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Brain Waves: The Basics

Simona Sarafinovska

Simona Sarafinovska



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Simona Sarafinovska

The human brain consists of billions of neurons, which are the brain cells. These cells communicate between each other with electrical signals, or impulses. As the neurons never function separately, but many neurons perform their functions at the same time, the electrical activity in the brain consists of millions of small electrical signals. The combination of these impulses is commonly called a brain-wave pattern since this pattern has a cyclic nature resembling physical waves. The brain-wave patter has a greater potential (amplitude) of electrical oscillations, measured in microvolts (V), when more neurons are synchronized. Similarly, the speed of the neurons working together affects the frequency of the oscillations, which is measured in Hertz (Hz). Although they are tiny, these oscillations can be registered by an electroencephalograph (EEG) to produce an electroencephalogram.

Simona Sarafinovska

Types of Brain Waves

Image 1. All the brain wave patterns of the human brain.

Beta wave

Image 2. A graphical representation of the beta wave (plotted on a time/voltage graph)

The amplitude of beta waves (or -waves) ranges between 5 V and 10 V. Their frequencies can be from 13 to 60 pulses per second (translated into 13 to 60 Hz). The distribution of these

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waves is usually localized, either by side and by lobe or over various areas; it can also be very focused at a specific location in the brain.

The beta wave is the brain wave pattern associated with mental or physical activity. An adult human brain transmits beta waves throughout the majority of a day; specifically, during the time of consciousness. Humans are adjusted to functioning with the beta brain rhythm when they are wide awake and in the duration of most of their waking lives. Despite the fact that the beta waves are emitted in uneventful states, they are also frequent in times of agitation, stress, restlessness and fear. Therefore, anxious people are characterized by an overabundance of beta wave production. A lack of sufficient abundance of beta waves can lead to mental or emotional disorders, such as depression, insomnia and attention deficit disorder (ADD). Furthermore, the fact that beta waves are the most frequently emitted waves in modern day adults can closely be linked to stress being the most common health problem.

Alpha wave

Image 3. A graphical representation of the alpha wave (plotted on a time/voltage graph)

The alpha waves (or -waves) have amplitude between 20 V and 200 V. Their frequencies range from 7 to 13 pulses per second (translated into 7 to 13 Hz). The distribution of these waves is contained to the region, and usually involves the entire lobe. When the eyes are closed, the distribution is particularly strong in the occipital and parietal lobe of the cerebral cortex.

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The alpha brain wave pattern is the one associated with deep physical and mental relaxation, though not to the point of lack of consciousness. Human adults working with the alpha waves being emitted do not process much information, such as is the state directly after awakening or shortly prior to falling asleep. Moreover, the brain transmits more alpha waves when the eyes are closed, and they are a particular characteristic of meditation and other relaxation exercises. Thus, the alpha brain waves are considered the gateway to the subconscious and intuition. Also, the alpha brain wave patter is seen as optimal time for learning new information and memorizing data, as well as analyzing complex situations and performing elaborate tasks.

Theta wave

Image 4. A graphical representation of the theta wave (plotted on a time/voltage graph)

The theta waves (or -waves) have amplitude of about 10 V. The frequencies of these brain waves are from 3 to 8 pulses per second (translated into 3 to 8 Hz). The distribution of this brain wave pattern is most frequently regional, although it is possible for it to involve many lobes, be lateralized or diffuse throughout several regions of the brain.

The theta brain waves are connected to drowsiness, or rather the state of somnolence with reduced consciousness. Such a state occurs during light sleep, including the REM phase the period during which dreaming occurs, or extreme relaxation. The theta brain wave pattern is frequent between the alpha pattern of drifting off to sleep and the delta pattern of deep sleep. As

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the alpha brain waves, the theta waves are associated with the subconsciousness and exercises of hypnosis and meditation. The creative power of the human mind is said to be optimized at the border between alpha and theta waves, between the frequencies of 7 Hz and 8 Hz, which is the optimal range for inspiration, insight and vivid visualizations without extreme effort or exhaustion. Still, it is proven that theta waves occur momentarily during highly emotional and frustrating situations. Furthermore, it has been scientifically proven that people suffering ADD emit an overabundance of slower waves, most specifically theta, but also alpha, brain waves.

Delta wave

Image 5. A graphical representation of the delta wave (plotted on a time/voltage graph)

The delta waves (or -waves) have their amplitude from 20 to 200 V. Their frequency is from 0.2 to 3 pulses per second (translated into 0.2 to 3 Hz). The distribution of this brain wave pattern is generally broad and widespread and might be diffused or bilateral.

The delta brain wave pattern is related most commonly to deep sleep or catalepsy, which is a state of unconsciousness. This stage does not contain the REM phase; hence, it is the dreamless sleep. Accordingly, the delta waves are the slowest of the waves emitted by the human brain. Additionally, the delta waves are significant for the bodys natural healing and regeneration process, as they allow the brain to slow down and relax. This brain wave pattern can be

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experienced during deep and transcendental meditation, and is commonly thought of as the gateway to the human subconscious.

Gamma Wave

Image 6. A graphical representation of the gamma wave (plotted on a time/voltage graph)

The amplitude of the gamma waves is the smallest amplitude, which is almost unnoticeable. On the other hand, their frequency is the highest, between 30 Hz and 70Hz. The distribution of the gamma waves is diffused from the thalamus and from the back to the frontal lobes, influencing the entire brain. The gamma brain wave is nicknamed The Insight Wave, as it is associated with high perception, bursts of understanding and efficient data processing. This brain wave pattern is the most recently discovered, as it was impossible to discern them prior to the development of digital EEG, due to the inability of the analog EEG to measure waves at frequencies above approximately 25 Hz. An underproduction of gamma brainwave activity can cause difficulties in learning, a weak memory and generally impaired mental processes.

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Measuring Brain Waves

Image 4. One of the first recordings of brain wave activity

An electroencephalogram is a record of brain-wave activity made by an electroencephalograph (EEG), which was first invented by German psychiatrist Hans Berger

The EEG uses a pair of electrodes, positioned above the brain, to measure the difference in electrical potential (voltage) between their locations. As a point of reference of the bodys voltage due to other electrical signals a third electrode, on the earlobe, is used. The modern EEG uses microelectrodes, which are microscopic wires, to monitor the waves emitted by a single neuron.

Image 5. A more modern EEG recording.

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The brain is often called the control centre or the CPU of the organism, which would mean that it is the organ which ultimately directs the entire bodys functions. Hence, the brain waves are of chief importance because they provide the necessary communication among the neurons. Understanding of the characteristics, mainly amplitude and frequency of the brain wave patterns, and their effect on the state of the organism is important in order to ensure a healthy mental and physical state. Additionally, knowledge about the diversity between these patterns, for instance the different effects of alpha and gamma brain waves, can lead to an improvement in the overall life standard, as methods of relaxation and slowing down the brain wave emission would lead to a less stressful yet more productive individual.

1. Green Wood, Ella, and Denise Boyd. "The Brain and Its Mechanisms." The World of Psychology. By Samuel E. Wood. Seventh edition. Pearson, 2011. 2. "Brainwaves: Beta, Alpha, Theta, Delta." Museums of the Mind. Dr Hugo Heyman. 29 May 2013. 3. "Brain Waves." Neuroprogrammer. Transparent Corporation. 29 May 2013. 4. "The Measurement of Brain Waves." Psychology Department, Westminster College. Westminster College. 29 May 2013. 5. Shue, Karen, PhD. "Exploring the Brain and Brain Waves." Brain Health. 29 May 2013. 6. "The Science of Brain Waves." Neurohealth Science. Neurohealth Associates, 2004. 29 May 2013. 10