- The Science of Brainwaves – the Language of the Brain
- Recommended Books
- THETA (4-8 Hz)
- ALPHA (8-12 Hz)
- BETA (above 12 Hz)
- GAMMA (above 30 Hz)
- Alpha Brain Waves: A Guide to Functions & Benefits
- What Are Alpha Brain Waves
- What Are the Benefits of Alpha Waves?
- The Relaxation Response
- What Does the Alpha State Feel ?
- 1. Delta
- 2. Theta
- 3. Alpha
- 4. Beta
- 5. Gamma
- What Happens If You Don't Produce Enough Alpha Waves?
- How to Increase Alpha Waves?
- Binaural Beats for Alpha Wave Production
- Top 4 Alpha Brainwaves Downloads:
The Science of Brainwaves – the Language of the Brain
The EEG (electroencephalograph) measures brainwaves of different frequencies within the brain. Electrodes are placed on specific sites on the scalp to detect and record the electrical impulses within the brain. A frequency is the number of times a wave repeats itself within a second.
It can be compared to the frequencies that you tune into on your radio. If any of these frequencies are deficient, excessive, or difficult to access, our mental performance can suffer.
The raw EEG has usually been described in terms of frequency bands: Gamma greater than 30(Hz) BETA (13-30Hz), ALPHA (8-12 Hz), THETA (4-8 Hz), and DELTA(less than 4 Hz).
For example: Our brain uses 13Hz (high alpha or low beta) for “active” intelligence.
Often we find individuals who exhibit learning disabilities and attention problems having a deficiency of 13Hz activity in certain brain regions that affects the ability to easily perform sequencing tasks and math calculations.
The lowest frequencies are delta. These are less than 4 Hz and occur in deep sleep and in some abnormal processes. It is the dominant rhythm in infants up to one year of age and it is present in stages 3 and 4 of sleep. It tends to be the highest in amplitude and the slowest waves.
We increase Delta waves in order to decrease our awareness of the physical world. We also access information in our unconscious mind through Delta. Peak performers decrease Delta waves when high focus and peak performance are required.
However, most individuals diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, naturally increase rather than decrease Delta activity when trying to focus. The inappropriate Delta response often severely restricts the ability to focus and maintain attention. It is as if the brain is locked into a perpetual drowsy state.
Another way to look at Delta is to imagine you are driving in a car and you shift into 1st gear….you’re not going to get anywhere very fast. So Delta would represent 1st gear.
DELTA (0.1-3 Hz): Distribution: generally broad or diffuse; may be bilateral, widespread
Subjective feeling states: deep, dreamless sleep, non-REM sleep, trance, unconsciousAssociated tasks & behaviors: lethargic, not moving, not attentivePhysiological correlates: not moving, low-level of arousal
Effects of training: can induce drowsiness, trance, deeply relaxed states
THETA (4-8 Hz)
The next brainwave is theta. Theta activity has a frequency of 3.5 to 7.5 Hz and is classed as “slow” activity. It is seen in connection with creativity, intuition, daydreaming, and fantasizing and is a repository for memories, emotions, sensations. Theta waves are strong during internal focus, meditation, prayer, and spiritual awareness.
It reflects the state between wakefulness and sleep and relates to the subconscious mind. It is abnormal in awake adults but is perfectly normal in children up to 13 years old. It is also normal during sleep. Theta is believed to reflect activity from the limbic system and hippocampal regions. Theta is observed in anxiety, behavioral activation and behavioral inhibition.
When the theta rhythm appears to function normally it mediates and/or promotes adaptive, complex behaviors such as learning and memory. Under unusual emotional circumstances, such as stress or disease states, there may be an imbalance of three major transmitter systems, which results in aberrant behavior. Back to our car example, Theta would be considered 2nd gear.
Not as slow as 1st gear (Delta) but still not very fast.
THETA (3.5-7.5 Hz): Distribution: usually regional, may involve many lobes, can be lateralized or diffuse;
Subjective feeling states: intuitive, creative, recall, fantasy, imagery, creative, dream, switching thoughts, drowsy; “oneness”, “knowing”Associated tasks & behaviors: creative, intuitive; but may also be distracted, unfocusedPhysiological correlates: healing, integration of mind/body
Effects of Training: if enhanced, can induce drifting, trance- state. If suppressed, can improve concentration, ability to focus attention
ALPHA (8-12 Hz)
Alpha waves are those between 8 and 12(Hz). Alpha waves will peak around 10Hz. Good healthy alpha production promotes mental resourcefulness, aids in the ability to mentally coordinate, enhances overall sense of relaxation and fatigue. In this state you can move quickly and efficiently to accomplish whatever task is at hand.
When Alpha predominates most people feel at ease and calm. Alpha appears to bridge the conscious to the subconscious. It is the major rhythm seen in normal relaxed adults – it is present during most of life especially beyond the thirteenth year when it dominates the resting tracing. Alpha rhythms are reported to be derived from the white matter of the brain.
The white matter can be considered the part of the brain that connects all parts with each other. Alpha is a common state for the brain and occurs whenever a person is alert (it is a marker for alertness and sleep), but not actively processing information. They are strongest over the occipital (back of the head) cortex and also over frontal cortex.
Alpha has been linked to extroversion (introverts show less), creativity (creative subjects show alpha when listening and coming to a solution for creative problems), and mental work. When your alpha is within normal ranges we tend to also experience good moods, see the world truthfully, and have a sense of calmness.
Alpha is one of the brain’s most important frequency to learn and use information taught in the classroom and on the job. You can increase alpha by closing your eyes or deep breathing or decrease alpha by thinking or calculating. Alpha-Theta training can create an increase in sensation, abstract thinking and self-control.
In our car scenario, Alpha would represent neutral or idle. Alpha allows us to shift easily from one task to another.
ALPHA(8-12 Hz): Distribution: regional, usually involves entire lobe; strong occipital w/eyes closed
Subjective feeling states: relaxed, not agitated, but not drowsy; tranquil, consciousAssociated tasks & behaviors: meditation, no actionPhysiological correlates: relaxed, healingEffects of Training: can produce relaxationSub band low alpha: 8-10: inner-awareness of self, mind/body integration, balance
Sub band high alpha: 10-12: centering, healing, mind/body connection
BETA (above 12 Hz)
Beta activity is ‘fast’ activity. It has a frequency of 14 and greater Hz. It reflects desynchronized active brain tissue. It is usually seen on both sides in symmetrical distribution and is most evident frontally. It may be absent or reduced in areas of cortical damage.
It is generally regarded as a normal rhythm and is the dominant rhythm in those who are alert or anxious or who have their eyes open.It is the state that most of brain is in when we have our eyes open and are listening and thinking during analytical problem solving, judgment, decision making, processing information about the world around us.
Beta would represent overdrive or hyperdrive in our car scenario.
The beta band has a relatively large range, and has been divided into low, midrange and high.
LOW BETA (12-15HZ): Distribution: localized by side and by lobe (frontal, occipital, etc)
Subjective feeling states: relaxed yet focused, integratedAssociated tasks & behaviors: low SMR can reflect “ADD”, lack of focused attentionPhysiological correlates: is inhibited by motion; restraining body may increase SMR
Effects of Training: increasing SMR can produce relaxed focus, improved attentive abilities,
MID BETA (15-18hz): Distribution: localized, over various areas. May be focused on one electrode.
Subjective feeling states: thinking, aware of self & surroundingsAssociated tasks & behaviors: mental activityPhysiological correlates: alert, active, but not agitated
Effects of Training: can increase mental ability, focus, alertness
HIGH BETA (above 18hz): Distribution: localized, may be very focused.
Subjective feeling states: alertness, agitationAssociated tasks & behaviors: mental activity, e.g. math, planningPhysiological correlates: general activation of mind & body functions.
Effects of Training: can induce alertness, but may also produce agitation
GAMMA (above 30 Hz)
GAMMA (above 30hz Hz): Distribution: very localized
Subjective feeling states: thinking; integrated thoughtsAssociated tasks & behaviors: high-level information processing, “binding”Physiological correlates: associated with information-rich task processing
Effects of Training: not known
Gamma is measured between 30 and 44 (Hz) and is the only frequency group found in every part of the brain.
When the brain needs to simultaneously process information from different areas, its hypothesized that the 40Hz activity consolidates the required areas for simultaneous processing.
A good memory is associated with well-regulated and efficient 40Hz activity, whereas a 40Hz deficiency creates learning disabilities.
Alpha Brain Waves: A Guide to Functions & Benefits
What are they? | Benefits | Alpha State | Other Waves | Deficient | How to Increase | Brainwave Entrainment | Summary
Alpha brain waves are one of 5 types of dominant waves created in the brain.
Brain waves are created by groups of neurons communicating with each other.
We call them waves because when looked at through an electroencephalogram (EEG) machine, these communications take on a wave- format.
Alpha waves are the middle road, straddling between delta and theta waves below them and beta and gamma waves above them.
In this post I will take a look at what function alpha waves serve and why they are beneficial. I'll also provide recommendations on how you can increase alpha brainwaves production.
What Are Alpha Brain Waves
Alpha waves operate at between 8-12 Hertz (Hz).
Being in an alpha state is associated with the ‘flow state', or being in the zone: a state of being fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus.
We associate alpha with being present and in the moment. You could say it is a state of mindfulness.
It may sound contradictory, but alpha is also the resting state for the brain. These waves help with calmness and alertness, and mental coordination.
Research shows that alpha waves are present in the posterior of the brain when we meditate, which confirms the link to the flow state and being in a state of calm focus.
To summarize, when alpha waves are dominant in the brain, we are usually in one of the following states:
- Relaxed focus
- Stress reduction
- Positive thinking
- Accelerated learning
- Flow state
What Are the Benefits of Alpha Waves?
The main benefit of increasing your alpha wave production is to improve performance. Alpha waves help us focus and be more productive.
It is said that alpha brain waves are the most rhythmical, so when you are listening you are more ly to be paying attention to your inner experience rather than what's going on around you – thus the association with the “Zen Zone”.
As one study from 2015 shows, alpha waves also improve creativity. Here's an excerpt from the study explaining that 10 Hz alpha waves increased creativity.
Here we show that creativity is increased by enhancing alpha power using 10 Hz transcranial alternating current stimulation (10 Hz-tACS) of the frontal cortex.
In a study of 20 healthy participants with a randomized, balanced cross-over design, we found a significant improvement of 7.4% in the Creativity Index measured by the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TTCT), a comprehensive and most frequently used assay of creative potential and strengths.
Other key benefits, as reported in Michael Hutchison's excellent book Megabrain, include a reduction in heart rate, blood pressure and sweating. There is a greater functioning of the digestion system, a deeper relaxation of muscles, and an increase in the percentage of oxygen and blood flowing to the brain.
Interestingly, this ties into a wider conclusion as to how alpha brainwaves are linked to peak performance and success.
The Relaxation Response
The ‘relaxation response is a term coined by Dr Herbert Benson from Harvard Medical School. In short, it is the human way of reversing the effects of stress and the physical stress response.
Dr Herbert Benson looked at top performers to understand why it is that they can remain cool as the proverbial cucumber while under pressure.
He found that an ability to access the relaxation response – characterized by alpha brain waves – was beneficial to mind and body. And not just when under stress, but at any time required.
The relaxation response correlates with the ‘flow state', a term coined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, which is also associated with alpha waves production. In his 2004 TeD Talk, Csíkszentmihályi noted:
There's this focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other; you get immediate feedback.
What Does the Alpha State Feel ?
Have you ever stopped to take a minute and look around, to really pay attention to life and the noise in the background. Every else on your mind disappears in that moment.
Or perhaps you have taken some slow, deep breaths while sitting quietly in the park and transported your mind to more peaceful place. Or taken a solitary walk in a forest or by a lake.
You instantly feel more relaxed and connected. You get that sense that “You know what, everything is going to turn out just fine”.
It is a feeling of being zoned in. You are calm but not attached. Ready but present and not anxious.
That's the Alpha state of mind. It is an understated feeling of being effortlessly immersed.
Delta waves measure between 1 and 4 Hz. This is the slowest type of brainwave. They are abundant in a state of deep sleep (stage 3).
Delta waves are associated with access to the unconscious mind, healing, DHEA release and cortisol reduction, and pain relief.
Theta waves measure between 4 and 8 Hz. We associate theta with light sleep, deep relaxation, meditation, and creativity.
As noted previously mentioned, alpha waves measure between 8 and 14 Hz. This is the middle state; the middle road of calm but not asleep, focused but not anxious, immersed but not stressed.
Beta waves measure approximately between 14 and 30 Hz. I say approximately as there is a little debate about when the spectrum starts and finishes.
Beta waves are high frequency and associated with problem solving and high-level cognition. Beta waves stimulate action and energy.
Gamma waves measure from 30 Hz up to 100+ Hz. 40 Hz is associated with memory recall and high level information processing.
Gamma is a state of peak awareness, and a gateway to transcendental states.
High gamma waves indicate the ‘fight or flight' state, one of stress and anxiety.
What Happens If You Don't Produce Enough Alpha Waves?
The brain doesn't stop producing one type of brainwave (theta, beta, etc.,) at any time, but rather one type becomes dominant in a given situation.
So when meditating you might be producing more theta waves, and when stressed more gamma waves.
However, it is possible to be deficient.
An EEG test may determine that you produce too few alpha or too many delta waves. The most common email I get is from those who have been diagnosed with too many of one and not enough of the other.
If you aren't producing enough alpha waves then you may feel unable to concentrate for long. You may feel unfocused and unproductive. You may feel anxious or agitated. These symptoms are similar to that of ADHD.
To address this problem I recommend trying brainwave entrainment and neurofeedback therapy. The former is far less expensive.
How to Increase Alpha Waves?
If you'd to produce more alpha waves at a given time then brainwave entrainment with binaural beats is something you might try.
Through a process called ‘frequency following response' binaural beats entrain the brain to follow along at a particular frequency. I have given some recommendations in the section below.
I you can afford it, you can also try neurofeedback training. Neurofeedback trains brain function by measuring brainwaves and feeding back waves to the brain to promote self-regulation.
A 2014 study found that neurofeedback helped stimulate alpha waves to reduce anxiety in those with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
The results showed that increase of alpha and theta brain waves amplitude in occipital area in people with GAD can increase the global functioning level and can reduce symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder in a treatment group.
Note that this study also included the use of theta waves. We know that theta waves are characterized by deep relaxation/meditation, so this would also have played a role.
What we can take from this is that using a mixture of alpha and theta brainwave entrainment could help reduce anxiety. It certainly has for me.
Binaural Beats for Alpha Wave Production
Brainwave entrainment works without any conscious effort on your part. You simply put on your headphones and listen.
Alpha frequency music is generally be used for focus, studying, and getting into the zone.
I personally use alpha to center my mind for work, and also before events that require me to be calm, composed, and attentive.
There are many other benefits to this type of music, which I have summarized here: benefits of binaural beats.
Top 4 Alpha Brainwaves Downloads:
1. Zen Focus
This is my go-to alpha waves music for work and study. It has a backdrop of natural ambience and a gentle piano that helps you zone in on what you are doing. You are given a 30-minute and 1-hour version.
2. Flow State
As we've discussed in this article, the flow state is a state that merges your awareness and actions to create energized focus in the present moment. This helps you achieve optimal levels of mental and physical performance.
I listen to this during a creative activity ( making music) or before a physical challenge a 5km run to “get into the zone”.
2. Crystal Clear Mind
One of my all time favorites, this has a really soothing soundtrack (Native American flute style). This contains theta and alpha waves, so good for mental clarity and reducing anxiety.
4. Alpha & Theta Meditation
This is a 4-track program for meditation, including 2 alpha and 2 theta tracks. If you're focussed on doing meditation then this is a good option.
Our brainwaves are always active. We always have a spectrum of different brainwaves going on at any given time, as our neurons communicate in groups. But there is usually an obvious dominant brain state.
At specific times we want that brain state to be a certain one, delta when we need restful sleep, theta when we want to deeply relax, and alpha when we want to “get in the zone” for peak performance.
With technology brainwave entrainment (in this case binaural beats) and neurofeedback training we can entrain the brain to produce more alpha waves, which can reduce anxiety and increase focus, creativity, and productivity.