How to Recharge Your Brain: Raise Neurotransmitter Levels
Dopamine is known for its role in addiction and behavior reinforcement, which means that when present, it encourages repeated episodes of drug use or other activities. This also means that dopamine is involved whenever you set a goal and then reach it because this motivates you to keep setting goals. Dopamine is present in the neurons of different parts of the brain: the basal ganglia, which is in control of movement; the amygdala, which regulates emotion and fear as well as reinforcement and addiction; and the prefrontal cortex, which aids in making decisions and forming short-term memories. More generally, this neurotransmitter is also involved in movement, specifically voluntary movement. . So dopamine touches many areas of our lives.
Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter that is associated with many of our mental activities: sleeping, learning, and memorizing. Like dopamine, it is involved in movement, specifically muscular movement. Serotonin regulates our moods and suppresses the things that make us human: eating, sleeping, mating, and fleeing from threats.
Norepinephrine has similar functions to the other neurotransmitters aforementioned, impacting the reward system, behavioral and physiological response, attention, anti-inflammation, and alertness. Norepinephrine is known for its role in the fight-or-flight response, but it is also involved in cognitive function, allowing us to pay attention and be more aware of things happening around us. This can be a positive thing when we are in a stressful situation, especially if we focus on the things that need our attention. Norepinephrine is what allows us to finish our work an hour before the deadline or study all night without sleeping. However, it does take its toll on our health in high quantities; it increases the heart rate, activates the release of glucose (energy) from storage, and increases blood flow to muscles. Continuous stress is bad for your body.
Studies have shown that a nap involving both deep sleep (slow-wave sleep) and dreaming (REM-sleep) can improve your memory. REM sleep is implicated in brain development and long-term memory, so make sure that you are getting 7-8 hours. Acetylcholinergic neurons in particular are active during the dreaming phase of sleep. It seems that the brain recharges neurotransmitter levels with sleep, so sleep ensures that neurotransmitters like dopamine are increased naturally. Studies show that uninterrupted sleep before 12 am has the highest quality.
-Take a 1.5 hour nap
-Get uninterrupted sleep
-Go to bed before midnight
Exposure to Light
Light has been used as a treatment for seasonal depression, and frequent exposure to bright light indicated increased dopamine levels near the eyes. In particular, natural light has been shown to stimulate serotonin synthesis. It seems that there is a relationship between serotonin and hours of sunlight. High exposure to sunlight has also resulted in greater dopamine receptor availability, which implies that there is a higher chance of successful dopamine release. With the majority of our work and events (classes, meetings) inside, studies suggest that we spend more time outside or invest in high-lux, or high-illumination, lamps such as those used for treatment of depression. Even on a cloudy day we can find higher lux from the sun that indoors.
-Get a >1000 lux lamp
-Spend time outdoors
-Get more sunlight
Evidence suggests that exercise promotes the synthesis of a precursor to serotonin: tryptophan. Tryptophan may be involved in fatigue because of its role as a sleep-inducer. Therefore, exercise may be most effective when it is to the extent of fatigue. Exercising with weights, especially heavy weights, seems to impact acetylcholine levels because it increases the amount of nerve inputs to muscles. The intensity of exercise is implicated in increasing norepinephrine levels, especially in aerobic exercise because of increased blood flow. Exercise can also increase dopamine levels if you set a goal and a reward for achieving it. The more difficult the goal is, the more your dopamine levels will rise.
-Lift weights for 1-3 sets
-Do aerobic exercise (run or swim)
-Set an exercise plan
-Don’t stop until you get tired
This has been shown to raise serotonin and dopamine levels as well as improve your cognitive skills, including problem-solving and paying attention to relevant information.
This has been shown to increase dopamine levels and serotonin levels because this is a new pattern of thinking and stimulates the production of different waves (e.g. beta, delta). If it is difficult to focus in silence, try playing some low Hz waves like theta or delta until those waves and those of your brain synchronize.
Eating more than you usually do can decrease norepinephrine levels and cause drowsiness, impairing your ability to function.
-Use different kinds of memory
Testing your memory, especially that related to perceptual learning, involves acetylcholine and will help you use it more efficiently.
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