What are Brainwaves?

image-asset (4)-min.jpeg

The human brain contains about 100 billion nerve cells called neurons. Neurons are electrically excitable cells that communicate with other cells through connections called synapses. When these neurons are communicating, they form synchronized electrical pulses which produce brainwaves.

Brainwaves are patterns of electrical activity that occur in the brain and different brainwaves have different frequencies (slow, fast, etc). The frequency of a brainwave helps us tell one brainwave pattern apart from another and fall along a spectrum just like colours. Brainwave frequencies are measured in Hertz (Hz) which looks at how many cycles of a brainwave pattern occur each second. For example, a 1 Hz wave means there is only one wave occurring each one second, while a 20 Hz wave means there are 20 waves occurring in one second. Therefore, delta waves (0.5-3.5 Hz) are much slower than beta waves (13-38 Hz).

Brainwaves can be broken down into five general brainwave ranges and different brainwaves are associated with different mental states. The five ranges are delta, theta, alpha, SMR and beta. These 5 ranges can be broken down into smaller ranges (delta, theta, alpha 1, alpha 2,  lobeta, beta, high beta, and gamma), however we are only going to focus on a few:

Delta

  • Frequency band: 0.5-3.5 Hz

  • Prominent while sleeping (especially sleep stage 3 and 4)

  • May be prominent if an individual has suffered a head injury such as being in a car accident, traumatic brain injury (TBI), or concussion

Theta

  • Frequency band: 3.5-7.5 Hz

  • Strongly associated with creativity

  • Associated with falling asleep and waking up

  • Increases with drowsiness and day-dreaming

Alpha

  • Frequency band: 7.5-12.5 Hz

  • Associated with being calm and alert

  • Often increases as an individual's internal awareness increases

  • Depending on when and where it is prevalent in the brain, it can also be associated with anxiety

SMR (Sensory Motor Rhythm)

  • Frequency band: 12.5-15

  • Appears to correlate with a calm state, decreased anxiety, and impulsivity

  • It may also correlate with a decrease in involuntary motor activity

  • Essential for paying attention in the classroom, at work, and during athletic events

Beta

  • Frequency band: 13 to 38 Hz

  • Low beta at 13-19 Hz, Beta at 20-23 Hz, high beta at 23-38 Hz

  • Associated with attention, cognition, problem solving, a “busy brain,” excessive thoughts, and ruminations

Monitoring Brainwaves with Neurofeedback

Neurofeedback is a form of therapy and support that combines operant conditioning (method of learning) with real-time measurement of neuronal electrical activity (brainwaves). During a neurofeedback session, an individual is rewarded with a visual and auditory stimulus when certain brain waves increase or decrease. The rewards act as a reinforcement for your brain and it essentially teaches individuals to have better control over their brainwave patterns and trains to improve how their brain functions naturally.

Using neurofeedback equipment, brainwave activity is monitored and trained to increase and/or decrease. For instance, someone who is constantly stressed and anxious may have an excess of beta activity in their brain. To improve these symptoms, this individual may undergo a treatment plan that rewards the brain when this excess beta activity decreases. Simultaneously, this person may also be working towards increasing their alpha activity for the purpose of becoming more calm and alert.

Below are some reasons for increasing and/or decreasing specific brainwave activities:

Delta

  • Decrease: helps to improve brain fog, or issues with alertness

Theta

  • Increase: Uncommon, but may be done in some cases involving creativity and meditation

  • Decrease: May help improve symptoms related to fuzzy or foggy thinking and attention issues

Alpha

  • Increase: Occurs when there are some emotional and affective issues. Can also be used for meditation enhancement.

  • Decrease: Often due to an excess of alpha causing symptoms associated with anxiety and unclear thoughts. Decreasing alpha may help improve anxiety and unclear thoughts.

SMR

  • Increase: Almost always uptrained and should help an individual feel calm and alert, but not drowsy. May need to be decreased if a person is struggling with motor tics and/or seizure activity.

Beta

  • Increase: May help with attention, depression, sleep, executive functioning, and memory issues. Depends on the QEEG Assessment and Clinical Intake.

  • Decrease: May help with relaxing a brain that is stressed out, too busy, and one that is having excessive thoughts and ruminations.

Have more questions about neurofeedback? Click here to learn more!

Dr. M. Arnold Muller

Dr. M. Arnold Muller

Dr. M. Arnold Muller is a licensed School and Clinical Psychologist currently based in Toronto, Ontario, with 31 years of practice experience in two countries. Prior to his time in Canada, he spent the first half of his career in South Africa. Dr. Muller has a Ph.D. with specialization in Psychotherapy from the University of Pretoria, and a Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology. He also has a second Masters Degree in Practical Theology from the University of Stellenbosch.

Dr. Muller has worked in many settings including school boards, addiction centres, correctional institutions, the military, churches, and private practices. Spending time in these organizations has allowed him to gain an astounding amount of experience in psychological assessment, diagnosis, and treatment plan preparation and application.

Dr. Muller also has training and exposure to Neurofeedback Training, Somatic Experiencing, crisis intervention, conflict resolution and managing cultural differences. In his spare time, you can find him hiking, travelling, working on his photography, poetry, and spending time with his family and friends.

Neuropotential Clinics20 De Boers Dr, Suite 230
North York,ON, M3J 0H1

T: (416) 398-9991; F:(416) 398-9992