Dopamine – sleep hormone unpacked

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Dopamine - A powerful chemical found swimming around in your brain and spinal cord.

The right amount of dopamine results in feeling motivated, being able to concentrate and feeling pleasure. Too little dopamine is linked to depression. Too much dopamine is linked to hyperactivity and psychosis. Dopamine is clearly serious stuff!

Like most things, dopamine is made and stored while we sleep. The main ingredient needed is the amino acid tyrosine. This is found in foods such as dairy, avos, bananas, almonds and seeds. So a change in eating patterns or sleep patterns can result in a depletion of dopamine.

You will feel flat. You will no longer feel like doing the things you used to. You will not feel pleasure. You will not feel loved or loving. You may simply feel like giving up on your job, your marriage, your hobbies, that chocolate cake you were supposed to bake for your sister's birthday party...in short, you will feel depressed.

And the more depressed you feel the less likely you are to do pleasurable activities which stimulate dopamine production. As you give up exercising, listening to your favourite tune and laughing with your pals, your brain gives up making this happy hormone. You are caught up in a vicious cycle that needs to be broken.

Most people low on dopamine will testify that they do not have the motivation to do what they know they need to do to get better. This is when starting an antidepressant may help. New research offers promising results with dopamine replacement. However, traditionally only antidepressants which help with seretonin and norepinephrine production are prescribed.

If you are well, continue to produce the right amount of dopamine by sleeping 7.5 hours per night, eating a diet rich in fresh foods and making time to enjoy pleasurable activities (think sex, chocolate, dancing or exploring the great outdoors).

If you think you may be suffering from a mild depression, you can help yourself by eating a diet rich in tyrosine (see above) and using alternative remedies such as chamomile to help you sleep well. Also, find a friend that can motivate you to go for a brisk walk or join you for a good laugh and a cup of tea.

If you are already depressed and it is impacting your sleep, then go see a medical professional asap. A combination of anti-depressants, counseling and lifestyle changes may be what you need to get your old groove back.

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