Is Your “Resting Brain” To Blame for Mental Health Problems?

Default Mode Network

Recent statistics reveal that we’re in the midst of a mental health crisis that’s hitting young people especially hard. The rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidality are skyrocketing in children, adolescents, and young adults. Many experts blame the pandemic for this, but emerging research suggests that something else may also be driving it—an important brain network called the default mode network (DMN).

The DMN is activated when your brain is at rest, which is why it is often referred to as the resting brain. This blog will reveal what you need to know about DMN, how it impacts mental health, why young people are particularly vulnerable, and how you can enhance your resting brain.

Many experts blame the pandemic for the rise in mental health problems in young people, but emerging research suggests that something else may be behind it—an important brain network called the Default Mode Network (DMN). Click To Tweet


The default mode network is one of 8 brain networks that connect functionally to regulate our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. These networks are:

  1. Default mode network: The DMN controls the brain’s passive internal state and is activated during rest or sleep. It is considered part of the resting brain or subconscious brain.
  1. Central executive network: The CEN is involved in high-level cognitive functions, such as decision-making and problem-solving. It is also associated with staying focused on goals and being engaged with tasks that involve memory and external activities.
  1. Salience network: This network plays a role in attention and switches between the CEN and DMN, determining which network is activated at any given time. It’s also involved in regulating emotion and pain.
  1. Sensory motor network: The SMN processes sensory inputs, converts them into electrical signals, and then triggers a physical response.
  1. Visual network: Responsible for sight and visual processing, this network helps translate the external world into something understandable.
  1. Limbic network: This brain system is responsible for emotion, fear, and memory.
  1. Dorsal attention network: This network allows you to stay focused on a specific task while filtering out other external distractions.
  2. Ventral attention network: Responsible for switching attention between tasks and reacting to unforeseen incoming cues, this network is critical in our daily lives.


While many of the brain networks are involved in active, goal-oriented tasks, the DMN is typically activated when the brain is at rest or sleeping. It kicks into gear when you’re daydreaming, using your imagination, or evaluating ideas.

The DMN is especially active when you’re engaged in some form of internal thought. For example, the DMN plays a major role in reminiscing about happy memories, envisioning a future event, or empathizing with a friend who is struggling with a problem.

Any time you aren’t actively involved in mental tasks that command your attention, your default network takes over. It coordinates with other brain networks and brain regions to passively process sensory inputs, internal feelings, and the emotions of others.

It has a unique relationship with the central executive network. When the CEN is activated to perform goal-oriented tasks, the DMN decreases in activity. Once that important task is completed, the CEN can power down while the DMN takes over. It’s as if your brain goes on autopilot. The salience network acts like the air traffic controller, switching between these two networks as needed.

Experts view the CEN and DMN as the most dominant of all the brain networks. These brain areas need to work in balance for optimal function and mental well-being. When there’s an imbalance in brain function, it can have major consequences in terms of mental health.


Humans aren’t born with a fully functioning default mode network. It develops throughout childhood. Common kid-friendly activities—such as daydreaming, napping, and running around the playground—promote DMN activity.

In our technologically driven society, however, this development is being disrupted. Kids aren’t getting enough physical activity or sleep, and they rarely let their minds wander. Instead, they’re constantly using smartphones, texting, playing video games, and scrolling on social media. These all require continuous active attention from the CEN.

One study found that 50% of teens feel addicted to their devices, and that was in 2016. The number is likely much higher now. Newer research confirms that screen addiction among kids and adolescents is real. This is bad news for the DMN, as studies have shown that addictions continually suppress activity in this brain network.

How does this impact mental health? Research shows that dysfunction in the DMN has been associated with various brain health and mental health issues, such as:

The memory issues are important to note because a study in Frontiers in Neuroscience found that DMN dysfunction is one of the early signs of Alzheimer’s disease.


Although dysfunction of the default mode network is likely becoming more common due to increased reliance on digital devices, it isn’t necessarily permanent. Adolescents and adults can enhance the DMN in a variety of ways, including:


Be sure you and your child are getting physical activity on a regular basis. Get your family involved in recreational activities like table tennis or pickleball that get you moving. You can also simply walk at a fast pace (like you’re late for an appointment) for 30-45 minutes.


Getting adequate sleep is critical for kids and adults. To promote relaxation, consider taking natural supplements, such as 5-HTP, GABA, and magnesium. In addition, turn off cell phones, tablets, and video games at least an hour before bedtime.


Research shows that mindfulness meditation increases connectivity between the DMN, central executive network, and salience network. Getting started is easy, and there are several simple meditations that even kids can do.

Digital detox:

Do yourself, your children, and your DMN a favor and ditch your devices with a digital detox. Taking a break from all that active concentration can let the mind wander and reactivate the DMN.


Various forms of therapy can help you and your kids learn how to overcome digital addictions, so you can enhance the DMN.


Some studies have found that taking antidepressant medication can normalize DMN function.


Emerging research suggests that psychedelics modulate the connectivity of the DMN in potentially positive ways. More research is needed to understand the possible side effects of this form of treatment. In addition, it is critical to understand that psychedelics should only be administered by a mental health professional in a clinical setting.

By following these suggestions, you may be able to improve function in the default mode network, which may enhance mental health and well-being. With children and adolescents, it’s important to introduce opportunities that let their central executive network calm down so their resting brain can take over.

Depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. excellent article!

    Comment by Doug Morris — October 30, 2023 @ 3:23 PM

  2. I was diagnosed with Mild Cognitive Impairment. What can I do to mitigate the condition?

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