Here’s the scientific explanation for why introverts like being alone

science introverts alone time

I’m an introvert, so I need plenty of “alone” time. If I don’t get enough, I’m not myself. I feel worn out and cranky. I get short with people, because every little annoyance seems magnified. I want to sneak away and hide for a while.

Spending time alone—reading, writing, or just hanging around my apartment doing nothing—recharges me. It’s like what author Jonathan Rauch writes: “For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating.” Rauch’s own formula is to spend two hours alone recharging for every hour he spends socializing.

Extroverts, on the other hand, actually feel energized when they’re on-the-go or hanging out with others. Many extroverts get restless and bored when they have to be alone for too long. But me? I could spend hours (or days) alone and feel great.


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So why do introverts need more alone time than extroverts? The answer is found in the wiring of our brains.

It’s all in your head

Our need for alone time has to do with a chemical called dopamine. Both introverts and extroverts have dopamine in their brains, but they respond to it differently.

What is dopamine? It’s a neurotransmitter that helps control your brain’s pleasure and reward centers. It makes us notice opportunities to get external rewards (like money, social status, and sex) and take action to get them.

Imagine you and your extroverted friend are at a bar. You both see an attractive person across the room. Dopamine floods both of your brains as you think about flirting with this person. Your extroverted friend feels a thrilling rush of “happiness hits” from dopamine. But you feel nervous and somewhat overwhelmed. Sound familiar?

This is because extroverts have a more active dopamine reward network than introverts. Basically, they need more dopamine to feel its pleasant effects, explains Dr. Marti Olsen Laney in her book The Introvert Advantage: How Quiet People Can Thrive in an Extrovert World.

For introverts, too much of a good thing really is too much. We feel overstimulated when dopamine floods our brains.

When we spend time alone, we’re not faced with situations like talking to an attractive stranger. Essentially we’re lowering our level of external stimulation. Being alone feels just right for our dopamine-sensitive system.


For us, acetylcholine is where it’s at

Forget dopamine. Introverts would rather bask in another neurotransmitter called acetylcholine, explains Christine Fonseca in her book Quiet Kids: Help Your Introverted Child Succeed in an Extroverted World. Like dopamine, acetylcholine is also linked to pleasure. The difference is, acetylcholine makes us feel good when we turn inward. It powers our abilities to think deeply, reflect, and focus intensely on just one thing for a long period of time.

This helps further explain why introverts like being alone: it’s easier to turn inward when we’re not paying attention to other people.

Let us rest and digest

According to Laney, everyone’s nervous system has two modes: parasympathetic and sympathetic. When we use the parasympathetic side (nicknamed the “rest and digest” side), we feel calm and are focused inwardly. Our body conserves energy and withdraws from the environment; muscles relax, energy is stored, food is metabolized, pupils constrict to reduce light, and our heart rate and blood pressure slow. The neurotransmitter acetylcholine increases blood flow and alertness in the front of the brain.

The sympathetic side is known as the “full-throttle” or “fight, fright, or flight” system. This side mobilizes us toward discovering new things and makes us active, daring, or inquisitive. The brain becomes alert and hyper-focused on its surroundings. Blood sugar and free fatty acids are elevated to give us more energy, and digestion is slowed. Thinking is reduced, and we become prepared to make snap decisions.




Of course, introverts and extroverts use both sides of their nervous system at different times. But just like introverts and extroverts respond differently to dopamine, we prefer different sides of the nervous system. You can probably guess which side introverts prefer: the parasympathetic side.

 Are you getting enough alone time?

It can be hard to get enough alone time. We may feel guilty when we turn down social plans or tell our significant other we want a night to ourselves. However, not getting enough alone time can affect us physically and emotionally. According to Laney, you may not be getting enough alone time if you regularly experience some of these symptoms:

  • Trouble sleeping or eating
  • Frequent colds, headaches, back pains, or allergies
  • Feeling anxious, agitated, irritable, and “snappish”
  • Unable to think, concentrate, or make decisions
  • Confused and discombobulated, as if you are dashing from thing to thing in a blur
  • Trapped and wondering what is the meaning of life
  • Drained, tired, and put-upon
  • Disconnected from yourself

What should you do? Make it a priority to include alone time in your day, even if it’s only a few minutes of catching your breath alone in your car or bedroom. Laney writes, “Many introverts have felt so stigmatized about the private, reserved aspect of their nature that they have not allowed themselves the time to develop effective restorative practices. It’s time to change that!”

Introverts, can you relate? Let me know in the comments below or chat with me on the community forum. retina_favicon1

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28 Comments

  • luciddream85 says:

    This is so very true. And it’s hard to explain this to someone that’s extroverted. My boyfriend is very extroverted, and I think sometimes he gets perturbed that I just want to spend a Sunday at home, in our room, watching Netflix and not speaking to anyone. It’s like, it just blows his mind.

    • Sara says:

      i have to have my Netflix days, too! When I had a boyfriend, he would go ride bikes and drink beer with his buddies and always wonder why I didn’t want to go. Uh…because I need to be alone, hello….

  • Sheril says:

    Thank you so much for these articles. They tend to be spot on descriptions of my behavior.

    However, I think a trap into which we introverts tend to fall (because we spend so much time inside our heads), is to focus so much on ourselves that we leave little time/space for others. So, just as we expect our extrovert loved ones to make allowances for us that are outside of their nature, we too should be expected to do the same, no matter how painful it may seem. The give and take is definitely necessary

    • thank you for sharing that Sheril! After reading this I had an epiphany of how insensitive I have treated my best friend…however it IS important for introverts to see the extroverts pain and loneliness when they don’t want to talk or socialize.

    • Taylor says:

      You said it perfectly Sheril! That is exactly true! I’ve been so closed off from other people and I feel bad about it, I love my family and friends, but I fall in the “trap” very seldomly and when I do its hard to break from it.

  • Larswife says:

    I’ve spent most of my life experiencing one or more of the signs listed above. I always knew I was different from so many friends and family members. Now I know why. Thank you.

  • Bill says:

    Thanks for all your work on this site, Jenn. I’m only a recent member of your Facebook group and find it a great source of information and links. After more than 6 decades as an Introvert I’m pretty comfortable now with my world. Once you realize we are just different to the others and are not in any way inferior to extroverts it becomes easier. Like most of life, personality is paradoxical – your greatest strengths are also your greatest weaknesses and vice versa. As pointed out in recent books like Susan’s it takes both types to be successful. I enjoy my alone time but one of my greatest enjoyments in life to to spend time with one other person (at a time) in a deep friend relationship. This has proven difficult to do with more than a couple of close family members throughout my life. I haven’t quite got to the bottom of why this is the case but I think it’s biological at it’s core. Anyway, I digress. I chose this article to comment on mostly because I love Rona’s photo (I’m and amateur photographer) Thank You!

  • Thank you for these articles, they describe me to a T. I’ve always wished I was more outgoing, it’s been so difficult trying to change me, 50years trying to change me. I’m should just
    retire from change. And accept me as God made me.

  • GG says:

    Most of the traits of introvert apply to me, but not all. So I find myself trying to live my life in two worlds. I have 5 kids and 4 of them are introverts. I spend most of my time with my 13 grandkids (I call them my kiddos) but at a certain point I need to go home, sleep and be by my self. People even my friends don’t understand. This website has helped me understand why I do what I do. Most people think I’m weird. Thank you for helping me learn more about myself and know I’m ok.

  • Susan Barron says:

    I have only recently started reading “Introvert, Dear.” Everything I have read is an exact description of me!! I am amazed. Finally, I don’t feel so abnormal and like something is wrong with me. Thank you so much, Jenn, for starting this site.

  • Cee Jay Kay says:

    Wow! What a great read. People think I am an extrovert because I’m so gregarious. That is a learned trait. I was very shy growing up, unless I knew someone well. Even though I’ve learned to be more outgoing, people think I’m fruity because I’ll often go off somewhere during a party and sit quietly by myself, or even fall asleep. I’m sharing this!

  • Kristy says:

    So question-what are some tips for the extrovert wife/introvert husband relationship?

  • Regan says:

    Great article! Just a little difficult to see the professionalism in it when “extravert” is constantly misspelled. 😉 I totally relate, though. As an introverted mom, it gets difficult to give my children my all when I don’t have any time to myself to recharge. Everything becomes ridiculously exhausting and I either get snappish or I hide myself mentally. :/

    • Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed the article! Just to clarify, “extravert” is typically the spelling used in psychology textbooks, while “extrovert” is more often used by the media, but both spellings are correct.

  • Mel says:

    Why do people do the type of bullying called gangstalking to certain people and not others? Why do some or most kids stop and stare at certain people for no apparent reason?

  • Hudson says:

    How about the fact that I am so disappointed in people around me that I don’t want to be with them for long? I am related to them so I can’t leave or quit! It’s like I am an ATM machine that keeps being used to ‘withdraw’ and never receives a ‘deposit’.

  • […] PS: If now YOU are confused to why I felt so bad during that job, try reading this to understand about introverts and the need to be alone sometimes. http://introvertdear.com/2015/07/14/introverts-alone-time-science-marti-olsen-laney/ […]

  • […] Oh my goodness, yes.  Let’s end the guilt, introverts. […]

  • […] of introverts and extraverts. If you’d like to read a bit more on that (it’s very fascinating), this blog post gives an excellent overview, and one of the books referenced, The Introvert Advantage, by Dr. Marti […]

  • I LOVE my time alone in my home. I can be myself, not talk to anyone. I work retail so I am forced to talk and be “up” all day. I can spend hours putzing around, cleaning, just staring out the window. It’s the only time I feel alive.

  • Thanks for the article, well done. I wonder what it means when I sometimes feel I am both introverted and extroverted. I have elements of both. It’s a strange balancing act.

  • Lauren says:

    I can spend weeks without leaving my house or picking up the phone. I’m happiest as an introvert.

  • p.bijili says:

    i feel that i wanted to alone always.. And i will feel some times only happy why for me like that

  • Shahyzy says:

    I love being alone recalling memories. But there are times I was forced to put on an extrovert mask which I kinda hate.

  • Wendy White says:

    May have to show this to my best friend so she can see why I didn’t talk to her today. Maybe then she won’t get butt hurt. Probably will because I didn’t give her any attention, but I needed a day to myself. I’ve been so easily annoyed lately, mentally exhausted, I don’t even bother explaining my point lately ’cause I just haven’t had the energy for it.

  • This article describes me to a “T”. Like you I need that precious, restorative alone time every weekend. The need intensifies when I have to do creative work for my job or on my personal projects. There is a spiritual component to retreat, seclusion and solitude. It can be very hard for extroverts to understand this need but it’s up to each of us to plainly state them and then let it fall where it may. To deny one’s own needs and live up to someone else’s idea of how often you should see them or get out is to give up control of your time. Eventually you cease to exist and become a shell moving through space surrounded by people but too tired and overwhelmed to relate to the activities in any substantial way.

  • Guest says:

    This seems to describe my feelings really well. I spend a lot of time alone and find it helps to keep me calmer.

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