Maximizing Dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, which is a chemical messenger that transmits signals in the brain and other areas of the nervous system. It plays a crucial role in several essential functions in the body.

Imbalances in dopamine levels have been implicated in various neurological and psychiatric disorders. Too much or too little dopamine can contribute to different health issues, and medications that affect dopamine levels are used in the treatment of conditions such as schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, and certain mood disorders. That is why it is critical to stabilize and maximize the dopamine in the body.

Dopamine Chemical Structure

According to Andrew Huberman a neurobiology professor at Stanford School of Medicine, and head of his own lab, Hubermanlab, dopamine is like a propeller that drives our motivation. This helps us understand why the hormone drives our addictions. By driving motivation, dopamine also has an effect on our focus and productivity, which directly relates to how well we can manage the day.

“Consider that daily baseline level of dopamine as your reservoir for motivation…

“Its main function is to drive our sense of motivation and pursuit.”

Taking cold showers, non-sleep deep rest, and even thinking positive thoughts of future goals can trigger the release of dopamine. As this hormone activates our pleasure and reward pathways in the brain, we enter what’s known as the flow state in which we experience increased motivation, focus, and alertness.

“You experience the greatest increases in dopamine when you anticipate you are on the right path to the things that you want that are currently not in your physical or emotional possession.”

Just like a propeller, dopamine needs fuel to work. Our reserves get depleted during the day, and are replenished at night when we sleep. For this reason it’s extremely important to sufficient amount of sleep each night, at least 6-8 hours depending on the person. Should you ever feel short on sleep, then taking non-sleep deep-rest breaks can provide similar benefits.

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In addition to getting enough rest, Huberman stresses the importance of maintain a daily routine in order to keep the body fueled, motivated, creative and productive.

Hydrate: Dehydration reduces alertness and cognitive function. Drinking water, between 16-32 ounces, first thing in the morning to combat this and help ensure that you’re hydrated for the day ahead. Be sure to stay hydrated as the day progresses; you should consume approx. 125 ounces per day, drinking more on hot, and/or active days.

Sunlight: Huberman notes that the sun increases catecholamines such as dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, as well as cortisol, all of which helps boost of energy.

Movement: Exercise is well known to boost energy, however Huberman specifically advises a mix of resistance training and cardiovascular training. This is because cardiovascular training impacts blood flow to the brain, whereas resistant training helps maintain neural function by engaging neural pathways that can help offset cognitive decline.

Caffeine: In addition to caffeine perking you up, coffee also promotes mechanisms related to adenosine clearance and cortisol; this also helps keep you focused and alert. Huberman advises waiting 90-120 mins after waking up before drinking coffee because delaying coffee consumption can prevent afternoon crashes.

Cold Shower: Dopamine gets released when we achieve certain milestones, and this predictable nature of how/when our brains release the chemical allows us to essentially hack the process and use it to drive motivation further.

Plan & Set Goals

By compiling a to do list, and setting goals for the day/week/month, you’ll experience a surge of dopamine each time you complete a task. This sense of accomplishment will not only be extremely satisfying, it will also give you additional encouragement to continue and check more tasks off the list.

In order to better plan your day for maximum dopamine release, split the hours into three parts:

Waking: Start the day with tasks and chores you know how to do. Huberman says short bouts of work early in the day tend to be most effective.

Afternoon: Move on to more creative projects after lunch. If you’re lacking in creative tasks that need doing, try note-taking or copywriting. Sessions of 45-90mins seem to work best in the afternoon.            

Evening Reset: As mentioned, it’s important to get enough rest. Be sure to dedicate around a third of the day to sleep, but as Andrew notes, “Let’s face it, six or seven hours after that, your brain and body are cruising into sleep states.”

In Conclusion

No matter what’s on the docket for the day, we’re all just looking for a way to get through things that little bit easier, and by understanding what dopamine does and how it gets released, we can life hack the process to give ourselves an extra boost of energy, focus and creativity.

Leveraging the release and resupply of dopamine isn’t all together difficult. As Huberman explains, it’s really as simple as setting and completing goals, and getting enough sleep for the body to restock this highly advantageous hormone.

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