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.”
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
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
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
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
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
54 thoughts on “5 Types Of Brain Waves Frequencies: Gamma, Beta, Alpha, Theta, Delta”
I am not sure about marijuana increasing only the alpha waves. I would feel that the more sativa is the variety, the more the gamma waves are increased. And on the other hand: the more indica is the variety, the more theta waves are increased. (Indicas grow further from the equator or higher in altitude, whereas sativas grow closer to the equator). And the very different smells: from citrus zest to earthy chocolate.
I am a PhD student into Music Psychology with a proposed research topic into music and brain responses. This article into Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Theta and Delta has been very useful to me. I will like to know if these various frequency waves could have relationship to specific music stimuli. For instance, that a the brain may produce a particular frequency wave according brains response to a specific music stimulus. Would also be grateful if I can get other articles and reading materials towards the development of my proposal.
This site with music and brain topic might be useful: https://www.frontiersin.org/research-topics/928/the-musical-brain
Hi, could you please let me know if there are certain times in a day that certain brain waves frequency are higher or lower? Many thanks. Marie from London
Hi. Mostly that’s right. Mostly… but not exactly. What about epsilon brain waves? About ambivalence of alpha/theta waves along with highest level of gamma (or nearly even epsilon) at the most advanced stage of meditation?? It sounds unbelievable? Maybe. But this is why most meditating people have serious problems with meditation. Meditation itself as a state of mind, according to e.g. Buddhism is the one thing, and relaxation (commonly known as a “meditation”) is something completely different. :)
Can music instruments generate such waves to stimulate our brain? And if externally these waves are generated then what will be their effects to the listeners? And can we use these waves in our daily life to stimulate our brain or to increase limits of our brain?
Is there any connection (or treatment possibilities) between brain waves and hypothyroidism?
What type of brainwave is the most dominant when waking up?
Hi, I’ve been exposed to theta waves for a few months. I sleep with it every night. I was starting to become suicidal. I have a long history of depression and ADHD, so nothing seemed out of the ordinary. It started to become worse. Then I switched to gamma, I kept getting sick, as in dizzy spells. I would start vomiting if I listen to gamma. Question is, is this at all normal? If not why is this happening?
Hi Cindy, I realise you posted the above a while ago, but thought I’d reply as nobody did yet. I would think that DELTA waves are the important ones during sleep, as this state is the rejuvenating, restorative one, where your body regenerates. Gamma waves are the highest alertness waves, so I would not listen to those while sleeping, it sounds like your brain / body would not get any rest.
I have had sleeping problems myself, and have realised that listening to anything while sleeping makes me feel worse. I use silicone earplugs to block out noise, and a black fabric over my eyes to block out all light, and listen to something very relaxing on Youtube BEFORE going to sleep. You could try ASMR videos, they often make people sleepy… or some sleep meditation videos.
And remember to get at least some light exercise whenever you can, it makes you more sleepy and lifts the mood (cliche but true). And maybe check with your doctor as well. All the best, take care. Liina xx
Just to clarify: not good to exercise close to bedtime, but earlier in the day :)
Yes Liina, you’re correct!!! I was listening to these waves and I wasn’t getting sound sleep. I didn’t feel good in the morning. Cindy, what I did was exercise at least 1 hour (walking, weight lifting, swim) then listen to these waves before I went to sleep until I become really tired then shut it off.
Mostly importantly, stay off caffeine and alcohol!!! I’ve stopped drinking coffee for about 5 weeks now and feel a HUGE difference. By not drinking coffee, I also found I don’t crave certain foods that go well with coffee like bagels, cream cheese, cookies, muffins, ice cream etc.
Switch to decaf teas and homemade smoothies. Force it first thing in the morning. Also, research foods and vitamins that lift and promote good moods. Stay away from people that cause you to feel down.
Cindy, Here are my thoughts on your matter: I think the brain waves you listen to are going to dramatically affect you the following day. I think much more so than light sleeping pills. The reason I believe is that the brain waves you expose yourself to at night are going to process in your subconscious and become prevalent in you following day.
I believe the sleep we receive essentially primes us for the following day. I believe the excess Theta or Theta dominant brain waves are causing your excess depression. I imagine they are causing your next day reality to be very gloomy and withdrawn. As for the Gamma brain waves, they may not have a direct, stable and well understood function such as a low beta brain wave for example.
Although there are speculations and possible explanations for gamma brain waves, I believe it is possible that they may have a unique and special purpose of their own, but not the type to be specified as a major brain wave to be trained upon yourself. I would recommend not going so intense with any brain wave training, as it may interfere with who you naturally are.
If you would like to train your brain waves, from what I’ve heard about you, I’d recommend the safer normal functioning ranges. Let me explain my summary of what that may be in my assessment:
Delta (Be careful, if that affects your day you much, you may feel like a sluggish and even like a non-functional vegetable).
Theta (Dreamlike, but not connected to reality, on it’s own it can be highly detrimental as it may make you feel depressed and out of touch, the major detriment may come from the perceptions that the self is going through feel so vivid and real, yet the confident and interconnected movements and ways of the world may be too distant. In a sense it could be likened to seeing the world from beneath the water. Everything in the world may not seem bright and happy for what it is.)
Alpha (Alpha may be like a bridge between the inner world and lower brain waves and the faster brain waves externally engaging the world and action. They may allow one to process the movements and energies of the external world by not being so in motion and busy oneself and the Alpha waves may also be in a position to contemplate deeper thoughts and other alternatives that would require teaming up Theta waves with Beta waves for example.)
SMR\low Beta waves (the entry level functioning in direct engagement to the external world and reality. It’s not so fast. It’s enough to take actions without feeling compelled or frantic. It’s probably a generally safe range for normal functioning to get tasks done carefully and be alert. Again, our brains use a lot of waves and like a manual transmission car our brains probably select what they need.)
Beta (More activity, more action, more running yourself at high speeds). With all the waves keep in mind the brain somehow manages all these different brainwaves. If you do much of any, there will probably be imposed rigidities and problems.
I recommend brain wave training only if done in moderation and done wisely. If you don’t need it then you shouldn’t do it. Some brain waves between Alpha and Beta could probably help your Theta problem. Good Luck.
Hi, which is the best brainwave should I use when I repeat positive affirmations?
I see a lot of binaural beats on Youtube. What do you make of them? Do they really send us into Alpha/theta states or just gimmicks? One more question, Does theta waves have the capacity to heal one’s mental problems? I read somewhere, it’s a magical state. Please advise. Looking forward to your reply.
Hello Jcey, Theta is used in healing practices and shamanic traditions, like with drum and rattle, which can alter the consciousness of the practitioner/healer to go into a variety of trance states. From my experience, yes, these are states that are powerful for healing, which is why humanity has used these states for thousands of years.
Also, you could say they are magical for the insight, knowledge and connection provided by going into more subconcious and more childlike imagination. Shamanic ‘journeying’ is a term used often for this, and what it interesting is that certain mystical/spiritual traditions talk about how when we sleep (which is theta/delta waves), that at least part of the soul/spirit/subtle body of the sleeper is free to journey.
Inducing theta waves via shamanic drums or binaural beats is a way of inducing this sleep like state I believe, while in waking consciousness.
Is there any way to increase or decrease these waves?
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?
You can benefit from alpha waves before going to sleep. Later you can benefit the most from theta (or low theta), and delta waves during the sleep. Have nice dreams.
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?
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?
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!
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.
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.
Since you’re in the field, how does the electricity from brain waves coincide with exterior frequencies? Like a car radio?
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.
Research: Blue light toxic.
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!
Can we use theta waves to make a human sleep? If yes what is better, delta or theta?
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?
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.
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.
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?
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?
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 ;).
I used to be able to lucid dream, then psychiatrists put me on a lot of major cocktails & I couldn’t for a long time. Just made me a zombie. Now I’m off all that crap, using NFB or neurotherapy and beginning to be able to lucid dream again. I love it!
I think that’s perfect/awesome.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Sure, induce beta frequencies, if you prefer to walk to work 20 miles away every day instead of taking the Porsche. Use gamma waves as they have been directly linked to increased IQ, enhanced cognitive function, and improved memory. Class dismissed.
What brain waves are produced when someone is in a very stressful situation, like a surgeon that have a really difficult operation?
“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.
What brain waves are produced when someone, such as a soldier, is in a very dangerous situation?
Mid to high range beta waves… these are associated with heightened alertness, fear, and danger.
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.
Who ordered the EEG for you? Presumably a doctor; if so, I would start with him/her. Otherwise, I might consider seeing a neurologist.
I would like to know what is the long term effect of using cannabis on Alpha waves?
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.
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.
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?