Feeling sleepy in the middle of the day can be daunting. Trying to stay alert in the middle of the school or work day can be a challenge when fatigue seems to take over. If this happens, and your favorite ‘go-to-trick’ to stay awake fails such as caffeine or a high sugar snack, maybe try to think of your brain waves!
When you’re feeling fatigued, your brain waves are much slower than usual, and when you’re alert and full of vim and vigor, those brain waves are as well. In fact, when you do feel alert, your ‘higher frequency’ brain waves are dominant at that time, and conversely, when you’re lethargic and sleepy, it is those slower / lower frequency brain waves that are dominant. Now wouldn’t it be great if we could orchestrate our brain waves to slow down at bedtime and then automatically turn the spotlight to our higher frequency waves in the morning! Well, maybe we can.
What are Brain Waves?
Brain Waves are essentially electrical communication between neurons measured in Hertz (which are cycles per second) and bands, which mark the speed of the wave such as slow, moderate and fast, with low or high amplitude. Different brain waves are read during different activities and this communication is the process of millions and billions of neurons communicating at the same time. This activity can be read by an EEG or electroencephalogram. This is highly sensitive medical equipment that can read the brainwaves produced during various activities. It is used to detect abnormalities electrical brainwave function.
Brain Waves Starting from the Deepest of Sleep to Most Alert
- Delta Waves (0.5 – 4 Hz)
Slow, loud brain waves dominant during deep sleep penetrating, this level is very important for the ideal state for healing or regeneration. It has the greatest amplitude but the slowest frequency. A greater amount of Delta Waves are found in young people, and decrease with age. Delta Waves are vital for deep restorative sleep and autonomic physiological functions such as heartbeat and digestion. Brain injury and learning challenges are associated with an exceptionally high level of Delta Waves, while insomnia is associated with too little Delta Waves.
- Theta Waves (3 to 8 Hz)
These are the brain waves active during that drifting feeling as we are falling asleep, or in that state of pre-slumber. It is possible to mentally disengage while good ideation takes place during this phase. Theta Waves are important for sleep, however too little can cause anxiety and stress. Theta waves can also be dominant during meditative activities such as jogging.
- Alpha Waves (8 to 12 Hz)
Dominant during relaxation times, it is the state of rest but not sleep. Alpha Waves are present with high amplitude and low frequency during deeply calming relaxed wakefulness. Too low will result in anxiety, stress, insomnia and OCD.
- Beta Waves (12 to 38 Hz)
This wave cycle is active in our state of wakeful consciousness. Beta Waves are present during full awareness of our environment, thinking, studying and mental activity such as conversation. It exists of a high frequency and low amplitude. Beta Waves are involved in logic, consciousness, thought, activity and cognitive tasks. Higher Beta activity can lead to stress or anxiety, while lower Beta activity can lead to depression and poor cognition.
Beta is further divided into three sub-sections which further break down the activity level according to Hz.
- Lo-Beta (Beta 1) 12-15 Hz
- Beta (Beta 2) 15-22 Hz
- Hi-Beta (Beta 3) 22-38 Hz
- Gamma Waves (38-42Hz)
This is the fastest of the brainwaves; it is reserved for higher order thinking, and more complex cognitive tasks. It has been found that during EEG readings, Monks had exceptionally high levels of Gamma Waves during meditation.
Brain Wave Function
Brain waves can be read with an EEG (electroencephalogram), and basically your brain waves range between high amplitude and low frequency to low amplitude and high frequency. Another factor to note is that all brain waves are active continuously. It just depends on your activity to determine which brain waves are dominant.
Brain Waves and Neurological or Mental Disorders
Brain waves have a strong connection with emotional or neurological disorders. Brain waves that are over aroused can lead to anxiety, aggression and impulsive behavior. Our bodies are reliant on balance, or ‘homeostasis’; which refers to keeping your physiological state in perfect balance. Brain waves are no exception. If the wrong brain wave is produced during a task, this could cause Neurological Dysregulation Syndrome, resulting in difficulty keeping focused and a lower attention span, or a plethora of other symptoms such as migraines, learning disorders, eating disorders and anxiety. As a result, neurotransmitters could also be off balance causing several problems with mood, depression and energy levels. Our brain activity must match the activity we are involved in, for example, if we are at work we hope that we are dominantly producing Beta Waves, but if we are at home and ready to go to sleep, we want to produce more Alpha down to Theta and finally Delta Waves of deep sleep. The balance is vital to brain health, and ultimately how we function.
Brain waves that are under aroused can lead to anxiety and depression, chronic pain and insomnia. However both under arousal and over arousal of brainwaves have been identified in anxiety and depression.
In summary, brain waves and rhythm balance is extremely important in regards to mental illness. Various disorders that are strongly correlated to brainwaves are obsessive compulsive disorder, panic attacks, mood disorders, bipolar disorder and forms of paranoid behaviour. Factors that can affect brain wave activity is injury, medications, narcotics, fatigue and emotional stress.
Another element to consider in brain wave activity is the ramifications from brainwaves getting stuck in a pattern. Whether its high amplitude and low frequency of Alpha Waves, or the low amplitude and high frequency of Beta Waves, if they are caught in a cycle, this could also result in cognitive and emotional incongruences.
Brain Waves and Schizophrenia
Gamma waves are the highest frequency and lowest amplitude used during cognitive functioning. They are also found to be responsible for compassion, higher perception of oneself, a full alertness of the environment around you as well as mood stabilizer. It’s been found that Gamma brain waves help reduce anxiety and depression. Scientists have found a correlation in Schizophrenic patients and a deficiency of Gamma brainwaves, which shows a malfunctioning in neuronal communication, as well, Scientists have found that those who suffered from a higher level of schizophrenic symptoms had the lowest gamma activity during studies.
Brain-Computer Interfacing (BCI)
An amazing product of modern technology, a computer can read your brain waves and thoughts. This is solely reliant on brainwaves, and does not require muscle function in order to facilitate. This form of mind-reading can be utilized to aid the disabled in movement with BCI based prosthetic limbs or ‘neuroprosthetic devices’ and can also be used to convey speech solely from their silent thoughts. This can help in a variety of healthcare measures required for good health such as prevention, detection, diagnosis, and rehabilitation.
This is the phenomenal invention of training your brain to enter into different brain wave states through sound, pulse and light generated by a computer program. This program is said to be able to manipulate your brain wave frequency to suite the activity you wish to engage in, and then neurofeedback will train you to utilize this skill at will. There are warnings however in the safety of this device. Seizures have been reported and therefore Brain Entrainment is not recommended to those who are prone to a seizure disorder. It has also been suggested to be used only by those 26 years of age and older.
However, can you imagine being able to train your brain to be alert when the need arises, and to be sleepy every night, and to lull you into that deep Delta Wave regenerative sleep?
The brain is the pinnacle of all forms of life, and when you combine your brainwave function with computers, the possibilities could be endless, some find this frightening, and others find this fascinating. Either way, the future of brainwave modification is inevitable.