What Are Brainwaves?

What are brainwaves? It can be difficult to understand how brainwaves impact your everyday life, but read on to learn more about their function.

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A closer Look at Brainwaves

What are brainwaves? Brainwaves are rhythmic and repetitive electrical activity generated by neural tissue in the nervous system as a reaction to stimuli. They are electrical activity patterns that occur in the brain and are necessary for all elements of brain activity, including thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Brainwaves have different names: alpha, beta, theta, delta, and gamma.1

Brainwaves, also known as neural oscillations, synchronize neural activities within brain regions. They also enhance the precise temporal coordination of neuronal processes. These frequencies vary and are measured in hertz or cycles per second. Abnormal brainwave activity in the brain can impair control, focus, and concentration.2 Read on to learn more about the human brain and answer the question “what are brainwaves?”

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Brainwaves and Sleep

Brain cells communicate through electrical pulses during periods of being awake and being asleep. There is a higher frequency of brain waves when you are alert compared to a lower frequency when you are asleep. Even though you are asleep, your brain is still active, and each stage of sleep has its brain wave. The brainwave that develops during drowsiness is the alpha brainwave. It develops in the early sleep phase when a person transitions from wakefulness to sleep.3
Alpha brainwaves continue to develop until slower theta waves replace them. As alpha waves stop, theta brain waves dominate the brain. When you finally fall into a deep sleep, delta waves develop at this stage. Sleepwalking, dreams, and nightmares become possible at this stage as well.

What Are Brainwaves and How Do They Impact Mental Health?

What are brainwaves, and how are they essential to mental health? Brain waves are crucial in mental health because any abnormalities in neural oscillation can influence the development of mental health conditions, such as:4


Anxiousness can be connected with lower alpha, delta, and theta waves, along with potentially higher beta waves. When brainwaves become imbalanced and poorly regulated, they may chemically induce anxiety. High beta activity is also closely linked to anxiety and nervousness. Those who suffer from panic attacks or anxiety disorder usually have too much beta wave activity in their brain.

Chronic Pain

Rhythms produced by the brain can be used to predict sensitivity to pain accurately. Alpha waves may also help an individual ignore chronic pain.


Recent studies have shown a link between an overabundance of gamma waves in the brain and schizophrenia. Gamma waves in some areas of the brain may cause hyperactivity. Lack of sleep can result in excess gamma waves triggering schizophrenia symptoms.


Abnormal neural oscillations and excessive gamma waves in the brain can cause increased activity, potentially resulting in delusions and hallucinations. Delta waves appear in normal brains during sleep but occur during wakefulness in schizophrenic brains leading to delusions.


According to new research, the amplitudes of gamma waves may contribute to depression. However, when alpha waves increase, the individual may experience fewer symptoms of depression. This increase in alpha brain waves can aid in treating resistant depression.

Types of Brainwave Frequencies

Without a proper understanding of brainwave frequencies, it may be tricky to answer, “what are brainwaves?” The types of brainwave frequencies include:5

Gamma Brainwaves

Gamma wave frequencies have the fastest frequencies among all neural oscillations. They are associated with high levels of brain functions like cognition, memory, thoughts, and focus. Gamma waves range between 30 to 80 Hertz and occur when focused and alert.

Beta Brainwaves

Beta waves are high-frequency brainwaves produced throughout your daily activities. They occur when you are alert, focused, and excited. Beta waves help logical thinking and have a stimulating effect on the brain. The right amount of beta waves allows us to focus during day-to-day activities. They range between 12 to 38 Hertz.

Alpha Brainwaves

Alpha waves are slower and higher in amplitude. They develop when you are awake but in a state of rest. Alpha waves are calm and alert and help during activities that need learning and coordinating. They range between 8 to 12 Hertz.

Theta Brainwaves

Theta waves develop when you’re sleeping or if you’re daydreaming while awake. When you’re sleeping lightly or relaxed, your brain may produce more theta waves. Theta waves develop when you’re relaxed or sleepy, but they don’t occur during the deepest phases of sleep. Theta waves range between 4 and 8 Hz.

Delta Brainwaves

Delta brainwaves are the slowest frequency level. The brain produces delta waves when you’re deep in a dreamless sleep. Delta waves measure between 0.5 and 4 Hertz and never go down to zero because that would result in brain death.

Why Are Brainwaves Important?

What are brainwaves, and why are they so important? Brainwaves are crucial because they influence your emotional and mental state. A change in regular brain functioning can cause an imbalance in mental well-being. An electroencephalogram (EEG) can help detect an unusual shift in brain wave patterns.
An electroencephalogram test uses electrodes connected to the scalp to assess electrical activity and problems in the brain. Brain cells are always active and interact with electrical impulses even while sleeping. On an EEG recording, this activity appears as wavy lines.

How Do I Get an EEG?

An EEG can happen in the neurologist’s office or a lab. Sometimes the patient’s situation determines the test’s location, but the quality is the same in all cases, no matter the setting. You will have to meet with your doctor before getting one in order to determine if one is even necessary. You might have to get some tests done before the doctor recommends getting an EEG.

Benefits of Brainwaves

While figuring out “what are brainwaves?”, you may also be wondering if they have any added benefits. However, there are many benefits of neural oscillations in the brain. They include:

Analyzing Complex Situations

The production of beta waves keeps you mentally alert and focused. Mental alertness and focus are necessary for clear and analytical thinking. For example, the production of beta waves during times of mental effort makes complex projects easier.

Memorizing Data

The production of gamma waves in the brain helps with brain function and memory. Gamma waves improve memory and learning capabilities. It also helps with information processing and makes memorizing data easier.

Sense of Calm

Alpha waves are dominant when you are in a meditative and calm state. Alpha waves help mental coordination, calmness, alertness, mind and body integration, and learning.

Increased Concentration and Alertness

The human brain produces enough gamma waves when engaged and focused. With gamma waves, staying alert and increasing concentration becomes easier.

Reduced Anxiety

Brain waves, like alpha waves, help to reduce anxiety and stress on the brain. When the brain produces alpha waves, it enables you to get into a state of calm and rest, and you may become less anxious.

Brain Waves and Mental Health
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