If you’re feeling a bit low or lacking in inspiration, boosting your alpha brainwaves may help. Recent research suggests the stimulation of alpha brainwaves may help make you more creative and possibly even help treat depression. But what are brainwaves exactly? How can you stimulate them? And what else may they be helpful with?
The human brain is made up of billions of cells called neurons that communicate with each other via electrical signals. This communication is the origin of all your thoughts, emotions and behaviours. And it happens at some level whether you’re wide awake, resting or sleeping.
The electrical pulses produced from masses of neurons communicating with each other form wave-like patterns – hence the term brainwave. Alpha brainwaves were the first type to be discovered back in 1924 by German psychiatrist Hans Berger, who invented electroencephalography (EEG – where electrodes are placed on the scalp to record the electrical activity of the brain).
Scientists now believe there are 5 different types of human brainwaves, all of which move at different speeds (measured in hertz). These brainwaves change constantly throughout the day according to what you’re doing and feeling. For instance, when you’re producing predominantly slower brainwaves, you feel calm and relaxed. But when higher-frequency brainwaves are dominant, you’re super alert.
These are the brainwaves you produce when you’re in deep, dreamless sleep. They are the slowest type of brainwave, measuring 0.5-3Hz. Some experts claim healing and regeneration are stimulated when the brain is predominantly producing delta waves.
Measuring 3 - 8Hz, theta waves are also produced during sleep, but only during light sleep. They may also be produced during very deep meditation or extreme relaxation. They are thought to be useful for hypnotherapy, since the brain may be particularly receptive during theta.
Your brain produces alpha waves (8 - 12Hz) when you are awake but relaxed and not processing much information – such as first thing in the morning, just before you go to sleep, when you’re daydreaming or practicing meditation (some scientists also claim aerobic exercise helps create alpha waves). In studies, alpha activity has been linked to a reduction in stress, anxiety, discomfort and pain. It may also help with memory.
Running at a speed of 12 - 30Hz, beta waves dominate when you’re wide awake, alert, focused and occupied with mental activities such as problem solving or decision making. These fast-running waves are the ones most of us produce during the day and throughout the majority of our waking lives.
The fastest of the brain waves, gamma waves run between 25 - 100Hz and have been associated with memory processing, language, the formation of ideas and learning.
Apart from gamma waves – which have been shown to disappear under anaesthesia – all of these brainwaves are generated by your brain at all times, though only one will dominate, depending on what you’re doing, thinking or feeling.
Since alpha waves are linked with relaxed mental states, many experts believe increasing alpha activity may help reduce stress and anxiety, as well as help you stay relaxed. Scientists writing in the journal Cortex have also provided evidence that enhancing alpha waves may boost creativity by an average of 7.4% (creative people are indeed thought to have increased alpha activity).
The same researchers also claim there’s strong evidence that people with depression have impaired alpha activity – this, they say, suggests improving alpha brain patterns may be a potential way of treating low mood.
Here are some of the things you can do to get into the alpha zone:
Learn to meditate
Many experts claim practicing meditation daily can help boost alpha activity in the brain.
Close your eyes
Each time you close your eyes – especially when you’re doing some visualisation – your brain produces higher levels of alpha waves.
Take a deep breath
Deep breathing exercises can also boost your alpha waves. Try sitting comfortably, and breathe in gently through your nose and out through your mouth to a slow count of five.
Have a relaxing bath
If you can close your eyes and switch off while soaking in the tub, you know what it’s like to generate alpha waves.
Try some yoga
… or indeed any activity that relaxes you, such as listening to soothing music, painting, drawing (try adult colouring books if you’re not a natural artist) or having a massage.
This content was inspired by our full day courses which cover yoga, mindfullness and other ways to improve your wellbeing. Find out more about CABA's courses.
If you’re finding it hard to cope with stress, anxiety, depression or any other emotional problem, get in touch with one of our trained counsellors for some emotional support.
How CABA can help
CABA supports the wellbeing of past and present ICAEW members, ACA students, ICAEW staff members, and their spouses, partners and children up to the age of 25. For advice, information and support please:
We offer a range of helpful services, including counselling via the phone, internet or face to face.