‘Dopamine fasts’ reboot your brain and make you appreciate everyday pleasures more, proponents say. But is there any science to back it up?
When James Sinka starts his dopamine fast, he cuts himself off from as many external stimuli as possible. He’ll stop eating, instead only drinking water to stay hydrated. He’ll ignore his phone, laptop screen and other tech devices. And he’ll try and avoid interacting with people as much as possible – including making eye contact.
“I’m lucky to have extremely supportive friends, family and partners,” says the Silicon Valley-based technology entrepreneur. “I tell them ahead of time: ‘I’m booking 17 November for a dopamine fast; I’m sorry, you won’t hear from me. It’s not that I don’t love you, it’s that I have to do this thing for myself. Originally that was a little ridiculous but now they’re used to it. They’ll laugh it off and get it.”
Sinka, 24, is one of a growing number of people in the tech hub adopting dopamine fasting. It’s the latest fad to emerge in the future-facing region known for embracing new wellness initiatives. But is a dopamine fast just a rebranded form of ancient meditation? And is there any science to back the theory up?
‘Restrictive but worth it’
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter – or chemical brain messenger – linked to how we feel motivation to do things. It has often incorrectly been called the “pleasure chemical”.
“Dopamine release can be triggered by a range of external stimuli, especially unexpected salient events,” says Joshua Berke, a professor of neurology and psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco. “These could range from sudden unpleasant loud noises to stimuli that, through prior experience, have become associated with reward.”