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5 Types Of Brain Waves Frequencies: Gamma, Beta, Alpha, Theta, Delta

It is important to know that all humans display five different types of electrical patterns or “brain waves” across the cortex. The brain waves can be observed with an EEG (or an “electroencephalograph”) – a tool that allows researchers to note brain wave patterns. Each brain wave has a purpose and helps serve us in optimal mental functioning.

Our brain’s ability to become flexible and/or transition through various brain wave frequencies plays a large role in how successful we are at managing stress, focusing on tasks, and getting a good night’s sleep. If one of the five types of brain waves is either overproduced and/or under produced in our brain, it can cause problems. For this reason, it is important to understand that there is no single brain wave that is “better” or more “optimal” than the others.

Each serves a purpose to help us cope with various situations – whether it is to help us process and learn new information or help us calm down after a long stressful day. The five brain waves in order of highest frequency to lowest are as follows: gamma, beta, alpha, theta, and delta.

5 Brain Waves: Frequencies To Understand

Before I get into specifics, it is important to realize that when I refer to a certain brain wave, I am implying that a particular brain wave is “dominant.” Throughout the day in your waking state, your EEG will display all 5 types of brain waves at the same time.  However, one particular brain wave will be dominant depending on the state of consciousness that you are in.

For example, if you are awake, but have really bad ADHD, you may have more slow wave (alpha and/or theta) activity than beta waves. During sleep usually there are combinations of the slower frequencies, but even gamma has been found to be involved in rapid-eye movement (REM).  Below is a brief description of each brainwave state, but a more in-depth understanding can be derived from the book “Getting Started with Neurofeedback.”

Gamma Waves

These are involved in higher processing tasks as well as cognitive functioning. Gamma waves are important for learning, memory and information processing. It is thought that the 40 Hz gamma wave is important for the binding of our senses in regards to perception and are involved in learning new material. It has been found that individuals who are mentally challenged and have learning disabilities tend to have lower gamma activity than average.

  • Frequency range: 40 Hz to 100 Hz (Highest)
  • Too much: Anxiety, high arousal, stress
  • Too little: ADHD, depression, learning disabilities
  • Optimal: Binding senses, cognition, information processing, learning, perception, REM sleep
  • Increase gamma waves: Meditation

Beta Waves

These are known as high frequency low amplitude brain waves that are commonly observed while we are awake. They are involved in conscious thought, logical thinking, and tend to have a stimulating affect. Having the right amount of beta waves allows us to focus and complete school or work-based tasks easily. Having too much beta may lead to us experiencing excessive stress and/or anxiety. The higher beta frequencies are associated with high levels of arousal. When you drink caffeine or have another stimulant, your beta activity will naturally increase. Think of these as being very fast brain waves that most people exhibit throughout the day in order to complete conscious tasks such as: critical thinking, writing, reading, and socialization.

  • Frequency range: 12 Hz to 40 Hz (High)
  • Too much: Adrenaline, anxiety, high arousal, inability to relax, stress
  • Too little: ADHD, daydreaming, depression, poor cognition
  • Optimal: Conscious focus, memory, problem solving
  • Increase beta waves: Coffee, energy drinks, various stimulants

Alpha Waves

This frequency range bridges the gap between our conscious thinking and subconscious mind. In other words, alpha is the frequency range between beta and theta. It helps us calm down when necessary and promotes feelings of deep relaxation. If we become stressed, a phenomenon called “alpha blocking” may occur which involves excessive beta activity and very little alpha. Essentially the beta waves “block” out the production of alpha because we become too aroused.

  • Frequency range: 8 Hz to 12 Hz (Moderate)
  • Too much: Daydreaming, inability to focus, too relaxed
  • Too little: Anxiety, high stress, insomnia, OCD
  • Optimal: Relaxation
  • Increase alpha waves: Alcohol, marijuana, relaxants, some antidepressants

Theta Waves

This particular frequency range is involved in daydreaming and sleep. Theta waves are connected to us experiencing and feeling deep and raw emotions. Too much theta activity may make people prone to bouts of depression and may make them “highly suggestible” based on the fact that they are in a deeply relaxed, semi-hypnotic state. Theta has its benefits of helping improve our intuition, creativity, and makes us feel more natural. It is also involved in restorative sleep. As long as theta isn’t produced in excess during our waking hours, it is a very helpful brain wave range.

  • Frequency range: 4 Hz to 8 Hz (Slow)
  • Too much: ADHD, depression, hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattentiveness
  • Too little: Anxiety, poor emotional awareness, stress
  • Optimal: Creativity, emotional connection, intuition, relaxation
  • Increase theta waves: Depressants

Delta Waves

These are the slowest recorded brain waves in human beings. They are found most often in infants as well as young children. As we age, we tend to produce less delta even during deep sleep. They are associated with the deepest levels of relaxation and restorative, healing sleep. They have also been found to be involved in unconscious bodily functions such as regulating heart beat and digestion. Adequate production of delta waves helps us feel completely rejuvenated after we wake up from a good night’s sleep. If there is abnormal delta activity, an individual may experience learning disabilities or have difficulties maintaining conscious awareness (such as in cases of brain injuries).

  • Frequency range: 0 Hz to 4 Hz (Slowest)
  • Too much: Brain injuries, learning problems, inability to think, severe ADHD
  • Too little: Inability to rejuvenate body, inability to revitalize the brain, poor sleep
  • Optimal: Immune system, natural healing, restorative / deep sleep
  • Increase delta waves: Depressants, sleep

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{ 33 comments… add one }
  • Golan Vaknin July 17, 2014, 5:00 pm

    I would like to know what is the long term effect of using cannabis on Alpha waves?



    • Dan October 14, 2014, 6:23 pm

      Golan you may be interested in this article: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2234454/

      It basically says that alpha and beta wave activity is decreased in marijuana users, in the first month (and perhaps after, the study doesn’t go that far) after they stop smoking. You may also know that chronic users experience sleep disturbances and sometimes vivid dreaming when they stop using.

      • Jason January 3, 2016, 7:44 am

        It basically says that alpha and beta wave activity is decreased in marijuana users, in the first month (and perhaps after, the study doesn’t go that far) after they stop smoking. You may also know that chronic users experience sleep disturbances and sometimes vivid dreaming when they stop using. Makes sense. Marijuana inhibits REM, so they are likely to have the rem rebound effect.

    • Lia August 24, 2015, 12:05 am

      I was told by a clinical psychologist who practices biofeedback that my Theta brain waves were most active. I was in a deep state of mourning, but she seemed so surprised and it made me feel that I’m a bit of a freak. How normal is that for an awake state? Also, I often feel very low in energy. Is this connected?

  • Marcia S November 13, 2014, 1:34 pm

    I had an eeg done and it showed my waves to run opposite the standard, the technician was baffled and called someone to validate what he saw. He told me I was 1 in several thousands who had brain waves that did not follow the direction that most people have. What does this mean? Please give me somewhere to find some insight.
    Thank you

    • Aline JH May 20, 2015, 10:08 pm

      Who ordered the EEG for you? Presumably a doctor; if so, I would start with him/her. Otherwise, I might consider seeing a neurologist.

  • Thor Egede-Nissen December 30, 2014, 7:06 pm

    What brain waves are produced when someone, such as a soldier, is in a very dangerous situation?

    • GLOOM December 30, 2014, 9:33 pm

      Mid to high range beta waves… these are associated with heightened alertness, fear, and danger.

  • sindre January 19, 2015, 2:02 pm

    What brain waves are produced when someone is in a very stressful situation, like a surgeon that have a really difficult operation?

    • GLOOM January 19, 2015, 6:12 pm

      “Stressful” situation would be a beta or high beta dominant state. However, a world-class surgeon may not be as “stressed” as a newer surgeon with a difficult operation and therefore may display more alpha activity. In both scenarios though, the surgeon would be beta-dominant as these waves are associated with being alert.

  • Jim May 2, 2015, 10:09 am

    How would someone know if they are lacking in any brain waves? And is it beneficial to listen to a certain brain wave while studying if so which one?

    • GLOOM May 2, 2015, 2:22 pm

      By getting a quantitative EEG test (QEEG)… this would allow someone to determine whether they may be deficient in certain frequencies. Likely beta frequencies would benefit those that need to study.

  • Michael Brewer June 5, 2015, 11:30 pm

    I am in a neurofeedback research project for veterans. 40 session. Have had my intake and first two sessions. Yesterday, I took some meds as prescribed between sessions. One at 3.30 and next at 5pm. Took Wellbutrin 100mg and Prazosin which I normally take at night.. Also 800mg of Ibuprofen for spinal stenosis pain which will soon be corrected.. So on this day the test tells me 5 times to take a break and relax… I say huh?

    I am 3x more relaxed than the sessions before because I have no pain. So I follow orders. It is fun but still puzzling. And yes, I have been a meditator for 43 years. Then the clinician tells me I am showing an excess of the Theta waves. So here is the question. Is this a by product of the meds? Or am I just an evolved Thetan? LOL.

  • Pete September 10, 2015, 1:10 pm

    I developed epilepsy at 44 years old which is poorly controlled with meds and have 1-2 seizures per week but MRI shows all is OK. I tend to have a seizure when stressed so assume my beta is high? Is there any portable device on the market that measures brain waves so as to give me a seizure warning?

    • Hammid October 13, 2015, 5:26 am

      Shouldn’t an EEG machine measure your brain activity? A company called foc.us has developed an “electric shock” system and will supposedly come out with EEG electrodes in the near future.

    • Ryan March 9, 2016, 8:39 pm

      There are portable devices out there. I have done 92 neurofeedback sessions over the last 18 months. Just this week, I completed 7 sessions of Brain Optimization. Brain State Technologies has a portable device that I have just ordered. It is backordered until April. I can’t wait to get it.

  • Eve September 22, 2015, 3:28 am

    I am writing a Sci Fi novel set in the future. I want my characters to take something to speed up sleep so they don’t spend half their lives sleeping. I was thinking about calling it a deltaREM, because it boosts the 3rd, 4th, and 5th stages of sleep. Does this sound reasonable enough for Sci Fi? Or is it too unrealistic?

    • Dominique December 5, 2015, 11:26 am

      Hi Eve, I realize you posted this quite a while ago but perhaps you’re still interested. First off nowadays researchers only recognize 4 stages of sleep :) (previously 5 but the 3rd and 4th Non-REM stages are now seen as the same) occuring in this order: NREM1 (light sleep), NREM2, NREM3 (deep sleep) and REM sleep. From a ‘realism perspective’, all of these seem to be important for health (except perhaps stage 1), and I cannot really imagine what ‘boosting’ any of these stages would actually mean haha.

      Do you know about lucid dreaming? Why not, instead of having your characters spend less time sleeping, have them make good use of their sleep. Lucid dreaming is the ability to become aware that you are dreaming while you are dreaming, and in some cases allows you full control over the content of your dreams. People are known to use their lucid dreams for problem solving, and the practice of certain skills – basically your dream becomes a virtual reality simulator ;).

      Increased activity in certain brain areas has been linked to lucid dreaming frequency, and actual stimulation of one of these areas has been shown to increase the likelihood of having a lucid dream (the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) if you’re interested :P). Recently this made me think that in the future we migth actually have for example little implants in our brains that could stimulate this brain area while we are sleeping, leading to more lucid dreaming and therefore potentially useful dreaming/sleep (or just for the fun of it ofc! haha). Seems like a great little sci-fi device to me ;).

  • Koy Herrick October 23, 2015, 11:42 am

    So my question is Is my ADHD due to a lack of Gamma/Beta waves or a surplus of Theta/Delta waves? And with that being asked, what is my medication doing for me? increasing G/B or decreasing T/D?

  • Kyrtin October 25, 2015, 11:26 am

    This may be true of naturally occurring states that haven’t been directly influenced, but the “Too much/Too little” for both Delta and Beta I can personally verify as being totally inaccurate for brainwave states induced by binaural beats and similar approaches. I’ve altered my own brainwave patterns to operate almost exclusively in Delta, and given a presentation while wearing an EEG and projecting the live feed from it onto a screen behind me to showcase what I’d accomplished. I’ve experienced no negative side effects to date several months in, and a wide variety of benefits, including the polar opposites of what you’re attributing to “too much” Delta wave activity.

    • Jan February 5, 2016, 1:44 pm

      HI Kyrtin – what you have described here as occurring sounds quite amazing. Do you have a dvd/video or a link of your presentation and the accompanying EEG live feed available for viewing. It would be so interesting to see. Thanks in advance.

  • Anna December 2, 2015, 2:58 am

    I like that it says what what can happen with too many/too little of these brain waves… But my question is, how much is too much? E.g., if I were listening to something on YouTube to stimulate Theta waves, how long would it be until I start having adverse effects, such as inattentiveness?

  • Jubilee December 3, 2015, 8:19 am

    Can we use theta waves to make a human sleep? If yes what is better, delta or theta?

  • Gail December 27, 2015, 4:42 pm

    Hi just found this site. I have trouble sleeping because I always wake up during the night and have trouble going back to sleep. When I do wake up I’m never refreshed and I’ve always got what they call “brain fog,” so I can’t remember anything. I would like to pass my theory test – that is my goal, but nothing sinks in. If anyone can give me any info on deep sleep which I’m not getting, I would be most grateful, thanks.

    • Piet January 10, 2016, 8:41 pm

      Research: Blue light toxic.

    • Danny January 18, 2016, 10:11 pm

      Howdy! I had two clients come in with the same complaints that you are having. I told them to go to the doctor and ask for a sleep test and both had severe sleep apnea. That “fog” you are talking about and the “nothing sinks in” will only get worse and can lead to impaired driving, “weird” accidents, illnesses and possibly even a stroke.

      Normally any good delta based sleep system will help you, but if you have an underlying medical condition, like a closed airway then it won’t work as your body is fighting to breathe. Good Luck!

  • Bryan January 14, 2016, 9:58 am

    I work in the field and in a nutshell each brain is unique. The amplitude or volume of specific frequencies is less important than relationship between the different frequencies and the values at different locations in the Brain including left right balance. So if you have the same level of high frequency activity at the Temporals as you do at the Frontal region this may be problematic.

    Excess high frequency activity at the right side of the Temporals can indicate Fight or Flight activation so symptoms of stress/anxiety, sleep problems, emotional response etc. Excess high frequency activity at the left temporal region can indicate Freeze response such as emotional detachment, intellectual response etc. Efficient communication between the two sides is also important.

    Medical EEGs have changed little in the past 60 years. The concept of Brainwaves such as alpha, beta etc. is somewhat antiquated. High resolution EEGs can break down the electrical activity into 42,000 individual frequencies.

    • lindsey owen March 26, 2016, 2:32 am

      Since you’re in the field, how does the electricity from brain waves coincide with exterior frequencies? Like a car radio?

  • patricia February 15, 2016, 6:00 am

    Hi, I would like to know what kind of waves are used for opening the third eye? How can we get the best of gamma waves? Can we use gamma waves for opening the third eye?

    • Susan gunn February 24, 2016, 12:28 pm

      Meditation is the activity that if practiced daily alters the brain waves to fully relax & produce feelings of well being. It is only in this state of totally being awake & yet relaxed that the 3rd Eye might open!

      • donnie March 6, 2016, 11:22 pm

        Be careful if the third eye opens it can be accompanied by headaches. I feel this happens because your body frequency is not high enough to handle this capability. You need more light (energy). Or you need to strengthen your pineal gland. Fluoride kills it. Change your diet.

  • Elaine March 7, 2016, 10:30 pm

    I had an QEEG a little while ago and the researcher told me I have an extremely high level of gamma waves. He couldn’t explain what it meant, and now I’ve read the article I wonder if I have these waves all the time, since I wasn’t in a meditative state or learning new tasks? It looks like they are there all the time, is this right? What is the effect of this on my behavior and brain function?

  • neova May 18, 2016, 9:45 am

    Hi, I listen to beta waves while studying and then it gets difficult to sleep at night. I go to sleep but I’m wide awake. For how many hours should I listen to these waves? And should I listen to delta waves before going to sleep?

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