Brainwaves: What are they? How are they categorized?

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Brainwaves are the result of electrical activity in the brain. They are crucial to all aspects of brain functioning: thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

The human brain is made up of brain cells called neurons, which communicate with each other through electrical brain waves. The pattern of brain waves changes depending on one’s level of consciousness and cognitive processing. For example, when one feels fatigued or dreamy, slower brainwaves are likely dominant at that time.

Brain activity is generally characterized by a combination of brain waves. Depending on what one is doing at the time, a particular brainwave will be dominant over the others. This balance is important: When one’s brainwaves are not balanced properly, that individual may experience both emotional and neuro-physical health concerns.

Electroencephalography (EEG) records the electrical activity of the brain through electrodes placed on the scalp. When recording this electrical activity, various frequencies are observed which are categorized according to when they occur.

There are 5 different types of brainwaves, ranging from low to high frequency:

  • Delta brain waves (.5 TO 3 Hz) are the slowest brain waves. They are generated in deep meditation and dreamless sleep. Healing and regeneration occur when the brain is in this state.
  • Theta waves (3 TO 8 Hz), also occur in sleep and during relaxation. They are indicative of an inner focus, and dreams and vivid imagery occur in this state.
  • Alpha waves (8 TO 12 Hz) occur during quiet, thoughtful times. Alpha waves indicate that the brain is in a resting state.
  • Beta waves (12 TO 38 Hz) are the most common pattern in the normal waking state. They occur when one is alert and focused on problem solving.
  • Gamma brain waves (38 TO 42 Hz) are the fastest and are associated with higher levels of consciousness.