Hey guys, did you know that during the day your brain is functioning in different states? When you are asleep, your brain is functioning in an entire different way than when you are awake. The braincells you have (also known as neurons) behave differently depending on what you are doing. They behave in a rhythmic pattern, going back and forth in oscillations or fluctuations. Very big groups of neurons show this behavior in synchrony, which is actually quite special and weird that they do this, but they do it! We still don’t completely understand why these brainwaves happen, but with neuroscience developing nowadays, perhaps we will soon find the definitive answer.
Anyway, we already have some categories of these brainwave oscillations, and it is pretty interesting to see how they are related to certain activities.
Brainwaves: Wakeful and Sleepy
The first brainwave pattern I want to discuss is called the Beta wave. Note that all these waves are denoted with a Greek letter, beta is of course the Greek letter for “b”, and we will encounter more of these in a bit. This is the type of brainwave you have when you are awake and fully conscious. Your neurons are then oscillating (going back and forth) between 12.5 and 30 cycles per second. These cycles per second also have a common name, you might have heard about this, they are called Hertz. Thus, we say that Beta waves have an oscillation of 12.5 to 30 Hertz.
But, as the day comes to an end, and you are becoming more and more sleepy, your brain starts to oscillate at lower frequencies. Those big chunks of neurons that were moving back and forth around 20 times per second, now only are oscillating between 8 and 12 times. These oscillations are very typical for a drowsy state, where you are not fully asleep but in an intermediary step between full wakefulness and sleep. This one is called the alpha wave.
Then, as you fall asleep your braincells oscillate even slower then this! They reach a range of around 4 to 8 Hertz. This is called the theta wave. This is usually what you encounter when you are asleep. But only during specific parts of your sleep that are called REM sleep. REM stands for “Rapid Eye Movement”, so there are segments throughout the night when you very quickly move your eyes around. This usually happens around 4 or 5 times throughout the night in chunks of 20 minutes or so. During REM sleep is when we dream, and for some reason these theta brainwave activities are tightly connected to it.
This is where it starts to become really interesting. When we dream we are usually in a very creative state, we can make many cool connections, and see things we could not understand before. Many great inventions, theories, and songs were created during the sleep of people who we now refer to as geniuses. Is it possible to get our brainwaves into theta wave activity during wakefulness, and perhaps harness some of this creative power? Well, actually yes, it’s really not that difficult.
Well, it does require some effort and practice, but the principle is really simple. Just start meditating with this thing called binaural beats. A binaural beat is when you hear one sound frequency in one ear, and another frequency in the other one. This will create an auditory illusion of a third beat, that is the difference of the sound frequencies of the other two. This third beat is called the binaural beat.
You can find binaural beats on the internet ranging from 0.4 hertz to 100 hertz or something. So you can use this music to help induce your brain to go in a certain brain state. If you need to be very alert, you can pick alpha waves. If you want to become more creative, mindful or relaxed, you can use the theta waves. But make sure that you listen to this music with headphones, because you really need the different sound frequencies coming in at both ears. Otherwise, the desired auditory illusion won’t occur.
Try this stuff out, it’s really cool. There are even more brainwaves you can check out. One is for a sort of super consciousness connected to high levels of concentration and cognitive functioning. This is called the gamma wave. You can put on some binaural beats with gamma waves if you need to focus really hard for an exam.
You also have a very low one called the delta wave, which occurs during deep sleep. If you want to fall asleep but have trouble doing so, I recommend listening to some delta waves. You will feel sleepy immediately.
Also check out this article on sleep hygiene to improve the quality of your sleep.
Be sure to stop by our YouTube channel for a lot of lectures on a broad range of different topics.
Llinás, R. R. (2014). Intrinsic electrical properties of mammalian neurons and CNS function: a historical perspective. Frontiers in cellular neuroscience, 8, 320.