How Do Your Brainwaves Work?

By Dr. Gail Sanders Durgin Ph.D.

The brain is an exciting, complex organ. Science and theology are working to understand the secrets of the brain. The average brain weighs about three pounds and is composed mainly of water and fats. The nerves in the brain connect at junctions called synapses. Chemicals called neurotransmitters are released at the synapses and send messages to other cells. The electrical charge inside the cell opens the gateways to release these chemicals.

The firing rate of the cells affects our state of mind. The brain operates in different frequencies according to the task it is performing. When we sleep, the brain produces long slow waves called delta. This is the state that provides the most restorative part of sleep and is 1-3 Hz. Hertz is the number of times a cell fires in a second. The highly relaxed state before the brain drifts off to sleep is called theta and exists in approximately in the 4-7 Hz range. Theta can also be seen in meditative or other internally driven states.

The state that we put ourselves into when we sit down, take a deep breath and close our eyes for a few seconds is called alpha. Alpha is a relaxed state between 8-11 Hz and can be internally or externally focused. The range above alpha is called beta and includes a wide range of alert stages from 12 to 30 Hz. The range of beta between 12-15 Hz is a calm externally focused state. This is the state that is used for listening and engaging in conversation and doing routine metal activities. As the difficulty of the task increases, the brain gears into a higher state. For a test or a challenging task, the brain needs to operate at 16-29 Hz. Higher frequency brain waves are called gamma and these waves organize different parts of the brain. Some researchers think this frequency forms the basis of consciousness.

When the brain does not produce the correct frequency for the task, the brain often has problems with producing the appropriate behavior. When a child needs to sit in class and pay attention to the teacher and his brain is producing too much slow theta, the child will have difficulty paying attention. The child may often wiggle and fidget to stimulate his motor system in an effort to increase his brain activity. To the teacher, this behavior looks like inattention. Another child may be unable to focus her attention because her brain waves are conducting a continuous stream of internal chatter. These and many similar conditions can be addressed with Neurofeedback or EEG Biofeedback training. Using a behavior modification system with sensors on the scalp to read the EEG, a computer, video monitor and feedback sounds, the brain can learn to produce the correct brainwaves for the task. Neurofeedback has been used to train brains to reduce ADD and ADHD symptoms for over 25 years. The client scores points when their brain is performing correctly and stops scoring when the brain slips out of the correct frequency. Like any other skill, the brain can improve its skill level with practice and learn to self-regulate. Studies have shown that children who have completed this training have shown significant improvement in the classroom.


Published in Natural Triad January 2005.


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