke is known as absence seizures.


Very low blood pressure can cause low blood flow to the brain - a condition called hypotension. If you experience this problem, you might feel dizzy or lightheaded, or you might lose focus or general awareness for a few seconds or minutes.


Hypoglycemia, which refers to low blood sugar, can cause you to lose your sense of awareness for a brief period of time. In more extreme cases hypoglycemia can make you pass out, but mild cases can trigger an episode that appears to be spacing out.


Migraine headaches usually cause pain, and sometimes the pain is so severe that it can prevent you from paying attention to your surroundings. Occasionally, however, migraines can manifest as unusual symptoms such as spacing out, even in the absence of pain.

Transient Global Amnesia

Transient global amnesia is a temporary interruption of short-term memory. This is a rare event that can last for hours at a time. If you experience transient global amnesia, you will not remember events even if you seemed to behave appropriately and safely to those around you.

Some people who have transient global amnesia might get lost or cannot do complex tasks during the episode.


Extreme fatigue can take such a toll on your body and mind that you might space out even while you appear to be awake, as your brain struggles to maintain alertness.


A sleep condition called narcolepsy can cause you to sleep while you appear to be awake. Also, extreme sleepiness can result in falling asleep while you are participating in activities. You might actually dream while doing tasks. Everyone around you would likely interpret your responses as spacing out.

Intoxication or Drug-Altered State

Mind-altering drugs such as marijuana, heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine and even alcohol can have unpredictable effects and may cause users to become unaware of behavior or to forget events.


Spacing out can occur when you are mentally or emotionally consumed by matters besides those which others expect you to pay attention to. This can happen if you are a student in class while you are watching or listening to something you consider a bit boring or during driving.


Stress is a common distraction that can be overwhelming to the point that it is difficult to pay attention to your tasks and responsibilities- especially if they aren't very important. But, extreme stress can cause you to space out even if the task at hand is important.

When to Seek Medical Attention

If you have a problem with spacing out, you need to figure out whether you need medical attention or whether you just need to get some rest.

Red Flags

Seek medical attention if your "spacing out" includes any of these symptoms:

  • Repeat episodes
  • Memory loss
  • Odd behavior
  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • You are injured during an episode

Use this information to help you unravel whether your spacing out is serious or whether you just have your head in the clouds.

Repeated Episodes

If you are repeatedly finding yourself spacing out or being accused of spacing out- you need to determine whether you have too many things distracting you or whether you truly can't help it. If there isn't an obvious reason- such as a big project you are working on, then you should mention the problem to your doctor.

Lack of Memory

If you can't recall events that happened or things that you did during an episode of spacing out, you may have had a medical event such as those listed above, rather than simply distraction.

Strange Behavior

If you have noticed that you misplace objects during episodes of spacing out, or if you have been told that you behaved in an odd, or violent manner that is uncharacteristic for you, then you definitely need further evaluation.

Loss of Bowel or Bladder Control

If you found that you lost control of bowel or bladder, then you certainly need a medical evaluation by your doctor.


If you have noticed any injury, particularly if you do not remember how it occurred, then your spacing out episodes could become more and more dangerous for you and it is time to make every attempt to put a stop to them.

A Word from Verywell

Spacing out is usually a sign that you are more interested in something else than what you are doing at a given time. However, sometimes spacing out is a red flag or a warning you that you have a serious health problem.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cedars-Sinai. TIA-Related Memory Loss.

  2. Blumenfeld H. Impaired consciousness in epilepsyLancet Neurol. 2012;11(9):814–826. doi:10.1016/S1474-4422(12)70188-6

  3. American Heart Association. Low Blood Pressure - When Blood Pressure Is Too Low. Updated October 31, 2016.

  4. Cleveland Clinic. Transient Global Amnesia. Updated September 13, 2019.

  5. National Sleep Foundation. Narcolepsy.

  6. The American Institute of Stress. 50 Common Signs and Symptoms of Stress.

Additional Reading
  • Szabo K, Transient Global Amnesia, Frontiers in Neurological Neurosciences, April 2014.