By Lisa Marinelli Smith
If you’re nodding off during a class or meeting, your brain activity also gradually slows down. The opposite occurs if you suddenly realize you’ve overslept and you tear out of bed to get ready for the day. Your brain activity – and your brain waves – ramp up.
Just like sound, light and radio waves, your brain sends information through brain waves of all shapes, sizes and speeds. Electrical signals in the brain create the waves. These electrical signals transmit messages to other brain cells and the rest of the body.
Brain waves have frequencies (how often the wave repeats over a period of time) and amplitude (the height of the wave) that change depending on what task you’re engaged in. When we’re tired, dragging or sleepy, brain waves slow down. Higher frequencies occur when we’re agitated, on high alert or multitasking.
Each type of brain wave, named after a Greek letter, has a standard frequency, height, shape and location.
EEGs, which measure electrical signals in the brain, pick up each of these wavelengths and give us insights into our brain activity. EEGs can determine if brain activity is normal or unusual, which can lead to the diagnosis of a particular physical or mental health condition.
Here’s what our brain waves tell us, from the slowest waves to the fastest waves. The frequency, measured in hertz, tells us how many wave cycles occur per second. The higher the number, the faster the wave.
Delta waves (.5-3 Hz)
Delta waves are the tallest but slowest brain waves. Delta waves form when we’re in dreamless sleep or deep meditation. We are no longer aware of the outside world in this state. However, they will never go down to zero, or that would signal brain death.
Delta waves are also common in children under one year, according to the Epilepsy Society.
Theta waves (3-8 Hz)
Theta waves, the second slowest brain waves, most commonly occur during sleep but not as deep in sleep as when your brain produces Delta waves. Theta waves are linked more to a twilight state just before we fall asleep or as we’re waking up.
Theta waves can also occur while we’re awake but daydreaming. In this case, theta waves occur during moments where we are relaxed and detached enough to let our minds wander.
This can even happen when we’re doing monotonous, simple or everyday tasks, such as brushing our teeth, walking or running in a familiar place or taking a shower. Our minds are free enough to think creatively. It’s during these times that we may have an ah-ha moment and solve a problem in a way we hadn’t thought of before.
Alpha waves (8-12 Hz)
When we’re alert but calm, our brain forms alpha waves. For example, we can see alpha waves in adults who are awake but have their eyes closed. However, alpha waves will disappear when people open their eyes, become more alert and start processing information.
Your brain may also produce alpha waves if you’ve been busy and then sit down to relax. You allow your brain to take a break, too.
Beta Waves (12-38 Hz)
Beta waves are our most typical and common rhythm with a low amplitude and fast speed. They occur when we’re awake and focusing on mental or physical tasks. Beta waves are present when we’re solving problems and making decisions.
We also produce beta waves if we’re talking, teaching, listening, studying, reading, focusing – and most activities and actions we do while we’re awake. They can also occur when we’re anxious or excited.
Gamma waves (38 TO 42 HZ)
Gamma brainwaves are our fastest brain waves and help us pass information rapidly and simultaneously.
They occur when we’re at our most alert and focused state and when we’re in deep concentration. Our brain is working at max capacity here. Some researchers say gamma waves can reach a frequency of 110 Hz.
Gamma activity is involved in our attention span, working memory and long-term memory processes.
If your doctor recommends an EEG to investigate a health condition or mental health concern, you can turn to NeuLine Health for an at-home, ambulatory EEG. NeuLine technology lets you stay in the comfort of your home, rather than taking a multiple day test at a hospital or clinic. Call NeuLine Health at (844) 212-5321 or visit our website for more information.
Vagus nerve stimulation is a treatment that has been occasionally used to treat epilepsy, treatment-resistant depression, and even Alzheimer’s dementia. Are you familiar with this unusual treatment? Are you familiar with the vagus nerve? Though it’s not commonly known, it’s a critical part of your nervous system and has many potential clinical implications. Let’s chat about the vagus nerve and vagus nerve stimulation, but first, some background and context.