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What are Brainwaves?

Your brain is made up of billions of brain cells called neurons, which use electricity to communicate with each other. The combination of millions of neurons sending signals at once produces an great amount of electrical activity in the brain, which can be detected using sensitive medical equipment (such as an EEG), measuring electricity levels over areas of the scalp.

The culmination of electrical activity of the brain is commonly called a Brainwave pattern, because of its cyclic, “wave-like” nature. Below is one of the first recordings of brain activity.


With the discovery of brainwaves came the discovery that electrical activity in the brain will change depending on what a person is doing. For instance, the brainwaves of a sleeping person are vastly different than the brainwaves of someone wide awake. Over the years, more sensitive equipment has brought us closer to figuring out exactly what brainwaves represent and with that, what they mean about a person’s health and state of mind.

The Significance of Brainwaves

You can tell a lot about a person simply by observing their brainwave patterns. For example, anxious people tend to produce an overabundance of high Beta waves while people with ADD/ADHD tend to produce an overabundance of slower Alpha/Theta brainwaves.

Researchers have found that not only are brainwaves representative of mental state, but they can be stimulated to change a person’s mental state, and even help treat a variety of mental disorders. Certain Brainwave patterns can be even be used to access exotic or extraordinary experiences such as “lucid dreaming” or ultra-realistic visualization.

Here is a image showing the known brainwave types and their associated mental states:

Microsoft Word - Brain Waves Graph

Beta (Frequency 12hz – 38hz)

Mental State: Wide awake, alert mental state. This is generally the mental state most people are in during the day and most of their waking lives. Stimulating Beta waves can have a major impact on intelligence, attention, mood, emotional stability and more.

  • SMR (sensorimotor rhythm) (12 – 15Hz): Related to body motion as well as the ability to concentrate and fall asleep. Stimulating this can result in relaxed focus and improved attention. Generally a good thing to increase.
  • Beta 1 (15 – 20 Hz) – Can increase mental abilities, IQ, focus.
  • Beta 2 (20 – 38Hz) – Highly alert, but also anxious.

Alpha (Frequency 8hz – 12hz)

Mental State: Awake but deeply relaxed. You are in this mental state early in the morning or while daydreaming. This state enhances the vividness of visualization techniques, and also makes the mind more receptive to affirmations and other psychological techniques.

Theta (Frequency 3hz – 8hz)

Mental State: Light sleep or extreme relaxation. Theta is also known as the “hyper-suggestible” state, where  affirmations and hypnosis are most effective.

  • Theta 1 – (3 – 5 Hz) If suppressed, can improve concentration, ability to focus attention.
  • Theta 2 – (5 – 8 Hz) Very relaxed and dreamful state, good for mental programming.

Delta (Frequency 0.2hz – 3hz)

Mental State: Deep, dreamless sleep. Delta is the slowest band of brainwaves. When your dominant brainwave is Delta, your body is healing itself. Under most circumstances, you do not dream in this state and are completely unconscious.

Entrainment of the brain at this level is difficult. 2 hz and below is technically not fast enough to produce entrainment, in its strictest sense, and would be seen on an EEG as simple cortical evoked potentials. However, it is theorized that Delta has specific effects on the limbic system, the amygdala and hypothalamus in particular, which operate at delta frequencies. The limbic system affects emotions and the control of autonomic functions. Delta frequencies appear to “sooth” these neural structures and can be very effective reducing migraines, fibromyalgia, chronic pain and blood pressure. 

Although Delta is generally not as good as Alpha or Theta for meditation, people have found success using Delta for this purpose along with relaxation, and of course sleep.

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