What is a low dopamine morning routine? Plus, all the benefits

Experts reveal why a low dopamine morning routine could be key for a productive day

Woman completing low dopamine morning routine early in kitchen with sun coming through window onto counters and plants
(Image credit: Getty Images)

A low dopamine morning routine is quickly becoming the new way to start the day for those looking to stay productive through to the evening. 

The routine has been shared 3.5 million times on TikTok with the hashtag #lowdopaminemorning. While many TikTok trends, especially morning routines, are criticized by experts for being either totally unrealistic for the average person or having few to no real-world benefits, this one's received praise from many across the board. 

These habits take the Sunday reset routine into Monday morning, offering followers the chance to wake up feeling productive and ready for the day. To reveal the benefits of a low dopamine morning routine as the new way to reduce stress, plus how to create your own, we've spoken to two certified specialists. 

What is a low dopamine morning routine?

A low dopamine morning routine is a set of habits that revolve around delaying the release of dopamine, also known as the feel-good brain chemical, through low-stress and low-stimulation activities like basic tasks, avoiding technological light, and delayed caffeine intake. 

After initially gaining popularity on TikTok among those with ADHD symptoms, the routine was picked up by thousands of others, from those looking to combat SAD in the winter months to those wanting a better relationship with early morning starts. 

The routine might sound counterintuitive - after all, who doesn't want to wake up on a high? - but experts agree that keeping dopamine levels low and embracing a slower start could be the best way to start a productive day. 

"Initially, our high-stimulation morning may cause a spike in dopamine that makes us feel more energized and alert and we start our day with gusto," says Dr Susan Lovelle, a holistic wellness specialist. "However, the same activities that cause dopamine elevation are also likely increasing cortisol, the stress hormone that helps us to wake up each morning. Unfortunately, with continued stress, elevated dopamine and cortisol levels may begin to have dampened responses, requiring more for the same response."

Unmade bed early in the morning with light coming through window

(Image credit: Getty Images)

One of the more problematic side effects of this is a dreaded afternoon "crash". "As levels of dopamine and cortisol drop, this leads to fatigue, irritability, brain fog, and often the desire for the quick kick of sugary treats. This, in turn, starts a vicious cycle of snacking on more high-glycemic food and rapid blood sugar drops," she explains.

Certain elements of a low dopamine morning could lead to some longer-term health benefits too, according to researchers. For example, a review by the University of Florida found that 81% of Americans constantly or often check their emails, texts, or social media. Of this percentage, those who check these out of work hours were found to be the most stressed, followed by constant checkers. One important element of the low dopamine morning routine is avoiding your phone totally for at least the first hour after waking, immediately reducing the chance of this particular stress.

How to create a low dopamine morning routine

  • Avoid looking at your phone for at least an hour: Technological light (i.e. blue light) offers our brains a small and temporary dopamine boost, which leads to a comedown shortly afterward. 
  • Delay your first coffee of the day: This one may be tricky for some but avoiding coffee (or any of the other healthy coffee alternatives) for at least 90 minutes after your wake-up could be the way to skip the mid-morning slump. 
  • Prioritize protein at breakfast: We all know the benefits of protein but when it comes to keeping up energy for the day, eating foods that help you stay fuller for longer (like those high in protein and fiber) is key.
  • Complete a low-effort task: This could be unloading the dishwasher, making the bed, or tidying the kitchen, something low-stress that will offer a sense of achievement early in the morning. 

Benefits of the routine

1. Improved focus

The low dopamine morning routine is all about limiting stimulation when we first wake up. If we do this, Dr Lovelle explains, "we can maintain our dopamine sensitivity, allowing for better focus and sustained attention throughout the day." 

The alternative, she says, is a constant reliance on that early morning dopamine hit. Eventually, we'll require more of it for the same effect, "much as an addict requires more of their chosen drug to get the same result", resulting in negative online habits like doom-scrolling. 

2. Balanced energy levels

If you find yourself reaching for a snack and another cup of coffee at 3 pm, the low dopamine morning routine could be one for you. "A routine [like this] helps prevent those energy crashes later in the day, promoting more consistent energy levels and avoiding the cycle of stimulation and exhausted, and often, overeating," the doctor says. 

Woman's hands cracking two eggs into pan with oil, representing the low dopamine morning routine

(Image credit: Getty Images)

3. Reduced stress

Ticking off something from your to-do list first thing is a great element of the low dopamine morning routine as it sets a positive precedent for the day, says Dr Lovelle. "By engaging in calming activities in the morning, we can minimize stress and promote a sense of wellbeing, which sets a positive tone. We’re now able to be productive all day rather than just in the morning," she says.

Doing this over time can have long-term benefits as well, says certified Harvard success coach, author, and therapist Jackie Ruka. "We are successful through small repetitive, consistent acts of positive habits," she says. "Dopamine hits that create avoidance and procrastination [like doomscrolling] put off self-fulfillment.  When we accomplish hard things or small repetitive, positive habits, it encourages self-worth."

4. Better sleep

One of the more undervalued elements of the low dopamine morning routine is the effect it can have on our sleep later in the day, which makes it ideal for those who want to learn how to sleep better through improved sleep hygiene

"Limiting stimulation in the morning can also help regulate our circadian rhythms and improve sleep quality," explains Dr Lovelle, pointing to the role light plays in the body's natural body clock. Light from phone or laptop screens inhibits the production of melatonin, one of the other essential hormones needed for sleep, and can throw off the clock's timings, making it harder to fall asleep fast in the evening. 

Leaving phones on the other side of the room means we have to get out of bed almost immediately to turn the alarm off and, much like completing a simple task, this sets a positive precedent for the day as we're moving rather than scrolling first thing. This, in turn, Dr Lovelle says "encourages our body to wind down and relax as night approaches."

5. Better blood sugar control

For both long-term health and short-term energy levels, having control of our blood sugar levels is a good idea. "High levels of dopamine have been found to decrease insulin levels, resulting in higher blood sugar levels," Dr Lovelle explains. 

"Through another mechanism, high cortisol levels lead to elevated blood sugar. Reducing these two chemicals each morning through a slower start to the day combined with a breakfast of high-quality protein and fat thus lowers our risk for type 2 diabetes."

Tips for creating the routine:

  • Go slow: Forming a new habit takes time (66 days to be exact, according to University of Houston research) so if you can't immediately switch to this new routine and pick up your phone first thing three days in, don't be hard on yourself. Try again tomorrow.
  • Set an earlier alarm: If you're struggling to make time for the low dopamine morning routine with your current wake-up time, set your alarm for 10 minutes earlier. It's not enough to disrupt your sleep but you may find it's enough time to get that simple task done or make breakfast.
  • Look at natural light: If possible, open your curtains straight away to let the natural daylight in. This won't only encourage you to get out of bed, but it'll also help regulate your circadian rhythm as your brain will recognize it's now the morning and time to get moving. 
  • Incorporate some low-intensity exercise: If you're someone who likes to work out in the morning, bring this into your new routine with some walking meditation, yoga, or Pilates. "Yoga eases the brain toward processing our feelings through mind-body association," explains Ruka. "This opens creativity and intuition, which encourages problem-solving." 
  • Drink water: After eight hours of sleep, everyone tends to feel a little dehydrated. A glass of water as soon as you wake up in the morning will help prevent this from continuing into the morning and give you something to do instead of checking your phone.
Grace Walsh
Health Editor

A digital health journalist with over six years of experience writing and editing for UK publications, Grace has covered the world of health and wellbeing extensively for Cosmopolitan, The i Paper and more.

She started her career writing about the complexities of sex and relationships, before combining personal hobbies with professional and writing about fitness. Everything from the best protein powder to sleep technology, the latest health trend to nutrition essentials, Grace has a huge spectrum of interests in the wellness sphere. Having reported on the coronavirus pandemic since the very first swab, she now also counts public health among them.