Brainwaves are the rhythm of the brain. They are electrical signals or patterns generated by brain cells (neurons) and other brain structures. You can imagine them as waves moving through your brain – very rapidly – in cycles per second.
Measurement and study of the electrical activity of the brain — called electroencephalography — began over 150 years ago. Richard Caton developed a technique to detect electrical brain responses to stimuli in rabbits and monkeys. He presented his findings to the British Medical Association in 1875. In 1924, Hans Berger developed and applied similar techniques to humans in Germany.
When a large number of neurons beat together in synchrony, they create a strong rhythm – pattern – signal – wave that can be detected on the scalp surface by electrical monitoring equipment (electroencephalograph – EEG). This equipment measures the vibrations in cycles per second (cps) called hertz (Hz) and graphically charts them – EEG brain mapping.
Research is expanding rapidly in the area of brain waves, and monitoring equipment is increasingly sensitive and sophisticated. For instance, we can monitor different areas of the brain at the same time and determine which part of the brain is generating which level of brainwaves in response to an activity or thought or emotion.
Obviously, current discussions of brainwaves are based on what we know and believe today. Research in the 1950’s and 1960’s discovered alpha brainwaves were different during meditation. This led to the belief that increased alpha waves would produce the benefits of Zen and Yoga meditation. Two decades of research later, it appears this assumption was simplistic and perhaps inaccurate. Meditation may have a personal quality that cannot be reduced to a brainwave category.
Brainwaves have been charted and studied for the stages of human development from conception to death.
During fetal development, the earliest signs of Hz are detectable at around 23 weeks in utero. These occur as brief bursts every second — 1 cps or 1 Hz. At about 28 weeks in utero, the right and left brain hemispheres are synchronized and have the same rhythm. At about 32 weeks in utero, sleep states are organized.
At birth, the primary waking brainwave state is theta, and that brainwave state is synchronized between the hemispheres. During the early childhood years, this waking brainwave state slowly speeds up until the primary waking brainwave state is beta. In the elderly, the brainwave state again slows to the alpha and theta rhythm. Though waking brainwave states change in direct correlation with aging, sleep brainwave rhythms remain the same from gestation to death.
It is interesting to note that organized sleep patterns represent an advance to a higher level of neuronal organization and functioning when they first appear in utero. This suggests the SuperSleep® state is an easy way to access / create a higher level of neuronal functioning.
Certain ranges of brainwave frequencies occur naturally when you are in certain states of mind, performing certain activities, having certain kinds of thoughts, etc. Many researchers are linking the production of certain neurochemicals with specific brainwave patterns. For instance, increases in alpha, theta, and delta brainwaves increase the production of DHEA and melatonin, anti-stress and anti-aging hormones. More specifically, a 10 Hz signal (alpha) boosts the production of serotonin which increases relaxation and eases pain. A 4 Hz (theta) signal boosts catecholamines which are vital for memory and learning. And in delta, the brain is triggered to release quantities of healing growth hormone. This suggests the brain’s internal communication system is based on frequency. Your brain may talk to itself in brainwave-ese.
An interesting side note is the effect of nicotine on brainwave patterns. EEG stimulation provided by nicotine is variable. The evidence indicates smokers generally use nicotine to moderate or normalize their states — to arouse themselves from boredom or calm themselves from over-stimulation. In other words, people get high on uppers, low on downers, and medium on nicotine. Continue reading