Dopamine: Getting More Out of Your Time
LET’S START WITH TIME TRAVEL.
An immense sci-fi dream curated by decades of comic books, films and art. We have dreamed of the possibility for aeons, but it’s not possible for humans to control time, right? Wrong … sort of.
Sadly we’ve not developed the technology to jump to the year 3000 just yet, but we can influence our perception of time by taking control of our brain chemistry.
LESS DELORIAN’S, MORE DOPAMINE.
Recent evidence suggests that the chemicals in your brain can impact your perception of time. So, time moves faster depending on what chemicals are kicking about in your bloodstream.
Time perception, or Chronoception if you’re feeling fancy, refers to the rate at which we experience time. This also impacts how we view past events and future possibilities.
Scientists have long suspected that Dopamine plays a role in the perception of time. People with brain disorders that are linked to Dopamine defects, such as Parkinson’s, have trouble tracking time and have long been treated with Dopamine enhancing drugs.
Dopamine levels are at their highest in the morning. When this neuromodulator is pumped into your brain, you feel more awake and alert. This isn’t just a human thing either, so don’t get on your evolutionary high horse just yet. Studies have shown that animals’ perception of time is impacted by boosting Dopamine activity in their brains.
THE SCIENCY BIT
A study published in Science in 2017 found that stimulating Dopamine neurons in the brain of a mouse made it behave as if time is moving faster. More specifically, “boosting Dopamine slows down the animals’ internal clock, leading them to underestimate time intervals”.
In this study conducted by Dr Joseph Paton, the mice were trained to perform a timing task. They also dosed some of the mice with drugs that triggered the release of Dopamine. The chemically enhanced mice responded to the tasks more quickly than usual, suggesting that their sense of time was sped up by the influx of Dopamine.
This study may have also provided evidence that could change how we think about Dopamine-linked disorders. A prime example being Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
People with ADHD are often prescribed Dopamine drugs to manage the effects of their disorder - one of which is impulsivity. “One dimension of impulsivity is the tendency or inability to promote delayed gratification,” Paton says. “If your Dopamine levels are different and you sense time more slowly, it might be harder to wait for delayed gratification.”
SO TIME REALLY DOES FLY WHEN YOU’RE HAVING FUN - IT’S SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN.
A similar study on humans in 2018 enhanced the Dopamine levels of the participants before giving them a time perception task. They were seated at a computer and asked to press the spacebar when an image flashed up on the screen.
This study found that the participants under the influence of the Dopamine enhancing drug had significantly improved perception of time, pressing the spacebar faster and more accurately than those who had received the placebo.
Therefore, it's safe to say that higher levels of Dopamine in the bloodstream causes people to have a sense of heightened time perception. Dr Andrew Huberman, a renowned neuroscientist, explores theories of time perception in an episode of his podcast.
Huberman explains that your circadian rhythm (i.e. your body clock) plays a huge role in your Dopamine levels and therefore your perception of time. In the morning, your brain is flooded with Dopamine, giving you that feeling of wakefulness and motivation that most people are familiar with after a good night's sleep.
However, our Dopamine levels are gradually replaced by increasing levels of Serotonin. During more Serotonergic phases, your brain underestimates how much time has passed, much like you would if you were consuming cannabis.
His analogy of ‘fine slicing’ comes into play here. The higher your Dopamine levels, the better your brain is at ‘fine slicing’ time - as if your brain was a camera with a super-high frame rate. During Dopamine heavy periods, your brain is overestimating how much time has passed, giving you the illusion that time is passing faster than normal.
PRETTY CRAZY RIGHT?
What’s crazier is that Huberman has devised a schedule for your working day based on your brain chemicals. In the morning, when your brain is drowning in Dopamine, you should aim to complete your most difficult tasks (also known as ‘eating the frog’). This is a good technique for harnessing a sense of accomplishment earlier in the day, but also from a neurological perspective.
MORE DOPAMINE = MORE TIME.
Your higher resolution brain is suited to completing difficult tasks in the morning, such as rigid more solution-based problems. If we were bulking this down into a school timetable, we’d want science and maths in the morning based on Huberman’s advice.
In the afternoon, our brains begin to swim in the rising Serotonin tide. At this point, time starts to feel like it's slowing and Huberman recommends using this phase for creative works. For example, brainstorming and free-flowing thinking of which no strict answer is required. If we’re talking timetables, we’re putting art and English at the end of the day.
As well as this, Huberman explains that heightened levels of Dopamine cause faster eyelid ‘shuddering’. There is evidence to suggest that faster blinking is a contributing factor to overestimating how much time has passed.
Lots of blinks = time passes faster.
IF DOPAMINE IS THE ANSWER, HOW CAN I GET SOME?
Dopamine is everywhere. Our brains are constantly seeking the next hit. We can get dopamine from having a nice meal, drinking a glass of your favourite sauvignon blanc or even having sex. Instagram’s entire business model is based on those little red hearts giving your brain a taste of delectable dopamine, which is why we’re all addicted to social media.
In the UK, the demand for daily wakefulness is ingrained in our culture. We've been unknowingly spiking our Dopamine levels every single day for nearly 400 years. Natural substances like tea and coffee provide a reliable and useful state of mental energy, alertness and concentration that many struggle to live without.
There’s a reason that the ‘don’t talk to me before I’ve had my morning coffee’ phenomenon exists - caffeine stimulates Dopamine production.
DOPAMINE + COFFEE = FUNCTIONAL HUMAN BEFORE 9AM
As many of us know, coffee comes at a cost. Caffeine crashes, heightened anxiety or even the mid-morning shakes can haunt your oat latte. What if there was a way to enhance your morning Dopamine drip-feed without the downsides?
Guayusa is an ancient Amazonian leaf that has been used to brew tea for centuries. Although it’s not widely known yet, the effects of the leaf are hugely positive. This ‘super-leaf’ contains a unique blend of caffeine and polyphenol antioxidants which give you all of the energy without any of the crashes.
Specifically, it’s seven times more effective than drinking coffee.
Another way to kick your brain into Dopamine drive is ingesting Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric. Curcumin comes in capsules, tea, and powdered forms. Studies have shown that it has antidepressant effects as it stimulates Dopamine production.
One small, controlled study found that taking 1 gram of curcumin had similar effects as that of Prozac on improving mood in people with depression.
If taking supplements isn't your thing, you can also boost your Dopamine levels by consuming more protein in your diet, exercising regularly and filling your dome with good tunes.
WHAT DO WE DO WITH ALL OF THIS INFO?
French philosopher Henri Bergson once said that "we must put aside the idea of a single time; all that counts are the multiple times that make up the experience" Basically - time is always relative.
We know that time moves differently for different people, and we can never experience someone else’s perception of time. That being said, we now know that time really does fly when you’re having fun, or when your brain is rewarding you with that delicious Dopamine.
So maybe dopamine isn’t quite as good as a DeLorean when it comes to travelling through time, but you can learn to control your time more efficiently. Fine slice your time and maximise your productivity by increasing your dopamine levels.