What Are Alpha Brain Waves?

Updated December 13, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Alpha brain waves are thought to be one of five types of electrical waves produced by the human brain. They are usually dominant when the brain is alert yet relaxed. Benefits of this type of brain wave include improved memory and increased intelligence, creativity, and alertness. You may be able to produce alpha brain waves by daydreaming, meditating, listening to binaural beats, utilizing neurofeedback, and trying relaxation techniques. Online therapy may be a valuable tool in helping you understand alpha waves and how to generate them.

Curious About Alpha Brain Waves And Mental Health?

What Are Brain Waves?

Brain waves are electrical impulses that can flow from neuron to neuron within your brain. Neurons are the brain cells that typically send and receive electrical and chemical signals. For as long as you’re alive, your brain is usually active. Whether you’re awake, asleep, or even in a coma, electrical charges in your brain can produce waves that keep your body going. Without brain waves, your neurons might not communicate with each other. Your brain could be dysfunctional, and your body might struggle to live.

What Are Alpha Brain Waves?

Alpha brain waves are one of at least five types of electrical waves that can allow our brains to function. Alpha waves can be produced naturally when you close your eyes and relax and are in the frequency range of eight to 13 Hz. When alpha waves dominate your brain, your brain is often said to be “idling.” In other words, it may be awake, relaxed, and ready for whatever task lies ahead.

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 – 8 to 13 Hz

  • Beta – 14 to 40 Hz

  • Gamma – Above 40 Hz

Each of these brain waves generally has a specific function. Beta waves can be thought of as the waves of consciousness and reasoning. Alpha waves are typically 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 tend to be dominant during deep sleep. Gamma waves generally happen when you experience 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 generated within the brain by the activity of the neurons. The fMRI measures blood flow, which is thought to increase with increased brain activity. However, it is the EEG that typically tells your doctor most directly about the brain waves themselves. The EEG can have added benefits, including being cost-effective and highly accurate for monitoring the electrical activity of the brain.

Benefits Of Alpha Brain Waves

Alpha brain waves are usually associated with several different strengths of a healthy and highly functional brain. Research on how alpha waves work continues from year to year, increasing our knowledge and helping us find applications for what we learn. Below are a few things we have learned so far about alpha brain waves and their effects.

  • Improved Memory

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 as good at them. Those who excelled in the memory tasks had 1.25 Hz higher alpha frequencies.

  • Increased Intelligence

Some research has attempted 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 were found to perform better at cognitive tasks. However, it should be noted that this area would likely benefit from more research.

  • Increased Creativity

EEG monitoring during creative tasks in another study showed that increases in alpha frequencies typically happened when the test subject was creatively solving problems and when they were generating highly original ideas, as opposed to when their thinking was less creative. We don’t know yet if the alpha waves cause the increased creativity, or if the creativity increases alpha wave production.

  • Increased Alertness

When testing for the connection between alertness and alpha brain waves, researchers discovered that the lower alpha waves were most closely associated with increased alertness. Of course, alpha waves usually happen when you’re awake but relaxed. Therefore, being relaxed may help you be more alert.

How To Produce Alpha Waves

In tasks that require you to be alert but relaxed, alpha waves can be necessary. There may be several ways to stimulate them. With the help of a doctor or psychologist, you may learn to master some techniques that help you use the power of your alpha brain waves.

1. Daydreaming

Daydreaming can produce alpha brain waves, but how do you make yourself daydream? The best way to approach this challenge may be to avoid forcing it. You might sit calmly with your eyes closed and allow your thoughts to wander. If you begin to daydream, try letting it happen without shaking yourself out of it.

2. Meditation

Meditation can help you get into a relaxed yet alert state of mind that utilizes alpha waves. Learning to meditate can seem like a difficult task at first. Many people think of meditating as completely clearing your mind of thoughts. However, even the greatest meditators are likely to 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.

However, practicing can help. It can be beneficial to have someone teach you meditation techniques. Your teacher or counselor can get you started with guided meditations. Then, they may advance to simply giving you instructions before you begin meditating. Finally, you can learn to meditate on your own. There are also a variety of meditation tutorials on various listening apps.

3. Mindfulness

Mindfulness refers to awareness of the present moment. You might notice what is happening around you and become aware of the sensory information you’re receiving from your environment. Some mindfulness techniques can include taking notice of sensations such as how the ground feels under your feet or doing things very slowly and deliberately, paying close attention to movements you normally make without much thought.

4. Binaural Beats 

Binaural beats are typically produced by feeding one frequency of lower than 1000 Hz into one ear and a slightly different frequency into the other ear. The frequencies may interact with each other to produce a wave that amounts to the difference between the two frequencies: an alpha frequency. Some report that binaural beats help them focus.

5. Neurofeedback

Neurofeedback can be 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 may 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 were able to do certain cognitive tasks better by producing alpha waves via neurofeedback. They learned to produce this type of wave through operant conditioning before the testing was done.

6. Relaxation Techniques

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

  • Prayer

  • Yoga

  • Body awareness

How To Learn More About Alpha Brain Waves

Curious About Alpha Brain Waves And Mental Health?

If you want to learn how to utilize alpha brain waves, a therapist may dig into this with you. Therapy, whether in person or online, may teach you relaxation techniques and other methods of becoming more alert, relaxed, and focused. This may help you become better equipped to healthily manage your emotional problems, relationship issues, and personal goals.

Mindfulness, as taught through cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), can be effectively practiced through online sessions. In a randomized trial with close to 500 participants, it was found that patients who received an online program of mindfulness-based CBT had greater depressive and anxious symptom relief than those without this care. Mindfulness is one of several potential ways to generate alpha brain waves.

Online therapy can be a convenient and affordable way to better understand yourself and your mind. As you attend therapy from whatever location you choose, you can explore the sources of your challenges, get in touch with your inner resources, and overcome a variety of mental health concerns. With alpha brain wave work and other psychological techniques, you may develop your ability to tap into the power of your brain now and in the future.

Takeaway

Our brains are thought to rely on at least five brain waves to function healthily. Alpha brain waves may be most active when we are calm and alert; think of them as the brain being in “standby” mode. By learning more about these waves and how to manually engage them, you may reap their benefits, such as improved memory, creativity, and an increased ability to remain mindful and calm even in times of stress. Relaxation, meditation, binaural beats, neurofeedback, and daydreaming may help you generate alpha brain waves. You may also wish to consult an online therapist for additional guidance and support.

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