What inspired me to write a post about knowing how to change brain waves at will?
A memory! As a young boy, I saw a magazine picture of a man with electrodes strapped to his head. I thought the researchers were reading his mind!
But as I learned more about medical procedures, I realized what I had seen was more likely, a man getting an EEG (electroencephalogram) of his brain waves. An EEG detects the brain’s electrical activity through small metal electrodes attached to specifying spots on the skull.
The first encephalogram occurred on July 6, 1924, during a surgical procedure on a teenager. When the neurosurgeon, Dr. Nikolai Guleke, reported his findings in 1929, he referred to the electrical frequencies as “beta” and “alpha” waves.
For the next 40 years, EEGs were a go-to diagnostic tool for diagnosing brain injuries and neurological disorders. They lost their preferred status with the arrival of the computer tomography (CT) scan but remain in use for various tests and research projects.
Over time, researchers have identified three more brain waves and how they affect us, for a total of five.
The Five Brain Wave Frequencies and What They Do
Delta waves: The lowest-frequency (between 0.1 and 4 Hz) delta waves occur in adults during various levels of deep sleep.
Infants and young children spend the majority of their time in this frequency, even when awake.
The amount of time we spend in a delta state slowly decreases as we age. So, the older we get, the more difficult it is for us to “sleep like babies.”
This is especially true of men over 70, according to a study from UC Berkeley’s Department of Psychology Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory. They showed a “3-fold deficit” in slow-wave sleep compared to women.
The delta waves that occur during deep sleep levels 3 and 4 can lead to nightmares, sleepwalking, and sleep talking.
Theta waves: Frequencies between 4 and 8 Hz, theta waves correlate with:
- light sleep
- memory formation
- deep relaxation
and meditative states.
Standing in a hot shower right before bed, listening to your favorite symphony with your eyes closed, or sitting in a meditative position and flowing between sleep and wakefulness – these are all times when theta waves find their rhythm.
Alpha waves: Occurring between 8 and 12 Hz, a slightly increased rhythm from theta waves, alpha waves bring relaxed, non-drowsy awareness during the day.
Studies from Australian and Norwegian researchers found that meditation directly impacts alpha waves by marginally lowering their frequency.
This non-sleepy relaxation is wonderful during the day. However, increased alpha waves at night may intrude on our sleep and leave us tossing and turning.
And being in a deep, alpha-wave-induced state of relaxation can leads to mistakes.
One study from the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain found a correlation between alpha brain waves and an increase in mistakes. It affected people functioning in auto-pilot mode when engaged in monotonous tasks.
Imagine listening to your favorite symphony while doing a rote task like washing the dishes. Or pausing on a nature hike to appreciate the view. At times like these, you’re most likely functioning in alpha rhythm.
Beta waves: Occurring between 12 and 30 Hz, they correlate with a task-oriented mood. When we are busy, alert, and working on new or complex projects, we’re in beta-wave mode.
Gamma waves: Between 30 and 100 Hz, improve our mental processing and understanding of reality. They also raise our awareness of our surroundings.
And focused meditation also increases the brain’s gamma activity.
How to Change Brain Waves at Will: Step One
Being aware of the five kinds of brain waves is the first step toward learning to change them at will. We can then focus on the activities correlated with each brain wave category:
- Delta waves – find the most comfortable bed, consume a light plant-based dinner, and prepare for a great night’s sleep!
- Theta waves – on a nice warm day, take a walk in the woods with your blanket or hammock and find the perfect spot for an afternoon of rest and relaxation.
- Alpha waves – drive down a slow country road you’ve driven a hundred times before. As you go, breathe deeply and enjoy your favorite classical music.
- Beta waves – grab that to-do list and get to work!
- Gamma waves – play a difficult concentration-stimulating game or work on learning a challenging new skill.
How to Change Brain Waves at Will: Step 2
Grab a cup and fill it with one of the drinks that directly impact your brain waves. We’ve listed them in order of least to most beneficial.
- Alcohol negatively impacts your brain-wave function, especially at night.
A Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences study on alcohol consumption, brain waves, and sleep found that drinking alcohol in the evening stimulates alpha waves during sleep.
The lack of a good night’s sleep often leads to subpar performance the following day.
- Coffee both positively and negatively impacts brain-wave function.
The research finding that “Beta frequency increases significantly after drinking the coffee” should come as a surprise to… nobody?
- Tea is the runaway winner when it comes to a positive impact on brain-wave activity.
It’s true that tea’s varying caffeine levels can affect our sleep if we drink it in the evening. But tea also contains L-theanine, an ingredient found only in tea leaves and the bay bolete mushroom.
L-theanine can put us right where we want to be, in a relaxed, focused alpha-wave state. People who meditate achieve this state more often, and so do those tea drinkers!
According to Dutch research, tea consumption significantly improves brain function and consciousness. (See image for the difference in alpha wave activity between those taking L-theanine and the control group).
The L-theanine increases dopamine secretion and alpha waves by crossing the blood-brain barrier.
According to a study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, each serving of 200 ml of black tea contains 25-60 mg of L-theanine!
All five brain wave categories: delta, theta, alpha, beta, and gamma have distinct roles. However, alpha waves create a genuinely remarkable daytime state of mind.
Our options for how to change brain waves at will are plentiful: we can do it through meditation, music, activities that create a specific state of mind, or what we drink.
And to achieve the calm awareness of an alpha state of mind, drinking tea is the way to go!