Low Dopamine, Depression, or just Boredom?

Low Dopamine, Depression, or just Boredom?

I went to sleep later than usual (or rather, desired) and tried to wake up on 7 hours of sleep. Was difficult. Much resistance. I analyzed the feeling of not wanting to get up:

  • Was I physically tired? Not really
  • Was I mentally tired? Maybe. My mind was quite scattered, and flitted from thought to thought. Half dreaming, half free-associating. Hard to hold onto anything.
  • Was I just being lazy? It seemed possible. I didn’t want to get up. I had a couple of hours until I truly HAD to get up, but there were things I should do.
  • What were the physical sensations? Other than wanting to keep my eyes closed, and wanting to drift off back to sleep, there was a kind of pressure keep my eyes closed and to let consciousness slip away. It seemed centered behind the eyes, and maybe an inch upwards from center.
  • Was I going to get up? I didn’t know, and I didn’t particularly care. But the responsible part of me wanted to get out of bed. I was just kind of mad about not wanting to do it. There was definitely some resistance.

One of the random thoughts that fired was how I was possibly a low-dopamine-receptor type of person, and that it took bigger shots of dopamine to get me out of bed. And yet, last night, I had a lot of difficulty just trying to stop clicking buttons on the Internet looking for something interesting. And then I remembered that there were definitely times when I was tired but excited about doing something. A flash of insight surged through me: perhaps the key to not being tired was just being excited about what I was doing. I had to admit I wasn’t looking forward to the long drive in the morning, possibly through traffic. And if I was really honest with myself, most of the “to do” tasks on my list were not particularly exciting. So…

  1. If I am a low dopamine sensitivity individual (some unqualified info on dopamine here and here), and dopamine is part of the self-initiation process, that might explain the resistance I feel.

  2. If (1) is true, and I can’t increase my dopamine response anyway, then I need to be doing more exciting things.

As I contemplate that, I’m sitting at a Starbucks killing time somewhere in Bedford, Massachusetts. The state of my mind is currently something like this:

  • Tired, fuzzy. I’m able to maintain a thread of continuity in the writing, but it’s because the writing is giving me something to focus on. Quality of thought is not high.

  • Strain in back and shoulders, probably due to the lousy table I’m sitting at.

  • Fuzziness in what I should be doing first. That’s why I’m writing. I have a big list of things to do, and they are utterly unexciting to me now in the abstract. I just went through the 30-odd things on this week’s list, and all of them score below 5 on a scale of 10. The highest scoring tasks were social, meeting people I hadn’t seen in a while. I think it’s safe to say that I’m not very excited about anything this week, even potentially awesome development projects I have decided I need to stat.


p>I wonder if low dopamine and other natural balances of neurotransmitters shape personality in some way, but that’s a tangent…

Am I depressed? I have no reason to be depressed. I’m a little concerned about cash flow, but it’s not a desperate situation. If anything, I’m depressed about not being less depressed and more ready-to-go on these projects.

The followup thought is that perhaps I need to focus on just one or two tasks in high resolution, because excitement comes from that. Also, I feel excitement when things are about to be completed or something NEW is about to happen. I like learning new things. I like finding out about new, unexpected applications of intelligence and creativity. I want to be part of that community. So perhaps THAT is the focus:

Concentration on Being in the Creative Community
Demonstrating Ongoing Creativity

As I typed that, I felt some of the pressure in my head lessen. There’s something there. The question on my mind now is how to balance the “have to do” work with the “creative” work, and also how to ACTIVATE the creative work. The creative work is already on my to-do list, and I ranked them all very low. ACTIVATION is the key. Once I get going, I know, I can maintain focus. It’s the activation, the getting started on these nebulous tasks of indeterminate difficulty and duration, that is the challenge.

That’s the nut I need to crack.


  1. Daniel Miller 9 years ago

    I go through the same effects you are describing. It was worse for me during high school. It is much less now but still affects me. I think my biggest issue is not having someone to wake up to and get us out of bed. We need something to look forward to a goal to stimulate our dopamine side of the brain. I quit smoking which worked well for focus but made my mood agitated. The approach I use now is using the stair master in the morning to get the dopamine flowing and playing music that has really appeals to our taste. It is hard to do in the morning because the interest is not there. Have you experienced the 4 o clock switch? I call it that for good reason. Between 2-4 the dopamine comes on and my clarity is crystal clear including erections. Needed to include that it is important. I usually cant sleep till 1-2am. I am researching low am cortisol release and late cortisol decline. If cortisol releases late the symptoms we are experiencing are right on the money. You need stress to get going in the am. Hope this sheds light on your issue. Best, Daniel

    • mike 8 years ago

      thanks for sharing, mann. I’ll start to make a routine of doing things that give me pleasure so that my brain can wake up with dopamine and the resultant amount of neural activity that’ll ensue…

      feel free to post a link to any public, online playlists you might have. I’d listen, if for nothing else, to be reminded of this concept with song.

      Cheers Dawg!