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Time Perception & Entertainment By Dopamine, Serotonin & Hormones

Key Takeaways

  • We are driven by timers controlled by dopamine and serotonin which cause us to perceive experience differently depending on whether we’re excited or bored

  • The more dopamine and epinephrine are released in the brain, the more we overestimate how much time has passed – conversely – the more serotonin released, the more we underestimate how much time has passed

  • Our perception of time will differ in the first half of the day versus the latter half of the day because of variations in amounts of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin in the bloodstream

  • If you are doing work that involves adhering to rigid rules like math or something where there’s a right or wrong answer – do it in the early part of the day because of how dopamine and norepinephrine impact time perception

  • Dopamine and the release of dopamine govern our perception of time, drive our day, and can be leveraged to build habits or segment day into blocks of productive time

  • Tackle brainstorming and creative work in the afternoon when serotonin is higher and offers flexibility in batching time

  • Impact of time on relationships and social interactions: the more novel experiences we have in a place or with a person, the more we feel we know the place or person even though the actual amount of time might be short

How Our Bodies Are Synced To Environment & Sunlight

  • Entrainment: the way in which internal processes are linked to the external world

  • We have nerve cells in our body marking the passage of time via light processing

  • Light is a powerful modulator of melatonin & actually inhibits melatonin – if you view light in the middle of the night (e.g., turn on a bathroom light) your melatonin levels will crash

  • As daylight changes, our hormones change – meaning perception of time is conscious and unconscious

  • In the spring when the days are getting longer, melatonin is decreased and gives the feeling of more energy

  • In the winter when the days are getting shorter, melatonin is increased and can reduce energy

  • Our bodies are so tied to sunlight and the environment, even more testosterone and estrogen are produced when days are longer

Circadian Time Cycle

  • No one can escape the circadian time cycle – we will all be active in some periods and sleep in others

  • Every cell in our body has a 24-hour cycle and are entrained to the outside cycle

  • Disruptions in circadian entrainment increase cancer risk, mental issues, decrease wound healing, disrupt physical performance, hormone disruption, and other similarly poor health outcomes

  • How to realign or “entrain” circadian clock:

  • 1. View 10-30 minutes of sunlight within an hour of waking,

  • 2. Get as much bright light as you can throughout the day and as little light as you can in the evening,

  • 3. Avoid sunglasses if you can do so safely,

  • 4. Exercise at a consistent time of day

  • 5. Eat at consistent times throughout the day

  • Disruption of circadian clocks also disrupts perception of shorter time intervals

Ultradian Rhythms AKA Basic Rest-Activity Cycle

  • Sleep is generally broken up into 90-minute cycles called the ultradian rhythm

  • Earlier in the night, we have slow-wave sleep (non-REM) and less REM sleep

  • For every 90 minute cycle, REM occupies more time – the more sleep you get, the more REM you have

  • The 90 minute time block continues throughout the day and governs our focus and brain cycles even during waking hours – after 90 minutes there’s a drop in ability to focus on hard things

  • When does the 90-minute cycle begin after waking? You can initiate them whenever you want (unlike circadian rhythm which is hardwired) – when you want to start, tune out all distractions and get to work

  • You must take breaks between 90-minute cycles of productivity (focused, hard work), not exceeding 2-3 per day

Time Perception

  • Three forms of time perception: (1) current interval timers which signal passage of time as quickly or slowly; (2) prospective timers measuring forward time; (3) retrospective time measuring how you measure time in the past

  • Dopamine and serotonin modulate perception of time

  • The more dopamine and epinephrine released in the brain, the more we overestimate how much time has passed

  • Dopamine and norepinephrine increase frame rate in the brain and lead us to overestimate the amount of time that has passed

  • Serotonin causes us to underestimate how much time has passed

  • Throughout the 24 hour cycle, there are varying amounts of how much dopamine and serotonin are present in blood and body depending on the time of day

  • In the first half of the day dopamine and norepinephrine are elevated in the brain, body, and bloodstream; in the second half of the day serotonin levels increase

  • We should do the hardest task in the first half of the day because we can leverage the dopamine system and problem solve more effectively with increased frame rates

  • When we haven’t slept well, our sense of the passing of time is disrupted

  • Trauma or traumatic events can lead to “overclocking” where we perceive things in slow motion which can be imprinted in the brain and the firing of neurons is stamped

  • “Overlocking is when the frame rate is so high that a memory gets stamped down and people have a hard time shaking that memory and emotions associated with that memory.” – Dr. Andrew Huberman

  • Trauma treatment is designed to change frame rate so it slows down such that the person can control (more on trauma coming in future episodes)

  • There is a paradoxical relationship between perception of time in the moment and retrospective time: if you experience something fun (and increases dopamine) it will feel like it goes by very fast; in retrospect, that experience will seem like a longer time

  • The opposite is also true: we will recall low dopamine or long experiences as short in retrospect

Control Of Time Perception

  • Dopamine and increases in dopamine are induced by spontaneous blinking

  • How to leverage blinking for time perception: every time we blink we increase our perception of time – if you want to slow down your perception of time, blink less – conversely if you want to speed up your perception of time, blink more

  • Cold exposure: cold exposure increases dopamine release

  • Relationships and social interactions: the more novel experiences we have in a place or with a person, the more we feel we know the place (or person) and the longer we feel we’ve been there or known them

  • The more novelty you experience with someone, the better you feel you know them even though the amount of time is fixed

  • Recommended reading: Your Brain Is A Time Machine by Dean Buonomano


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