If you have low energy during the day, feel sad for long stretches of time, or struggle to motivate yourself, you may want to increase your dopamine levels.
Dopamine has a reputation as your brain’s pleasure neurotransmitter— the chemical that you release in response to food, drugs, sex, positive social interaction, and other feel-good things. But dopamine does a lot more than that. It also regulates your mood and motivation, giving you the energy to pursue goals and feel good when you make progress in your life.
Low dopamine can leave you sad and exhausted, without the motivation to do the things you want to do. The good news is that a few simple lifestyle changes can help. Here are five ways to increase dopamine levels in your brain.
1. Eat Plenty of Protein
Your brain creates dopamine out of an amino acid called tyrosine.https://cbm.msoe.edu/markMyweb/ggpmResources/documents/dopamine.pdf
Both animal and human studies show that a low-protein diet can cause lower levels of dopamine in the brain.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1349715/https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3649463/
In addition, people who eat low-protein diets are more prone to depression, which is a symptom of low dopamine levels.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2920100/https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33612584/
Aim for a minimum of 50 grams of high-quality protein every day, and eat closer to 100 grams if you can. Prioritize complete protein sources like red meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, soy, and quinoa—they have all the amino acids your body needs to function.
2. Work Out
Exercise triggers a large and immediate boost in your dopamine levels. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4703784/
Research shows that the boost in dopamine after you exercise correlates with improved mood, increased confidence, decreased anxiety, and a variety of other benefits.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4061837/https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5928534/
If you’re low on dopamine, it can be difficult to start working out. Exercising consistently takes a certain level of motivation.
However, the large dopamine boost you get after a single workout can cause a sudden shift in your brain function and your mindset, and if you continue to work out consistently, you can maintain that shift. The first workout is the hardest.
If you’re struggling to get started, try doing something small, like going for a walk. Once you’re walking consistently, build your way up to something more difficult, then continue from there. That kind of consistent exercise will cause a major positive shift in your brain chemistry.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5928534/https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4061837/
3. Prioritize Sleep
Dopamine regulates your motivation, and part of that includes keeping you alert and focused throughout the day.
Your brain usually releases a large amount of dopamine first thing in the morning, when you wake up. Your dopamine levels gradually decline throughout the day, falling to a low point right before you go to bed.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17275369/
However, poor sleep disrupts your daily dopamine release. A 2012 study found that sleep-deprived people see a rapid decrease in brain dopamine levels, along with a drop in focus and alertness during the day.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3433285/
Consistent high-quality sleep will help balance your dopamine levels and keep them where they should be.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5376559/
If you’re having trouble sleeping, get some blackout curtains to block light at night—nighttime light exposure inhibits deep sleep, so the darker you can get your room, the better you’ll sleep.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30311830/ Waking up at the same time every day is another way to regulate your sleep patterns and improve sleep quality.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12927121/ You may also want to consider a custom sleep supplement stack to help you sleep deeper.
4. Get More Sunlight
Research seasonal affective disorder—the tendency to get depressed during dark winter months—has found that going without sunlight for long periods of time decreases your dopamine and serotonin levels, which can lead to depression, anxiety, low motivation, and a variety of other symptoms.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11806867/https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16041295/
It’s important to be safe about sun exposure. Spend 10-30 minutes in direct sunlight with as much skin exposed as you can. The amount of time you can safely spend in the sun depends on how dark your skin is—if you’re paler, spend less time, and if you’re darker, spend more time. Always stop before you’re sunburned and apply an SPF-rated sunscreen for the rest of the day.
Too much sun is harmful, but in the right dose, it can increase your dopamine levels and make you feel more positive and motivated.
5. Take the Right Supplements
There are a variety of supplements that increase your dopamine directly, as well as precursor vitamins and minerals that your brain needs to synthesize dopamine. Adding these compounds to your supplement routine can help boost your dopamine levels.
Iron, vitamin B6, folate, and niacin are all dopamine precursorshttps://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4253901/https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4772032/https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25455298/ and you may struggle to keep up dopamine production without them.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2761676/ Getting the right amount of these vitamins and minerals can help balance your brain chemistry and regulate dopamine metabolism.
Mucuna pruriens is a type of bean that contains levodopa, which your brain can easily convert into dopamine. Multiple studies have found that taking Mucuna increased participants’ dopamine levels.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18973898/https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC489215/
Curcumin, a compound found in turmeric, also increases dopamine. It blocks the enzyme that breaks dopamine down, leaving dopamine in your system for longer and allowing your brain to access more of it.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2929771/
Cognitive supplements are quite personal, and if you want to balance your brain function, you may want to take a nootropic quiz to find the right stack of vitamins, minerals, and other compounds to help you meet your unique goals.
Low dopamine can leave you tired, sad, and unmotivated, sometimes for weeks or months at a time.
The good news is that a few simple lifestyle changes can help boost your dopamine naturally. Eat plenty of protein, work out consistently, change your bedtime routine to favor deep sleep, get direct sunlight every day, and take supplements that support your brain’s dopamine levels. With these strategies, you can increase your dopamine levels and feel sharper, happier, and more motivated.