What Are Alpha Brain Waves?
Updated February 13, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Natalie Feinblatt
Scientists have known for a long time how important alpha brain waves are to healthy brain functioning. Lately, interest in meditation and mindfulness has brought this knowledge to the attention of New Age seekers, yoga instructors, and people in all walks of life.
The modern world can be extremely stressful. We must be at our best if we want to succeed or sometimes even to survive. The more you learn about how your brain functions, the better prepared you can be to do just that. Once you understand what alpha brain waves are, what they do, and how to produce them, you can increase your ability to use your brain better than you ever have before!
Alpha Brain Waves Definition
Alpha brain waves are one of at least five types of electrical waves that allow our brains to function. Alpha waves are produced naturally when you close your eyes and relax. Alpha brain waves are in the frequency range of 8 to 13 Hz. When alpha waves dominate your brain, your brain is said to be 'idling' in that it's awake, relaxed, and ready for whatever task lies ahead.
What Are Brain Waves?
Brain waves are electrical impulses that flow from neuron to neuron within your brain. The neurons are the brain cells. For as long as you're alive, your brain is active. Whether you're awake, asleep, or even in a coma, electrical charges in your brain produce waves that allow your brain to keep your body going. Without brain waves, your neurons couldn't communicate with each other. Your brain would be entirely dysfunctional, and you would be brain-dead.
Five Types of Brain Waves And Their Frequencies
Scientists have identified at least five types of brain waves: Beta waves, Alpha waves, Theta waves, Delta waves, and Gamma waves. While different types of brain waves can be present in your brain simultaneously, one type of wave typically dominates the brain activity at any given time. The frequencies of each of these types of brain waves are measured in cycles per second, or Hertz, as follows:
- Delta - 0.5 to 4 Hz
- Theta - 4.7 to 5 Hz
- Alpha - 7.5 to 14 Hz
- Beta - 14 to 40 Hz
- Gamma - Above 40 Hz
Each of these brain waves has a specific function. Beta waves are the waves of consciousness and reasoning. Alpha waves are dominant when you're in a relaxed and calm state of mind. Theta waves can increase when you're sleeping or during hypnosis. Delta waves are predominant during deep sleep. Gamma waves happen when you get a sudden insight.
Medical Tests That Reveal Brain Wave Types
Currently, brain activity can be measured by three different medical tests. These are the electroencephalogram (EEG), the magnetoencephalogram (MEG), and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The most commonly used is the EEG.
The MEG measures the magnetic fields that are generated within the brain by the activity of the neurons. The fMRI measures the blood flow, which is thought to increase with increased activity. However, it is the EEG that tells your doctor most directly about the brain waves themselves. The EEG has added benefits, including that it's cost-effective and highly accurate for monitoring the electrical activity of the brain.
Benefits of Alpha Brain Waves
Alpha brain waves are associated with several different strengths of a healthy and highly-functional brain. As you consider the positive things associated with alpha waves, remember that correlation does not equal causation. This means that, although these things happen together, one may or may not cause the other. Research on how alpha waves work continues from year to year, increasing our knowledge and helping us find applications for what we learn.
Some research has been done on the increase in alpha waves during successful memory tasks. One study compared people who were good at memory tasks with people who weren't so good at them. Those who excelled in the memory tasks had 1.25 Hz higher alpha frequencies.
Some research has been done this century that attempts to increase intelligence by manipulating brain waves. A 2003 study involved applying magnetic stimulation across the brain at alpha frequencies. Those who received this stimulation did perform better on cognitive tasks.
EEG monitoring during creative tasks in another study showed that increases in alpha frequencies happened when the test subject was creatively solving problems as well as when they were generating highly original ideas as opposed to when their thinking was less creative. Does this mean that the alpha waves are causing the increased creativity? At this point, it isn't yet clear.
Testing for the connection between alertness and alpha brain waves, researchers discovered that the lower alpha bands were most closely associated with increased alertness. Of course, alpha waves happen when you're awake. What's interesting, though, is that they happen when you're also relaxed. So, being relaxed may help you be more alert.
How to Produce Alpha Waves
Alpha brain waves do seem rather helpful in many circumstances. In tasks that require you to be alert but relaxed, they might prove to be not just helpful but necessary. Fortunately, there are several ways to produce them. With the help of a doctor or psychologist, you can learn to master the techniques that help you use the power of your alpha brain waves.
Daydreaming can produce alpha brain waves, but how do you make yourself daydream? The best way to approach this challenge is not to try to force it. Simply sit calmly, with your eyes closed. If you begin to daydream, simply let it happen without trying to shake yourself out of it.
Meditation can help you get into an 'alpha state of mind.' Learning to can seem like a difficult task at first. Many people think of meditating as completely clearing your mind of thought. However, even the greatest meditators will tell you that the key is in noticing thoughts and then letting them pass through your mind. It can be a difficult process to learn.
In fact, you don't get good at meditation without practicing. It also helps to have someone teach you meditation techniques. Your teacher or counselor can get you started with guided meditations. Then, they can advance to simply giving you instructions before you begin meditating. Finally, you can learn to meditate on your own.
Mindfulness refers to awareness in the here and now. You notice what is happening around you and are aware of the sensory information you're receiving from your environment. Some mindfulness techniques include doing things very slowly or very deliberately and paying close attention to movements you normally make without giving them much thought. You can practice mindfulness to increase your alpha brain wave activity. You're awake and alert but relaxed.
Binaural beats are produced by feeding one frequency of lower than 1000 Hz into one ear and a slightly different frequency into the other ear. The frequencies interact with each other to produce a wave that amounts to the difference between the two frequencies. The frequency produced is an alpha frequency.
Neurofeedback is a method of improving brain function by watching and learning to respond to EEG readings as they are taken to produce specific results. If you're doing neurofeedback, you learn to control your brain in ways that might have seemed out of reach before.
One fascinating study on alpha wave activity examined how older adults in the group were able to do certain cognitive tasks better by producing alpha waves via neurofeedback. They learned to produce this type of waves through operant conditioning before the testing was done.
Relaxation techniques can also help you get into that alert-but-relaxed state dominated by alpha frequencies. Some of the relaxation techniques you can learn are:
- Deep breathing
- Guided imagery
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Body awareness
How to Learn More About Alpha Brain Waves
Although a lot of research has been done about alpha brain waves, the study reports can be difficult to decipher if you aren't a trained scientist. You can learn the basics as well as interesting facts about ongoing research from blog articles, but these can only get you so far.
If you want to learn the nuts and bolts of how to use alpha brain waves, your best option is to talk to a counselor. Learning what alpha brain waves are and how to generate them can help you immensely, and a therapist can guide you in this exploration.
However, this is only one piece of the puzzle. Licensed counselors at BetterHelp.com are available now to help you learn relaxation techniques and other methods of becoming more alert, relaxed, and focused. When you do, you can become better-equipped to solve your emotional problems, relationships issues, and become happier, mentally healthier, and more successful in achieving your personal goals.
Online therapy is an extremely convenient and affordable way to access the power of your mind. As you attend therapy from whatever location you choose, you can explore the sources of your suffering, get in touch with your inner resources, and overcome a variety of mental health challenges. With alpha brain wave work along with a variety of other psychological techniques, you can develop your ability to tap into the power of your brain now and in the future.