Most people heard of brainwaves and know that it happens inside the brain, but they cannot tell what these frequencies represent and what they do. If you want to know what brainwaves exactly are, what they can do for you, and how you can train them, then read on because I will explain it all to you in detail.
What are brainwaves?
Brainwaves represent the communication frequency between different neurons in our brain. Every time a synchronized electrical pulse of information is exchanged between neurons, it causes a frequency measured in Hertz (Hz).
All our thoughts, emotions, and behavior in communication comes from the frequencies between the neurons in our brain. They can be measured by placing electrode sensors on the scalp. The frequencies that cause them are divided into different bandwidths. In fact, our brain continuously generates brain waves that can be classified in those different bandwidths.
The waves represent the different frequencies, each within a spectrum of consciousness, from slow, loud and functional – to fast, subtle and complex. You can imagine it as a symphony orchestra, from quiet, deep-sounding timpani (low frequency) to shrill flutes (high frequency). Just like in music performance, the different frequencies form a harmonious ensemble.
Types of brain waves: the frequencies
We classify the frequencies of brainwaves in the following bandwidths and measure them in Hertz.
Infra-low brain waves – also known as Slow Cortical Potentials – are considered the basic rhythms that underlie our higher brain functions. Very little is known about these brainwaves because their very low frequency makes them challenging to measure. They seem to play an important role in the timing and the distribution of brain activity.
Delta waves (0.5 to 3 Hz)
Delta waves are the slowest measurable brain waves. Like the beat in house music, it is deeply penetrating. These waves are generated dominantly during intense meditation sessions and dreamless sleep.
Delta waves exclude external consciousness and are also the source of empathy. We heal and regenerate in a delta state, and why it’s essential to have enough deep restorative sleep.
Theta waves (3 to 8 Hz)
Theta brainwaves occur during sleep but are also dominant during deep meditation or under hypnosis. When we create theta brainwaves, we have the best access to our memory and intuition. In theta, we can also bypass our conscious mind and have direct access to the subconscious.
In a theta state, we make less use of our senses that focus on the external world and focus on the signals coming from within. Otherwise, we only experience this “twilight state” fleetingly when we wake up or just before falling asleep.
In theta, we are as in a dream: we experience vivid images, make contact with our intuition, and are not bothered by the conscious mind, which often only produces noise through reasoning.
Alpha brainwaves (8 to 12 Hz
Alpha brainwaves are mainly dominant in a relaxed state, but we still process input from our environment. So, where we are fully turned inward in theta, we are still focused on the outside world in alpha.
You can probably remember a situation where you were driving and you “woke up”: “Gosh, am I here already?” These frequencies are incredibly dominant in activities that do not require much attention and where you can rely on your “automatic pilot.”
Alpha brainwaves are dominant during quietly flowing thoughts and in some lighter meditative states. Alpha is the idle state, like “neutral” in the gearbox. Alpha waves aid overall mental coordination, calmness, alertness, mind-body integration, and learning ability.
Beta brainwaves (12 to 38 Hz)
Beta brainwaves are dominant when we are in an awake state of consciousness. During the waking state, we can focus our attention on cognitive tasks and the outside world. In beta, we are alert, think, problem-solving, make judgments, make decisions, and consciously carry out mental activities.
Since the bandwidth of beta brainwaves is wide, they can be divided into three bands:
- Low beta / beta1 (12-15Hz) can be seen as “idle fast,” allowing us to perform tasks without too much of a challenge.
- Beta 2 (15-22Hz) is high mental involvement or active figuring out.
- High beta (22-38Hz) is for very complex thoughts, gaining new experiences, and dealing with stress, great fear, or excitement. Long-term dominance of high beta, in particular, consumes enormous amounts of energy and is thus very tiring.
Gamma waves (38 to 42 Hz)
Gamma brainwaves have the highest frequency. They ensure the simultaneous processing of information from different brain areas. Due to their high frequency, they are able to transmit information quickly and silently.
Contrary to what you might think after reading about beta brainwaves, instead of being active, the mind has to be quiet to access the gamma spectrum.
Gamma was previously dismissed as “brain noise”, but modern insights – by dr. Joe Dispenza and the Monroe Institute – the link is made with spirituality. It shows that gamma waves radiate measurable energy through their high frequency, causing the brain waves to oscillate and people gain special experiences in the field of spirituality. It is not uncommon for meditating people to create gamma waves and later report that they had superhuman consciousness at those times.
Our brainwaves are constantly changing depending on what we do and feel. When slower brainwaves are dominant, we can feel tired, sluggish, or dreamy. The higher frequencies are dominant when we are concentrating or feeling hyper-alert.
When we are sleepy, the lower frequencies are dominant. However, that doesn’t mean that the brain does not produce higher frequencies. It is purely essential which brain frequencies are prevalent at a particular moment.
Dominance of brainwaves
When we measure the activity of the brain, an EEG shows that we always simultaneously generate brain waves within all bandwidths. It’s true that in one state, we produce more beta waves compared to the other bandwidths, and in the other form, more theta waves compared to delta. So there is always a dominant bandwidth.
For example, when we concentrate, beta is dominant. During deep, dreamless sleep, delta waves are more dominant but always in combination with other bandwidths.
What can brainwaves mean for you?
As you can see, our brainwave profile is inextricably linked to our daily experience of the world. When our brainwaves are out of balance, corresponding problems will arise in our emotional or neurophysiological health.
Excessive arousal in certain areas of the brain is related to anxiety disorders, sleep problems, nightmares, impulsive behavior, anger/aggression, chronic nerve pain, and spasticity.
When certain areas of the brain are not ‘tickled’ enough, it can lead to depression, concentration problems, chronic pain, and insomnia. A combination of such complaints often leads to cases of anxiety, depression, and ADHD.
So it’s important for both our mental and physical health to keep our brainwave patterns healthy. Fortunately, there are techniques available with which we can smooth out any irregularities.
I personally experienced how brainwave training can improve the quality of life: better and deeper sleep, better concentration and sports performance, as well as increased creativity and a reduction in ADHD symptoms. These are all benefits that I have personally gained in the past from brainwave training.
Anna Wise, brain scientist from the very beginning
Anna Wise has spent more than 30 years researching brainwaves and how they affect our behavior, performance, and mood. In her research, she mainly made the link with spirituality. She wrote many interesting papers about this, and there are several books by her hand, including the recommended The Awakened Mind.
During her research into the activity in our brain, she followed a number of monks who lived at high altitudes in the Himalayas. Their fascinating lifestyle enabled the monks to achieve great achievements, both in terms of concentration and physicality.
This fascination led Anna Wise to investigate the brainwave patterns of the monks. Her conclusion was impressive. She found that they scored particularly well on all bandwidths. In other words, the different brainwaves work closely together, and the better they work together, the better the performance becomes. There was a synergistic effect.
Her conclusion was that it is essential to train all bandwidths of the brainwaves properly. So you can summarize it as follows: enough quality sleep (delta) to be able to concentrate correctly (beta), enough relaxation (alpha) to be creative (theta).
Anna Wise’s books provide an excellent and educational insight into how to train our brainwaves and how to improve both skills and behavior. With regular training, we can improve our concentration, be more creative and benefit from quality sleep.
Why train brainwaves?
Brainwaves facilitate our skills, and for the most part, this all “works by itself”. We think it goes without saying that we can concentrate when reading a book, fall asleep right away in the evening and be creative during a brainstorming session.
Conversely, there are also people who take it for granted that they suffer from concentration problems. Or that they cannot sleep at night. These people who often suffer from disturbed brainwaves mostly suffer from disbalances in brainwaves. It is important to get things back in line by training your brain waves.
Ways to train the brainwaves
We can train our brainwaves in different ways. Realize that you cannot expect results overnight because it is a matter of conditioning. Step by step, you train your brain to change certain patterns. And as with any change, it can feel uncomfortable.
The ultimate goal during the training is – in accordance with Anna Wise’s conclusions – to create a balance between the different bandwidths of brain waves. Since Western society mainly dictates that we have to concentrate a lot, and as a result, we mainly produce beta brainwaves, it is important that we also develop the other bandwidths. It’s all about a good balance.
The most common way for brainwave training is meditation. And while most people get the image of a monk staring at a candle for days, meditation is much easier than is generally believed. In fact, meditation is nothing more than awareness, also called mindfulness.
To do this, close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Furthermore, you don’t have to do anything at all; you just need to be aware of your thoughts, your body, and the environment in which you are. What do you feel? What do you smell? What do you hear? What do you taste? Just observe everything for once without any thoughts or judgments about it. Just “be” in the moment.
In a meditative state, we mainly generate low alpha and theta brain waves. In this state, we have direct access to our subconscious and are able to bypass the conscious mind. That way, we can draw on our most profound intuition. We are also very creative in a meditative state.
Neurofeedback is a great way to train our brainwaves. This type of therapy within brain science has been used successfully for years in people with disturbed brain wave patterns. Think of children with AD(H)D, autism spectrum disorders, and sleep disorders.
Neurofeedback is aimed at changing brain activity and is based on the learning ability of the brain. Our brains are susceptible to reward, and when certain behaviors are consistently rewarded, we condition our brains to display these behaviors more often.
This form of learning is called “operant conditioning” and can be applied to our own brain activity. By consistently rewarding desired brain activity in “real-time,” the brain will increasingly display this brain activity.
An example of this real-time conditioning is by watching a video, where the image becomes distorted when the brain starts creating unwanted brain patterns. The brain finds the disturbance unpleasant and starts to produce the desired brain waves. This way, the brain can be trained and conditioned to create the correct brainwave patterns.
Audio-Visual Entrainment (AVE)
Audio-Visual Entrainment is a relatively “young” way to train our brainwaves. For this kind of training, a brain machine is used with different programs, headphones, and an eye-set with LED lights.
The programs in the device are aimed at training specific brain waves. These can be “controlled” by means of the beeps via the headphones and the flashing lights in the eye-set.
Our brains subconsciously follow the signals, and it is fascinating to see how our brains are guided by the seemingly simple calls, which make us of isochronic tones and binaural beats. With Audio-Visual Entrainment, you can train all bandwidths of brainwaves, from beta to delta.
There are also specific programs available for pain relief, deep meditation, and sleep improvement. This is a compelling way to train your brain.
Binaural beats and isochronic tones
On the internet, there are numerous audio fragments to be found that are aimed at the training of brain waves. When you type in “brainwaves” on Youtube, and you will find an endless laundry list of audio clips with which you can train brainwaves, each specific for a certain bandwidth. There are also audio files that are aimed at synchronization between the two hemispheres of the brain.
As with Audio-Visual Entrainment, it’s important to wear headphones, as a different signal enters the left ear than the right ear.
Advice for training brainwaves
My personal advice for brainwave training is to always choose a quiet place where you cannot be disturbed. The only side effect of brainwave training is that you can feel very confused if you are disturbed during a session.
Just imagine yourself: you are wonderfully relaxed in a deep meditative state (theta) when suddenly the doorbell rings and you have to jump up and be alert (beta) to accept a package. That is not pleasant, I can guarantee you. So always choose a quiet moment where you can turn off your phone and doorbell and not be disturbed.
What is a brain-machine?
A brain-machine is a device that is used in combination with an AVE (Audio Visual Entrainment) eye-set and headphones. The device contains a number of programs to train the brainwaves.
The programs consist of auditory and visual signals that are transmitted through the headphones and the eye-set. The auditory cues are beeps that appear in specific patterns. The visual patterns are flashes of light that appear on the inside of the glasses. (for this reason, the use of a brain-machine in epilepsy is not recommended)
Our brain responds to these signals by generating brain waves that connect to these signals. The programs may aim to bring the brain into a meditative state, increase concentration or achieve a deep dream state.
Experiences with brain machines (ADHD & migraines)
Years ago, when I was suffering from ADHD symptoms, I bought a brain-machine after reading that it could reduce the symptoms. It was worth a try. I purchased the model that was then considered the top model, the DAVID Paradise XL. The device also contained a few programs to reduce ADHD brainwave activity.
I have always experienced the use as very pleasant. People around me who I demonstrated the device were amazed: “Those beeps don’t calm you down, do you? They drive me crazy.” Yes, it takes some time to get used to, but once you get used to it, it works great.
Even when I had a migraine attack at the time, I used my brain-machine to reduce the headaches. It wasn’t a program, but my reasoning was: “With less brain activity, the brain will need less blood, and the pressure on the blood vessels will be less, so the slower the brain waves, the less the pressure on the blood vessels. It seemed to help.
Although my experience is not very measurable, the results are always debatable, but I am convinced that the headache was not as bad as without the use of my brain-machine.