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  • Chloe Zuntz

A Deeper Dive into Brain Waves

We at Thrive know the brain is a complex organ that is very hard to understand. You might have read through our whole website, and be interested but still not feel like you understand what brain waves are, and why we are targeting them. Or you might know neurofeedback works due to the changes you have seen in yourself since starting with us, but still don’t really understand what we are doing when we say your beta waves are out of range. In this post we will go a little deeper into what brain waves actually are, and what we mean when we say delta, theta, alpha or beta.

It all starts with neurons, the cells that make up the nervous system. While there are several types of neurons, we will treat them all as equal for simplicity's sake in this article. Distinguishing between types of neurons doesn’t change the basic properties which are responsible for brain waves, so will not cause you to be missing out on any important information.

Cells, including neurons have a barrier which separates them from the inside world and outside world, much like our skin does for us. This barrier is called the cell membrane. The cell membrane has many proteins on the outside, some of which form tunnels to the inside of the cell. These special proteins allow for passage of molecules from the outside of the cell to the inside, much like a door. Some doors allow almost anything in, while others are selective (like a door with a guard). Some of these ‘doors’ are locked and need a ‘key’ or to open them. The ‘keys’ are specific to each protein ‘door’, and only when they are bound to the protein does it open it up for specific molecules.

Brain waves are patterns of how these doors open and close to specific molecules, particularly sodium and potassium. Typically when resting, the inside of the cell is a bit more negatively charged on the inside then the outside as a result of ion (charged particle) distribution. As the protein ‘doors’ open when triggered, sodium which is positively charged flows into the cell. Then, through the movement of negative potassium and positive sodium the cell is brought back to its normal resting state. This cycle is called an action potential, and occurs when the cell is triggered to move information around the brain. It also controls the release of neurotransmitters.

There is a lot of information in this photo, but all you really need to know is that an electrical signal caused by movement of charged particles is sent along the neuron to control its activation or release of neurotransmitters.

Brain waves are a measure of how often these action potentials go off. The frequency, or hertz, at which they fire is used to describe the brain waves. Specific brain waves are associated with specific states, like sleep, dreaming, thinking, concentration, ect. All brain waves are necessary, and there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ brainwaves. It's all about balance. It’s also important to get your brain into good patterns. For example, you want the brainwaves predominant in sleep to take over around bedtime, and those mainly involved in focus to be leading the charge while you're at work. As you can see, both are necessary, but you wouldn’t want your sleep brain waves overtaking your focus brain waves in the middle of the day. This is where neurofeedback comes into play. By training the brain, we are teaching it to better regulate the state of its brainwaves throughout the day. Each protocol is specific to a certain brainwave depending on your individual brain and what it needs.

As explained above, all brainwaves are important. Lets look at each of them and explore when they are most noticeable.

Delta Waves

  • 0.5 - 3 Hz

  • These brainwaves are observed in deep meditative states and dreamless sleep

  • Very important for healing, recovery, and regeneration both physically and mentally

Theta Waves

  • 3 - 8 Hz

  • Still involved with sleep, but a little less deep

  • Occur during dreams, detached unconscious states - think spacing out or meditation

  • Critical in processing information, learning, memory and intuition

Alpha Waves

  • 8 - 12 Hz

  • These take control when you are in mindful meditative states, doing creating activities, and relaxed

Beta Waves

  • 12 - 38 Hz

  • The large range of frequencies here can be subdivided into low (12-15Hz), bet (15-22Hz) and high beta (22-38Hz)

  • Typically these waves are more present in the mid and front of the brain

  • Active during problem solving, judgement, decision making and other activities that require focus

Gamma Waves

  • 38 - 42 Hz

  • The fastest brainwaves, these occur during intense focus

As you can see, each brainwave has its role, but if they are not well balanced it might lead to some difficulties. For example, rumination, anxiety, chronic stress, insomnia and similar conditions can be related to overactive high frequency brain waves. Conversely, depression can be related to over expression of the lower brainwaves.

Neurofeedback is incredible as it is a completely individualized treatment. At Thrive, we make sure you are getting the best treatment by starting with a qEEG to analyze what patterns your brain is stuck in. Based on that, we learn what lobes of your brain are exhibiting out of balance brain wave activity, and assign a protocol just for you. We follow up with another qEEG after sufficient sessions to celebrate your success, and see what brain lobe and brainwave ranges to target during the next round of therapy. All you have to do is show up!

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