Dopamine Fasting – Why and How to Detox Your Brain

Dopamine Fasting – Why and How to Detox Your Brain

Fasting typically involves abstinence from food. People fast for various reasons, including weight loss, religion, and detoxification. Some authorities also believe that nutritional fasting can slow the aging process and help you live longer, as it promotes autophagy or cell renewal. 

However, there is another type of fasting that involves spending less time using digital technologies and seeking fewer instant pleasures. This is called dopamine fasting. 

While the science behind dopamine fasting is somewhat sketchy, there is no denying that many people are addicted to their digital devices, spend too much time online, and could benefit from less screen time. 

In this article, we examine the pros and cons of dopamine fasting, so you can decide if it’s something you need to incorporate into your healthy lifestyle. 

What is Dopamine?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that relays information around your brain. It is produced as a reward and makes you feel good. Dopamine has many functions and plays a part in many aspects of your daily life, including:

  •         Sleep
  •         Motivation
  •         Mood
  •         Learning
  •         Attention

While dopamine is produced constantly, it is also produced in greater amounts when we’re exposed to intense stimuli, including digital content, our favorite music, fast food, and social interactions.

As such, some people believe it is possible to become both addicted and desensitized to the effects of dopamine, as intense stimuli are everywhere.

This could be why so many people are addicted to their smartphones and constantly crave social media likes and shares. It could also be one of the reasons that fast-food eaters find quitting their junk food habit so hard. These activities produce instant dopamine fixes, and, as such, they become addictive.

Over-exposure to these stimuli can mean we develop a tolerance to them. As such, we need them more and more to achieve the same level of satisfaction and happiness. Unfortunately, you can’t elevate your dopamine levels 24/7, and if levels are allowed to drop, feelings of depression and anxiety can result. 

Some people believe that a dopamine fast can help break this cycle of addiction and help reset the brain’s relationship with dopamine. 

What is Dopamine Fasting? 

Dopamine fasting was created by Dr. Cameron Sepah, a Californian psychiatrist. Dr. Sepah uses dopamine fasting with high-flying Silicon Valley tech workers and venture capitalists. 

The aim of dopamine fasting is to break the addiction to certain unhealthy behaviors, such as online gambling, smartphone dependence, porn addiction, and other activities that produce instant gratification.

The idea is that by forgoing these behaviors, the brain will become re-sensitized to the effects of dopamine, and you’ll need less to get the same level of pleasure and satisfaction. You’ll also break your addition to what are potentially harmful stimuli.

Dr. Sepah targets six behaviors during a dopamine detox: 

  1. Thrill and novelty seeking
  2. Recreational drugs
  3. Porn and masturbation
  4. Gambling and shopping
  5. Emotional eating
  6. Excessive internet usage and gaming

However, it’s worth noting that no scientific evidence supports the effects of dopamine fasting, and some medical professionals have labeled it a fad. This is because dopamine is a naturally occurring substance that your body produces in varying amounts throughout the day. Therefore, you cannot “detox” from it as it’s always present.

That said, given that many of us are addicted to things like social media, junk TV, and other sources of instant gratification, cutting down on these behaviors may not be a bad idea. This is best thought of as a digital detox, which is the most common form of dopamine fasting. 

Signs that you may benefit from a digital detox include:

  •         You constantly check your phone for notifications
  •         You feel anxious or stressed if your phone is not within easy reach
  •         You have a fear of missing out if you aren’t online
  •         You feel like you have no time but are often online for pleasure
  •         You are a habitual online shopper or gambler
  •         You spend a lot of time watching online porn
  •         You feel guilty about the time you spend online
  •         You check your phone upon waking or during the night 
  •         You spend time online when you should be sleeping
  •         You watch TV or online videos without really caring what’s on
  •         You are preoccupied with social media likes, comments, and shares
  •         You use your digital device while eating, watching TV, or doing other unrelated tasks


How to Do A Dopamine Fast

The aim of a dopamine fast is to reduce your exposure to the stimuli that produce a hit of dopamine. For most people, this means less use of digital devices and less time online. 

Digital devices and online platforms are designed to be addictive, and things like notification bells and update alerts feed this addiction. Every time your phone pings, you experience a hit of dopamine. This leads you to post more and check your phone more frequently.

Use the following strategies to help break your addiction to dopamine and digital devices:

Mute notifications

Notification sounds and symbols feed your dopamine addition. It’s almost impossible not to react when you hear a ping or see that little badge appear. Remove this stimulus by muting or turning off notifications. 

Turning off notifications can also make you more productive at work, as you’ll be able to focus for longer with fewer distractions. 

Remove social media apps from most of your devices

Having social media on your phone, tablet, desktop, and laptop means it’s very easy to check your feed or update your status. However, if you make things like Instagram and Facebook less accessible, you may use them less. Consider limiting your social media usage to just one device to make it harder to access.

Do not check your phone the moment you wake up 

Notifications come in all the time, even when you are sleeping. Checking your phone the moment you wake up sets an unhealthy tone for the rest of the day. Instead, wait an hour before you look at your screen. 

Find other ways to entertain yourself 

Don’t scroll through your social media feed whenever you have a few spare minutes. Instead, find more constructive ways to spend your downtime. Read the newspaper, chat with your partner, work on a puzzle, look around and take in your surroundings, or phone a friend or relative. These are all much better uses of your time. 

Read a real book

Reading is a great way to focus your mind, pass the time, and relax. However, many people do most of their reading online. This is not as satisfying as reading a novel or biography and does nothing to reduce your exposure to digital stimuli.

So, get an actual paper book or a dedicated digital e-reader and immerse yourself in the written word. Carry your book with you so you’ve always got something to read instead of scrolling mindlessly through your news feed.

Spend time away from your phone

While you don’t have to stop using your phone entirely, spending time away from it is a good way to break your dependence. If it’s out of sight, it’s more likely to be out of mind. Try leaving your phone in a different room when you’re eating and watching TV and when you go to bed. Mute the volume so you can’t hear it ping.

Spend time in nature

Nature is the ultimate digital detox. Getting out in the natural world will fill your mind with sights, sounds, and smells that are far more pleasurable and rewarding than anything you can find online. 

However, don’t negate the benefit of being in nature by constantly checking your phone, live streaming your time outdoors, posting photos, or updating your social media status - #digital detox #loving nature. That would really negate the point of the exercise! 

Be more mindful

People with severe digital addictions often use their phones while they’re doing other things, like eating a meal, watching TV, at the movies, or chatting with a friend. This sort of multi-tasking means they dilute their main task and fail to enjoy it as much as they should.

Put your phone away and pay full attention to what you are doing. You’ll get more from it, and it’ll probably provide more of a dopamine hit as a result. Being more mindful can make even mundane activities more enjoyable.

Take a digital sabbatical 

Sometimes, the best way to break an addiction is to go cold turkey and stop entirely. A digital sabbatical involves turning off your phone, tablet, laptop, smart TV, etc., for a predetermined time and being present in the “real” world. 

While taking a sabbatical can be daunting, it may be the best way to overcome your reliance on digital devices. Start with a manageable timeframe, e.g., two hours, and build up gradually until you can manage a weekend or even a week.

Make sure you let your friends and family know you’ll be digitally unavailable during this time, so they don’t think you’ve been kidnapped or abducted by aliens!

Get a dumb phone 

A few phone manufacturers make non-smartphones or dumbphones, which can only be used for making phone calls and sending SMS. They have no internet connectivity, and you cannot load them with apps. 

If you still want to be contactable but don’t want to contend with a barrage of digital distractions, a dumbphone may be the solution.


Dopamine Fasting – Closing Thoughts 

While the science supporting dopamine fasting is inconclusive, there is no denying that a large and growing number of people could benefit from a digital detox.

That’s not to say that digital devices are inherently harmful. In fact, they can be incredibly useful. However, even the best smartphone is just a tool, and the user should be the one that’s in control and not the device.

If you are a slave to your phone, constantly crave likes and shares, or feel bad about how much time you spend online, you may benefit from a dopamine detox. 

You don’t have to give up your phone, tablet, or social media presence entirely, but you should learn to limit your usage if it’s taking over your life.