We're about to uncover the secrets to increasing dopamine, providing you with science-backed tips that will reignite your zest for life. So buckle up, leave those low-energy days behind, and get ready to supercharge your brain!
[fs-toc-omit]Feeling unmotivated, unfocused, and just plain blah?
Suppose you have those days when your motivation seems to vanish faster than a donut at a police station. Welcome to the club. It is all up to a neurotransmitter of motivation and reward called dopamine.
Less dopamine = less focus = less motivation.
Before we dive into the strategies for increasing dopamine, let's take a quick look at the topics covered in this article:
- What dopamine is (it’s much more than a “feel-good” hormone)
- What are the functions of dopamine (it’s underpaid for everything it does)
- Strategies to increase the level of dopamine (nope, sugary foods are not recommended)
[Definition]What's the Thing with Dopamine? Is It a Magic Potion?
Well, it's not quite like the Felix Felicis from Harry Potter, granting you a dose of luck and happiness.
However, dopamine plays a vital role in the game of focus, motivation, and satisfaction. We’ll talk about that a bit later.
Let's begin by getting to know our brain's networks.
How Our Brains Switch Gears Between Tasks and Rest
Our brain consists of seven main networks, but this time, we’re mentioning only two of them:
- The default mode network and
- The task network.
The default mode network is like a cozy hammock where your mind gets comfortable during quiet moments.
On the other hand, the task networks are the go-getters, pushing you to achieve your goals.
These networks are connected. In a typical brain, they are always in sync and take turns. That means that when one is active, the other one is chilling.
In an ADHD brain, the connection between them is broken. They never know when their turn is, so they’re jamming together, interrupting each other. (1)
How does dopamine fit into this?
Dopamine’s job is to intervene and say, "All right, people, let's get this show back on track!"
It instructs the different circuits to play their parts at the right time.
ADHD and Dopamine
In a nutshell, ADHD brains produce less dopamine than neurotypical brains.
Low dopamine = Poor connection between the networks.
The dopamine either isn't loud enough, or it gives terrible instructions. (1)
[Why is it so important?]Why Is Dopamine So Important?
Now that you know the on-stage dopamine function, let's take a backstage tour and discover the many roles dopamine plays in our brains:
- Motivation Mojo: Dopamine fuels your motivation engine and turns you into a turbo-charged go-getter.
- Focus Guru: Ever feel like your attention span keeps declining? Dopamine is the wizard that helps you stay laser-focused and ensures your thoughts don't wander off into the land of daydreams.
- Reward Patrol: Dopamine releases a wave of joy when you achieve a goal, making success feel like an epic high-five from the universe.
- Learning Jedi: This neurotransmitter improves your ability to absorb new information and make connections faster than a Speedy Gonzales.
- Mood Manager: When dopamine flows freely, it lifts your mood, driving away the cranky clouds and replacing them with sunshine and rainbows.
- Decision Director: When faced with choices, dopamine helps you weigh the pros and cons and guides you to the best path.
- Movement Maestro: Dopamine is the conductor of movement in your body. It ensures your motor skills are in perfect harmony so you can dance, walk, and high-five like a pro.
- Stress-Coping Agent: When dopamine levels are optimal, it acts as a shield against stress, helping you stay cool, calm, and collected in the face of a crisis.
- Memory Conductor: This fantastic neurotransmitter stores and retrieves memories in your brain. (2)
Now you see why I told you that it was underpaid?
Fasten your seatbelts and get ready for some dopamine-boosting strategies.
The following section will explore healthier strategies for increasing dopamine levels. We’ll talk about how to increase dopamine naturally for ADHD.
[Hacks & strategies]Natural Ways to Increase Dopamine ADHD
Now that we've said goodbye to caffeine-induced jitteriness and ruled out drug abuse (let's keep it all legal, folks), it's time to explore the world of natural dopamine boosters.
We'll now reveal the secrets of increasing dopamine without shady side effects.
Amount of Quality Sleep = Amount of Dopamine
Your body's processes, in general, but especially your dopamine levels, go out of balance if you don't get enough sleep.
Lack of sleep affects both:
- how well dopamine receptors work and
- how much dopamine is in your brain (5)
How can I improve my sleep?
Better sleep = More alert when awake.
Let’s see what you can start practicing:
- Expose yourself to light (ideally, sunlight) for at least 10 minutes in the first 90 minutes right after you wake up
- View sunlight around sunset time
- Avoid bright light exposure to your eyes between 11:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m
- Delay drinking the first coffee at least 60 minutes after you wake up
- A cold shower in the morning & a hot shower in the evening
- Sleep in a fresh cold, dark, and quiet place
- Don't go to bed hungry or stuffed
- Limit day naps to an hour or less and avoid napping late in a day
- Exercise, but avoid being active right before bed (3) (4)
So, starting tonight, take care of your body and get those seven to nine hours of sleep.
Ensure that your brain can make the best of the dopamine it produces.
Stop Feeding Your Food Hyperfixation
The food you just can't get enough of might be a symptom of ADHD hyperfixation.
You know, when you can’t stop eating the same meal every day, maybe even for months!
In the long run, that’s not good for your dopamine. It feels like it is at the moment of eating, though.
Interestingly, children and adults with ADHD are naturally prone to dopamine-boosting products. They look for these sugary foods to combat poor concentration and impulsivity, i.e., lack of dopamine. (6) (8) (10)
However, according to some studies, for more dopamine, we should eliminate the following:
- Foods we might be allergic to.
There is a study of 100 children in which half said goodbye to foods they were mildly allergic to. The other half was allowed to experiment with all kinds of flavors.
The elimination diet group showed remarkable improvements:
- The ability to concentrate increased
- Impulsivity took a backseat
- Even sitting still became less of a wild dance (14)
Eat the dopamine
Dopamine consumed in foods can’t cross the blood-brain barrier and thus does not affect dopamine levels in the brain.
What you actually need is L-tyrosine, which is the amino acid that produces so-wanted dopamine. (7)
Foods high in L-Tyrosine:
- Soy products
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grain (11)
You can also find it in the form of supplements. However, we wouldn’t recommend taking supplements without a consult with a doctor.
What’s your thing to do here?
- Limit sugar consumption, especially the sneaky simple sugars
- Avoid foods you might be allergic to
- Eat lots of protein
- Eat less saturated fat
- Eat foods high in L-Tyrosine
- Consider including supplements (we’re dealing with that in the next section)
Supplements & Natural Remedies
A balanced diet can’t always give you all the nutrients you need. Also, there’s not enough executive energy to deal with everything as an ADHDer, so including some extra boosters would be a big help.
Here are some supplements you should consider for increasing dopamine:
- Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3s have numerous benefits, but when it comes to ADHD, they can help you improve hyperactivity, attentiveness, and impulsive behavior.
You can find three types of omega-3 fatty acids. Those important to you (in terms of dopamine) are EPA and DHA. Both of them are found in fish.
How much should you take? For kids, experts most often recommend a dosage of 1,000 milligrams. Older kids and adults can go for 2,000 milligrams.
Bonus tip: Try to choose a supplement with 1.5 - 2 times more EPA than DHA. Most gummies don't have enough of these super omega-3s, so go for capsules or liquid instead. (9)
Some studies have shown that many people with ADHD have lower levels of magnesium in their bodies.
In one study, 72% of the kids involved were magnesium deficient!
While magnesium won't directly boost your attention, it can definitely make a big difference in helping you stay focused.
Do you know that feeling when your energy levels go through the roof after taking your ADHD medication? I mean, if you’re on medications, of course.
Sometimes, when that effect wears off, it can make you feel all jittery and agitated. That's where magnesium comes to the rescue!
100-300 mg of magnesium twice daily can help keep those rebound effects at bay. Just make sure to choose some of these three forms:
- Magnesium glycinate
- Magnesium citrate
- Magnesium chelate
Oh, and a little tip: the citrate form might make you a bit poop-tacular, so be aware!
Magnesium calms you down. ✔️
It can also help you sleep better. ✔️ (15)
Before we go all "Iron Man," we need to know what's going on within our bodies. Doctors will measure the iron levels in your blood, but there are two more tests they should do for ADHDers:
- Ferritin level test
- Transferrin test
Ferritin is like a storage unit for iron. It holds onto the iron and releases it when our bodies need it. Transferrin, on the other hand, is like a delivery person for iron in our bodies.
Iron drops = Ferritin drops = Transferrin rises.
When our bodies don't have enough iron, it can mess with the dopamine levels in our brains.
In people with ADHD, this ferritin level is often low or borderline low. So, if your ferritin level is under 30 µg/L, it may be time to bring in the iron support! (15)
Even though the research on zinc and ADHD isn't as extensive, some remarkable studies show positive results.
They found that when kids took zinc with their fancy psychostimulant meds, they needed almost 40 percent less stimulant to feel supercharged and focused.
Measuring zinc levels in the blood can be a hassle, but don't worry! Giving your youngster 20-25 mg of zinc daily is perfectly safe. (12) (15)
Exercise: Get Your Dopamine Groove On
You exercise = your heart starts pumping faster = lots of oxygen and nutrients are sent to your brain.
Guess what happens?
Your brain goes into full-on party mode and starts releasing dopamine.
It's impressive specifically for folks with ADHD because it helps calm those racing thoughts and makes it easier to focus.
If you’re wondering what kind of activities can help you on this dopamine-boosting journey, we’ve broken it down into some excellent categories and given you a bunch of fun ideas:
- Riding a bike
- Hiking in the woods
- Playing soccer or basketball in the park
Super Silly Fun:
- Jumping on a trampoline
- Dancing like nobody's watching
- Having a crazy pillow fight
- Playing tag with friends
- Yoga poses and stretches
- Tai chi or qigong (pronounced "chee-gong")
- Breathing exercises
- Going for a peaceful walk in nature
The key is to find activities that you enjoy and that get your heart pumping. So go out there, have a blast, and let your dopamine soar like a rocket!
Mindfulness: Find Your Zen and Boost Dopamine
Studies have shown that even just 15 minutes of meditation helps you train your brain to stay calm and centered. (17)
Now, before you say that you tried it and that you can’t control your thoughts…
Who said you have it to control them?
Being mindful is accepting the current moment without passing judgment or holding on to it.
Whether you're looking to alleviate ADHD or simply tap into your brain's full potential, mindfulness is your trusty sidekick:
- Take those 15 minutes,
- Find a cozy spot,
- Focus on your breath,
- Feel the ground beneath you, and
- Let your mind wander.
Dopamine on Ice
It might sound wild, but these chilly showers can help increase your dopamine levels by up to 200% above baseline.
When we take a cold shower, our body goes into a state of shock (not the "EEK!" kind, don't worry!)
This shock sends your brain a "Wake up! It's time to get moving!" signal.
After that, our brain releases a flood of dopamine, giving us a surge of focus and alertness.
So, the next time you feel scattered or low on energy, jump into a chilly shower and let the dopamine party in your brain begin!
Hobbies and Interests: Channel Dopamine into Passion Projects
Remember how people with ADHD can laser-focus on things they truly love? Dopamine revs up our motivation and drives us toward what we are passionate about and curious about.
Engaging in a hobby = Dopamine 🚀
Hobbies also bring structure and meaning to your life. They create a sense of flow, where you're so engrossed in the activity that time flies by.
Psychologists recommend assigning rewards, tracking progress, and staying in control to maximize the dopamine boost triggered by a hobby.
For example, if yoga is your new passion, create a notebook to track your development and reward yourself with a day off when you conquer a challenging pose.
To make sure that you're picking up a hobby that you won’t burry in a graveyard of hobbies:
- Join a community
- Allow yourself to explore and experiment
- Take breaks when needed
- Exceed your limits and explore new horizons within your hobby.
[Addictions and ADHD]Addicted to Stimulants and Coffee? It is ADHD
Remember when I told you that dopamine is our best friend when it comes to focus, motivation, and satisfaction?
What happens when our best friend isn’t there when we need him?
We are looking for ways to make him come, right?
Well, stimulants, coffee, sugary foods, etc. That’s what it can never resist.
That’s how people with ADHD, who have been missing their best friend chronically, found their own ways to cope with dopamine deficiency.
When they consume stimulants like coffee, they trigger dopamine release in the brain. Repetition of the release of dopamine leads to addictive behavior.
Let me remind you:
ADHD = lack of dopamine
ADHD + stimulants = dopamine release
Dopamine release * x = addictive behavior (13)
While we don't encourage substance abuse or caffeine overload, understanding the connection between ADHD, dopamine, and stimulants can help us better understand why these behaviors occur.
[Medication and Treatment]Medication and Treatment: When Dopamine Needs Extra Support
When it comes to the dynamic duo of ADHD and dopamine, sometimes our brains need a little extra backup. That's where medications swoop in.
When ADHDers take sugar or certain drugs that increase dopamine, their focus and attention improve.
In that case, non-ADHD folks get hyperactive or restless, while those with ADHD become calmer and more focused.
You may have heard of some of the drugs:
They all work by boosting dopamine levels and helping individuals with ADHD regain control over their attention and impulses.
Even though these drugs are chemically and structurally similar to cocaine and so-called speed, the pharmaceutical versions used for ADHD treatment are specifically formulated to be safer and less prone to abuse.
They increase dopamine and norepinephrine, which enhance motivation, focus, and energy, with only a slight effect on serotonin for a calming balance. (16)
So when is it okay to consider medication for ADHD?
Well, it's a complex decision that requires consultation with a doctor.
Best to Start With Early Drug Treatment
A pediatric neurologist Andrew Huberman mentioned in his podcast, believes that early treatment is the key.
Because childhood offers the most remarkable neuroplasticity, meaning the brain's ability to reshape itself. Taking medication early on can help children to evolve attention skills that will benefit them as they grow up. (1)
To be noted: medications cannot cure ADHD. However, they can help control symptoms and allow you to function more effectively.
[Wrap up]Wrapping Up: Embrace Your ADHD and Keep Those Dopamine Levels High
Okay, let's review what we learned today:
- Dopamine always plays the leading role in ADHD brains.
- Not treating your ADHD can lead you to drug abuse as a way of self-medicating.
- A balanced diet, exercise, a good night's sleep, mindfulness, and embracing your interests are your allies.
- It’s okay to take medications when your dopamine needs some extra support.
From accountability support groups to gamified to-do lists, as in the Numo app, you can find multiple ways to deal with this.
And remember, with proper knowledge and some dopamine-boosting tricks, you can conquer the world and embrace your ADHD journey with a smile. Stay awesome, stay motivated, and keep those dopamine levels high!
- ADHD & How Anyone Can Improve Their Focus | Huberman Lab Podcast #37
- Controlling Your Dopamine For Motivation, Focus & Satisfaction | Huberman Lab Podcast #39
- Master Your Sleep & Be More Alert When Awake | Huberman Lab Podcast #2
- Sleep tips: 6 steps to better sleep (Mayo Clinic)
- Sleep Deprivation Differentially Affects Dopamine Receptor Subtypes in Mouse Striatum (nih.gov)
- The role of dopamine in motivation for food in humans: implications for obesity (nih.gov)
- Trans-blood brain barrier delivery of dopamine-loaded nanoparticles reverses functional deficits in parkinsonian rats (nih.gov)
- The diet factor in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (nih.gov)
- Omega-3 fatty acid status in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (nih.gov)
- Dietary Neurotransmitters: A Narrative Review on Current Knowledge (nih.gov)
- Zinc for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Placebo-Controlled Double-Blind Pilot Trial Alone and Combined with Amphetamine
- The low dopamine hypothesis: A plausible mechanism underpinning residual urine, overactive bladder, and nocturia (RON) syndrome in older patients (nih.gov)
- Restricted elimination diet for ADHD
- Magnesium, Iron, Zinc, Copper and Selenium Status in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) (nih.gov)
- The pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents: A systematic review with network meta-analyses of randomised trials (nih.gov)
- Increased dopamine tone during meditation-induced change of consciousness (nih.gov)