Good morning! It's Friday May 24th and you're reading your once weekly dose of health science information. 

This week we'll explore the scientific literature regarding dopamine, a neurotransmitter that has much to do with motivation and feelings of desire.
Managing Dopamine and Improving Motivation

As more and more people are extending their personal health focus to include mental health, discussion about chemicals in the brain has become rather popular. Serotonin, oxytocin, and of course dopamine are among the popularly talked about compounds associated with the brain. With regards to dopamine specifically, the general misconception is that it's related to feelings of happiness or feelings of joy. This is not true. Dopamine, rather, is associated with feelings of desire and motivation; when dopamine levels are high, you feel more focused and attentive on your goals and desires. 

How can we increase levels of dopamine to feel more motivated?

Before we get into specifics, it's important to understand that higher dopamine is not objectively a good thing. Your brain isn't physiologically capable of parsing between good and bad; it only senses the chemical signals of dopamine. For instance, addictive substances (narcotics, etc.) trigger an increase in dopamine which is what makes them addictive; increase in dopamine makes your brain say "I want more!" 

With that being said, increasing dopamine safely and naturally can be an effective way of feeling more motivated to eat healthy, work out, and even achieve career/life goals. Here's some ways to do that:

1. 10 - 30 minutes of early morning sunlight
Early morning sunlight, not through a windshield or sunglasses, has been shown to cause the release of dopamine. When done consistently, exposure to early morning sunlight can increase the number of dopamine receptors in your brain, increasing the effects of dopamine. This does not mean staring directly at the sun, rather just being outside in the sunlight.

2. Avoid melatonin
Consumption of melatonin has been shown to decrease dopamine levels, and cause issue with regular sleeping patterns. Having good sleep is critical in proper dopamine levels. 

3. Ingest caffeine
Ingesting caffeine, ideally in the form coffee or tea, can increase dopamine levels but more importantly, it can increase the number of dopamine receptors which makes your brain more sensitive to dopamine, which is a good thing. If you've had coffee and felt more focused and motivated while working, that's dopamine! One important note: caffeine can also disrupt sleep and sleep is crucial for healthy dopamine levels as well as a plethora of other physiological functions. Consuming caffeine after 2- 3 p.m can cause disruptions in sleep, even if you're easily able to fall asleep. 

In summary, modulating your baseline dopamine levels is an excellent way of increasing your motivation. At the end of the day, getting a task done, hitting the gym, or eating healthy is largely a function of your dedication and discipline, not just your dopamine levels. With that being said, optimizing your dopamine can set you up for success with regards to goals you might have.
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