Beta brain waves are considered fast brain wave activity with a frequency range from 12 Hz and 38 Hz (cycles per second). There is a degree of leniency when it comes to the range, some consider the bottom cutoff for beta waves to be 12 Hz, others 13 Hz, and others 12.5 Hz.
Anything lower than 12 Hz should not be considered beta wave activity. The top cutoff for the range also is disputed – some argue 30 Hz, while others suggest 38 Hz or 40 Hz. Most professionals agree that beta waves can be divided into three specific classifications.
- Low Beta Waves (12 Hz – 15 Hz): These are commonly referred to as “Beta 1” (SMR brain waves) waves and are in the lower cycles per second. The lower range of Beta activity is often associated mostly with quiet, focused, introverted concentration.
- Mid-Range Beta Waves (15 Hz – 20 Hz): These are commonly referred to as “Beta 2” waves and are faster in regards to oscillations per second. Mid-range Beta activity is associated with increases in energy, anxiety, and performance.
- High Beta Waves (18 Hz – 40 Hz): These may be referred to as “Beta 3” waves and are the fastest oscillating brain waves until beta transitions to gamma waves. The high-range Beta is associated with significant stress, anxiety, paranoia, high energy, and high arousal.
Beta Brain Waves: What do they do?
Most people tend to think of beta brain waves as being involved in critical thinking. They are associated with states of alertness, concentration, energy, and focus. When you wake up, your brain experiences a boost in beta activity. For most people, their dominant brain wave throughout the day is somewhere within the beta range.
Individuals that are stressed out or dealing with chronic anxiety are hypothesized to have too much beta activity or beta activity in the wrong parts of the brain. Various bursts of beta activity are useful for helping people in both sensory feedback and motor control. Individuals with ADHD are thought to have abnormally low levels of beta activity – this is the theory that supports the usage of neurofeedback to treat attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
- Addiction: Many people with addictions produce an overabundance of beta activity. They become addicted to things that help them either calm down these brain waves or fuel further excitement. For example, someone who is stressed out a lot may turn to alcohol to temporarily suppress this activity. Other individuals may turn to gambling because they are addicted to the excitement.
- Anger: Have you ever seen someone explode with anger? Are you yourself very angry with a short fuse? When people get angry, their beta activity spikes and they cannot calm down. It is the spike in beta activity that prevents them from thinking calmly. They may become stressed and experience many angry thoughts.
- Antidepressant: In some cases of depression, brain wave activity is dominated by slower alpha waves and theta waves. By increasing beta activity – specifically in the left hemisphere of the brain, it may help with depression. It should be noted though that not all individuals with depression lack adequate beta. Some people actually have depression caused by beta (e.g. too much in the right hemisphere/cortex or other regions).
- Anxiety: If a person is stuck in the high-range of beta activity, they may experience very intense anxiety. This anxiety may be so extreme that the person is in a fight-or-flight state. They may also experience adrenaline rushes if in very high range. Even low and mid range beta are capable of producing anxiety.
- Alertness: When you are in an “alert” state of mind, this is a result of beta brain wave activity. This means that your brain is primed and you are focused on things around you in your environment.
- Attention: Individuals that are able to easily pay attention tend to have plenty of beta activity. Beta is involved in both listening, thinking, and speaking. It is thought that individuals with insufficient beta may have problems paying attention; hence the link between abnormal beta and ADHD.
- Awake: Beta activity is associated with being fully awake. If your eyes are open reading this article, you will likely have dominant activity in the beta range. Most adults transition to beta immediately upon waking up. Having a cup of coffee tends to significantly increase beta activity.
- Energy: Individuals with high amounts of mental and physical energy could be stuck in the high beta range. When people are in fight-or-flight mode, they tend to have extra energy that can be utilized for survival. In this case, the fight-or-flight response triggers fast beta activity to help use up energy stores and increase mental energy.
- Excitement: Have you ever been so excited that you couldn’t sleep? Many people experience bursts of excitement. This excitement is from too much mid or high range beta activity. Until the beta activity is reduced, the excitement will be overpowering.
- Focus: Anytime you concentrate on reading, writing, or problem solving, your brain is using beta brain wave activity. When you focus on a school project or task to be completed at work, you are utilizing your beta waves.
- Insomnia: The inability to fall asleep at night could be caused by a number of different reasons. Having too much beta before bedtime means your brain cannot calm down. Unless this excessive beta activity is reduced, an individual may struggle with chronic insomnia. Anything that triggers stress, anxiety, or excitement can lead to beta activity – which can prevent individuals from falling asleep.
- IQ Increase: There is some evidence supporting the fact that mid-range beta may increase your IQ. This isn’t really changing a person’s raw IQ, but it’s changing their brain activity to enhance performance. Most nootropics or smart drugs work by enhancing overall beta brain wave activity – part of the reason that people experience boosted mental performance.
- Memory: It has been found that beta waves are useful for helping us remember things. They are involved in the retrieval of long term memories and information processing.
- Muscle tension: Many people experience noticeable muscle tension as their beta waves increase. Think of people who get muscle aches and headaches when they get stressed out. This is a result of muscle rigidity that is prevalent because the body becomes aroused and stimulated as the brain waves speed up.
- Negative thinking: It is not uncommon for someone with a lot of beta waves to experience both anxiety and depressive thinking. Thoughts may be obsessive in nature, or they may just be very negative. A person may have high beta activity and suffer from depression as a result of the right hemisphere being stuck in over-drive.
- Paranoia: Individuals with an overabundance of beta activity could become paranoid. Is this the same experience as someone with paranoid schizophrenia? Not quite, but someone may become paranoid or extremely anxious if their brain is dominated by the beta range.
- Positive thinking: In some cases, beta waves cause people to think and behave very positively. These people may think positively and be considered high energy optimists. Think of the way that coffee makes some people perk up and improves their mood – beta waves can do the same thing. Many individuals may become increasingly positive with extra beta activity.
- Rapid thinking or “quick wit”: People that are considered “quick witted” are “quick” because their brains are producing extra beta waves. Think of stimulants like Adderall being used to help increase thinking speed – they tend to result in extra beta activity. This could result in rapid thinking. People experiencing both mania and hypomania are believed to have a dominant beta range.
- Stress: Anytime you experience stress of any sort, your beta activity is going to increase. Individuals in high pressure jobs or occupations that require long hours and high levels of performance can keep people stressed. This is because stress will cause your brain to produce extra beta activity.
Beta Brain Waves Summary
Beta brain waves tend to occur in people that are alert and focused. Anytime you are focused on external stimuli or exert some sort of mental effort, beta rhythms occur. With too much beta, we can run into problems such as stressing ourselves out. There is a time and place for each one of the major brain waves. Beta waves are most beneficial while we are working and need to think critically or problem solve. The purpose of beta waves is to increase our level of cortical arousal.
- Pros: Alertness, concentration, energy, focus, IQ, performance
The major benefit from the beta range has to do with the fact that it gives us increased mental energy. If we are capable of utilizing this energy to complete a task involving critical thinking or problem solving, then the range has served its purpose. If you are able to focus, have a good memory, and are able to concentrate, your beta functioning is likely spot on.
- Cons: Anxiety, insomnia, muscle tension, negative thinking, stress
The major drawbacks associated with too much beta activity include anxiety and stress. When we get overly anxious, our brain is unable to slow down. This can lead to conditions like paranoia, insomnia, and obsessive or negative thinking.
Our muscles may also become tense and we may experience physical discomfort as a result. If you feel overly stressed, chances are your brain is trying to sort out the excessive beta activity. In this case, you would likely benefit from relaxation exercises.