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Understanding Activity in the Brain to Help With Sleep, Stress and Focus

Updated: Nov 17, 2022

The theoretical number of different patterns of connections possible in a single brain is approximately 40,000,000,000,000,000 forty quadrillion.

If changes in synaptic strength (not just the different patterns as described above) are the main mechanism behind the brain’s ability to represent the world and if each synapse has, say, ten different strengths, then the different electrochemical configurations in a single brain come to a staggering number; 10 to the 1000,000,000,000th (trillionth) power.

This is an incomprehensibly large number: most astrophysicists calculate the volume of the known universe, in cubic meters, to be roughly just 10 to the 87th power, in comparison.

Brain waves have been rigorously researched since they were first discovered early in the twentieth century. They are categorized in 4 categories: Delta, Theta, Alpha, and Beta. During a day we experience all the brainwave patterns with a predominance of Beta.

Beta - Brainwave frequencies ranging between 13 and 30Hz.

The beta state is that of most of our waking moments as we go about our daily lives. Virtually, all individuals besides children are in beta brainwave states upon awakening.

Each time you solve a math problem, logic puzzle, or read a book, your beta brainwave kick in. People who have logical thinking tend to have a lot of beta brainwave activity. The state of being focused, alert, or engaged in any form of activity are related to beta waves

Alpha - Brainwave frequencies ranging between 7.5 and 14Hz.

Alpha waves occur when a person is relaxed, but alert. During this state, a person is awake but resting. A person who has completed a task and sits down to rest is often in an alpha state. A person who takes time out to reflect or meditate is usually in an alpha state.

This is the major rhythm observed in normal adults - people are active, efficient, and involved in completing the task they have before them. Alpha pattern appears when in wakefulness where there is a relaxed and effortless alertness, during light meditation and day dreaming. When in this state, the brain is also open to speed learning and positive thinking.

Theta - Brainwave frequencies ranging between 4 and 8Hz.

These waves are found to be dominant when the mind is focusing internally, meditating, or being spiritually aware. The theta state is even slower than alpha with a deeper sense of relaxation. A person who has taken time off from a task and begins to daydream is often in a theta brainwave state.

Associated with creativity, dreams and deep relaxation, meditation, increased memory, focus, creativity, lucid dreaming. The creativity that can take place during this state is often free flow and occurs without censorship or guilt. It is typically a very positive mental state.

Delta - Brainwave frequencies ranging between 0.1 and 4Hz.

Normally associated with deep sleep. When these waves are dominant, the brain has the lowest consciousness of the physical world, and the sensory systems take a break and relax.

During this time, natural opiates are released for pain relief and rogue cell activity is inhibited. Delta waves are known for triggering the release of growth hormones and increased immune functions, which provide healing. Hence the reason why sleep is so important during the healing process.

There are are things you can do from the comfort of your own home to strengthen desirable brain waves and help with stress, sleep, and productivity.

Boosted Alpha/Theta for Improved Health

The Alpha-Theta border, from 7 to 8Hz, is a very interesting range of brain waves which produce a unique combination of effects. This state seeks to access the creative and emotional power of Theta while retaining the conscious awareness of Alpha.

Thomas Edison had an interesting way of achieving this state. He would take a nap clasping ball bearings in his hands. When he fell asleep, the relaxation of his hands caused the bearings to fall noisily onto carefully positioned metal plates, waking him up again. He would immediately write down the ideas that came to him in the brief "twilight zone" between the dreaming and waking states.

This is the balance point between the Mental and Emotional bodies. It is the place where our mental belief systems and our emotional states feed one another.

This is the optimum range for visualization, mind programming and using the creative power of your mind. It is the mental state at which you consciously create your reality. It is the gateway to your subconscious mind.

Gratitude plus Forgiveness

Forgiveness and gratitude are two powerful ways to boost your alpha, and they’re even more powerful when you combine them. You can carry around a lot of unconscious stress from trauma in your past. Combining gratitude with forgiveness can help you process the trauma and let it go, permanently increasing your alpha in the process. Try this: write down something that hurt you, and write down exactly how it made you feel. Close your eyes and feel the painful emotion for a few minutes. Then find a way the situation that caused it benefited you or shaped you into who you are today, feel gratitude for the people who hurt you, and forgive them.

Meditation or Exercise

Regular meditation has been shown to increase alpha waves – your relaxation brain waves — and reduce beta waves – the brain waves of active thought and learning. That’s why it’s most commonly recommended for reducing stress. Deep breathing and closed-eye visualization – techniques that mindfulness meditation usually employs – also boost alpha waves.

Besides relaxation, alpha waves may also help boost creativity and thereby act as a natural anti-depressant by promoting the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Another way to boost your alphas, surprisingly, is to do high-intensity workouts.

Not only do they release endorphins that give that exercise “high”, but they also promote alpha waves as you rest.

Close your eyes

Each time you close your eyes – especially when you’re doing some visualisation – your brain produces higher levels of alpha waves.

Take a deep breath

Deep breathing exercises can also boost your alpha waves. Try sitting comfortably, and breathe in gently through your nose and out through your mouth to a slow count of five.

Have a relaxing bath

If you can close your eyes and switch off while soaking in the tub, you know what it’s like to generate alpha waves.

Try some yoga

Or indeed any activity that relaxes you, such as listening to soothing music, painting, drawing (try adult colouring books if you’re not a natural artist) or having a massage.

Binaural Beats and Music

There are also techniques that use the concept of brain wave entrainment, whereby your brainwaves begin to match or synchronize with the frequency of an external stimulus, like a pulsing sound or a light. You can use this concept to train your brain waves to a particular frequency during a specific task. For example, you may want beta waves while you’re preparing for a test, or alpha or delta waves to help you sleep.

To get our brain on the right wavelength, you can listen to binaural beats, which are basically two different sound frequencies played in each ear. You can easily find these beats by searching for Delta Binaural Beats or Alpha Binaural Beats on YouTube.

If you find binaural beats to be a bit boring or repetitive, there are also services that play music designed to enhance certain brainwaves.

Brainwaves aren’t just responsible for changing your mood. Physicians and researchers examine brain waves to understand how we learn and remember, and also to help diagnose disorders of the brain. Michael Sperling, MD at Thomas Jefferson University studies complex brain wave patterns and when they occur during learning and memory. He recently contributed to research that studied how theta waves are involved in creating “cognitive maps” that are important for remembering places and events.

The next time you’re stressed or relaxed, motivated or depressed, think about what your brain is doing and how you can help it calm down or get energized. Mind over matter!

If you’re finding it hard to cope with stress, anxiety, depression or any other emotional problem, get in touch with one of our trained counsellors for some emotional support.

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