Dopamine, also known as a “happy hormone”, is a chemical messenger in your brain that controls mood, memory, motivation, sleep, and movement. It’s also fundamental for the brain’s reward system. It basically rewards you whenever you engage in healthy behavior and motivates you to repeat those beneficial lifestyle practices.
Every time you do something enjoyable, such as eating a delicious meal, having fun with your close friends, or doing some workouts, your brain releases a little bit of dopamine. However, engaging in vices like recreational drugs or alcohol has the same result: dopamine is released into the brain. That’s the reason why the chemical messenger has been linked to addiction.
In contrast, low dopamine levels have been associated with several medical conditions like addiction, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, and depression. Low dopamine levels can also make you feel listless, apathetic, less motivated, and affect your ability to concentrate.
Dopamine loss treatments seek to increase the production of this neurotransmitter, slow down dopamine breakdown, build more receptors so the happiness hormone can be produced, and repair the existing ones so that they can work better.
There are several medications and supplements available for those who have low dopamine levels. You should know that medication is typically used in patients suffering from conditions such as schizophrenia and depression.
However, there are many natural techniques you may use to increase your dopamine levels. Read on to discover them!
1. Get Enough Sleep
Animal studies have shown that this happy hormone is released in significant amounts in the morning when it’s time to leave the bed and that levels naturally decrease in the evening when it’s time to sleep.
So yes, lack of sleep seems to disrupt these natural rhythms. According to a study, when you stay awake through the night, the availability of this hormone’s receptors in your brain is drastically reduced by the next morning.
Because dopamine boosts wakefulness, decreasing the sensitivity of the receptors should help you fall asleep easier, especially after a night of insomnia. Yet, depleted levels of it come with additional unpleasant consequences, such as poor coordination and reduced concentration.
Getting enough quality sleep on a regular basis may help you keep your happy hormone levels balanced and also make you feel more alert and high-functioning during the day.
2. Get Enough Sunlight
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) happens when people feel depressed or sad during the winter months when they don’t get enough sunlight. It has been found that periods of low sunshine exposure can lower the levels of mood-boosting neurotransmitters, including dopamine, and that sun exposure can increase them.
One study of 68 healthy people discovered that those who had the most sunlight exposure in the previous month had the highest levels of dopamine in their brain’s movement and reward regions.
While sun exposure may increase happy hormone levels and boost mood, it’s important to know that too much sun can be harmful. Getting enough sunlight throughout the winter can be challenging, so you may want to consider other natural ways to increase your dopamine levels.
3. Eat Proteins
Proteins are made up of tiny units called amino acids. The human body needs 20 different amino acids to function properly, and while your system can make some of these amino acids, you must get the others from food.
One amino acid called tyrosine is extremely essential in the synthesis of mood-boosting neurotransmitters. Since enzymes in your body can transform tyrosine into dopamine, having enough tyrosine levels is crucial for happy hormone production.
This amino acid is naturally found in protein-rich foods like eggs, turkey, beef, dairy, legumes, and soy. Several studies have found that increasing the amount of tyrosine in the diet can boost dopamine levels in the brain, which may boost memory and improve deep thinking.
4. Eat Less Saturated Fat
Several studies have discovered that saturated fats, such as those found in full-fat dairy, animal fat, butter, coconut oil, and palm oil, may interfere with dopamine receptor signaling in the brain when consumed in large amounts. So far, the research has been conducted only in rats, but it’s still something worthy of consideration.
Another study showed that rats who ate half of their calories from saturated fats — which are also known as unhealthy fats — had lower dopamine signaling in their brains compared with animals that consumed the same amount of calories from healthy foods. Surprisingly, these changes occurred even without variations in hormones, weight, body fat, or blood sugar levels.
5. Exercise Often
Exercise is recommended for improving mood and increasing endorphin levels. Improvements in mood can be seen almost immediately with aerobic activity, but the benefits are greatest after at least 20 minutes.
While these changes are most likely not entirely related to changes in dopamine levels, several studies conducted on animals show that exercise can trigger a release of dopamine in the brain. In rats, for instance, treadmill running boosts the release of happy hormones and upregulates the number of dopamine receptors in the brain.
More research is needed to say exactly the intensity, duration, and type of exercise that is most effective in increasing dopamine in humans, but the current studies are very promising.
6. Cut Down on Processed Sugars
Consuming processed sugars like cookies, candy, pastries, or soda is known to boost your dopamine levels, but we’re talking about an increase that is only artificial and temporary. Like with recreational drugs and alcohol, sugar can provide a temporary boost of happy hormones while disrupting the rate at which your body produces them naturally.
When you give your body a large amount of sugar in a short time, you may experience a rush of elation. This is basically a sugar high. It is usually very temporary and always followed by a crash that makes you feel down. But not all sugar is bad sugar: try replacing processed sugar with sugar that occurs naturally in some foods (fruits are the best example).
7. Remove Stressors From Your Life
Not all stress is the same. Stress can be beneficial sometimes — like when you need to focus on an important task at work or an exam or respond quickly to avoid a sudden threat. Chronic stress, on the other hand, is poisonous. It wreaks havoc on sleep and mood, zaps energy, and can truly change your brain, affecting its structure, size, and ability to function normally.
Not only does stress cause various medical conditions, but it also leads to low dopamine levels. Dealing with stress is easier said than done, but you can remove stressors that you have some control over.
For example, long commutes to work tend to cause a lot of stress, and if that’s your case, you may want to consider moving closer to work. Exercise, meditation, or getting a massage can also help you reduce stress, which actually brings us to the last part of this article.
8. Engage in Healthy, Pleasurable Activities
This obviously varies from person to person, but engaging in pleasurable and healthy activities will naturally boost your dopamine levels, and both your body and mind will thank you for that.
These activities can include anything from meeting with some friends, spending time with family, hiking, playing a musical instrument, or watching your favorite movie (even if you’ve already watched it ten times).
Listening to music can also boost your dopamine levels. Make a playlist of your favorite songs and listen to it whenever you’re feeling unmotivated, listless, or experiencing other symptoms that show your dopamine levels are low.
You may also want to read 9 Ways to Improve Your Mental Health NOW.