Calming the Brain

By Kelly Dorfman, MS, DDR Co-Founder

The brain needs a balance between excitatory and calming chemicals to control the body‘s activity level. A wide variety of chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, modulate the brain‘s tendencies toward arousal or calming.

Adrenaline (or epinephrine) is an excitatory chemical that helps the body respond to danger by dilating the eyes, speeding up the heart and initiating other functions that prepare the body for fight or flight. If an acute response is not necessary, the body can convert adrenaline to dopamine, another excitatory molecule that improves focus and concentration.

Both dopamine and epinephrine are important under the appropriate circumstances. However, if adrenaline is dominant in a preschooler during circle time, he will be unable to settle down. Similarly, if excessive dopamine is present, the result is obsessive, rather than focusing, behavior.

At bedtime, when the body tries to cycle into sleep, the brain may have trouble breaking down the high levels of excitatory neurotransmitters. Thus, children who take Ritalin and related stimulants can have trouble sleeping or can develop obsessive behaviors such as tics.


Understanding the chemistry of excitement versus sedation is important if your child is overactive. In children who exhibit overactivity, regulation between the two states is impaired. Often, the problem is an excessive amount of substances being consumed that increase excitatory messengers. The six most common dietary excitement inducers are:


Avoiding the known stimulants is the first step in calming. But because the brain depends on a separate set of substances for calling, an over-excited state may indicate a shortage of important nutrients. Thus, the second step is adding substances that encourage serenity. The three most important supplements are:

To calm your child‘s brain, search for balance before reaching for drugs. Remove excitory chemicals from the diet, and use supplements proven to quiet the most hyperactive.

[Initially published in New Developments: Volume 5, Number 1 - Summer, 1999]

All material in this web site is given for information purposes only and is not to be substituted for advice from your health care provider.

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