Discovery Of 1-Day ‘Depression Reversing’ Dopamine Hack Stuns Scientists

A counterintuitive approach to sleep could be the silver bullet for those feeling low.

Discovery Of 1-Day ‘Depression Reversing’ Dopamine Hack Stuns Scientists

Image: DMARGE/Getty

The world of mental wellness has arguably never been in ruder health: with the discovery that ice baths can give you a better high than cocaine and the nationwide roll-out of psychedelic therapy treatments in Australia, people have more tools than ever at their disposal to get their minds fighting fit.

However, a newly discovered dopamine-boosting hack that can apparently reverse the effects of depression in less than a single day may just take the biscuit for the best trick we’ve seen yet, and it all hinges on a counterintuitive approach to one thing that we all indulge in every single day: sleep.

WATCH: Health Hacker’s Sleep Advice Leaves American Couples Divided

The groundbreaking study has uncovered the mysteries behind a peculiar state many experience after ‘pulling an all-nighter’ (forgoing sleep for a whole night). Researchers at Chicago’s Northwestern University, experimenting on mice, tested the effects of carefully-controlled sleep deprivation on dopamine levels.

Their results, recently published in the scientific journal Neuron, shed light on the intricate relationship between sleep loss and brain function, particularly focusing on the release and reception of dopamine, a key neurotransmitter linked to pleasure and mood regulation that has become a focal point for many biohackers and wellness gurus alike in recent years.

In a counterintuitive turn, the study revealed that a lack of sleep can actually trigger an significantly increased release of dopamine in the brain. Intriguingly, it also leads to significant changes within the brain’s architecture, with neurons in the prefrontal cortex forming new synapses, ready to welcome the surge in dopamine with the neurological equivalent of open arms.

Exercise is another recommended weapon in the fight against depression. Image: Getty

This pivotal discovery, which not only offers insights into natural mood transitions in humans but also the mechanisms of rapid-acting antidepressants like ketamine, was explained further by study co-author Associate Professor Yevgenia Kozorovitskiy:

“Surprisingly, our findings reveal that even a brief period of sleep loss can exert a more substantial impact on our brain function than we had initially anticipated… This is an important reminder of how our casual activities, such as a sleepless night, can fundamentally alter the brain in as little as a few hours.”

Yevgenia Kozorovitskiy

However, it’s important to note that the study also revealed significant variability in responses to sleep deprivation, somewhat akin to the (very) mixed reactions people can have towards run-of-the-mill antidepressants. This variance reinforces the diversity of the pathways dopamine neurons can take and their unique functions both across different brain regions and between individuals.

Despite these undeniably fascinating findings, researchers caution against self-experimentation with sleep deprivation as a mood enhancer at present time. The benefits noted in mice may not directly translate to humans, and the adverse effects of chronic sleep deficiency — ranging from skyrocketing anxiety to highly impaired decision-making — far outweigh the temporary uplift in mood.

Kozorovitskiy advises seeking healthier alternatives like regular vigorous exercise or spending time outdoors to boost well-being. Regardless, the study opens exciting new avenues of exploration for those struggling with depressed moods and adds another nascent string to the bow of physicians and psychologists around the world.