What are Alpha Waves?

R. Kayne
R. Kayne
Listening to calming music might induce an alpha state.
Listening to calming music might induce an alpha state.

Alpha waves are one type of brain wave that can be recorded by an electroencephalograph (EEG). A predominance of alpha waves in the brain wave pattern indicates an individual is in a relaxed but aware state. Other types of brain waves include beta, theta and delta waves, each pointing to a different state of brain functioning. In addition to these basic types of brain wave patterns, there are also other electrical signatures generated by the brain such as “bursts” or “spindles” which occur briefly.

Agitated states of emotion such as anger generate beta waves.
Agitated states of emotion such as anger generate beta waves.

Nerve endings in the brain generate electrical activity in the form of pulsations that can be measured by sensors called electrodes. Electrodes are placed next to the scalp and connected to an electroencephalograph. By placing the sensors next to the scalp, the machine can record the brain’s electrical pulsations, translating the activity to a readout of peaks and troughs. The height of the peak indicates amplitude, while the distance between peaks, frequency.

The alpha wave pattern plays a role in the dream state.
The alpha wave pattern plays a role in the dream state.

Starting with the most active brain wave pattern, beta waves indicate alertness. This electrical activity starts at 13 Hz and is likely dominant as you read this page. Higher frequencies in this range (26 Hz and up) are sometimes further defined as gamma waves. Agitated states of emotion such as fear or anger generate beta waves, as do tasks that require concentration or create anxiety.

Alpha waves are one type of brain wave that can be recorded by an electroencephalograph (EEG).
Alpha waves are one type of brain wave that can be recorded by an electroencephalograph (EEG).

Alpha waves have a slower frequency of 8-13 Hz, corresponding to a state of relaxation. You are experiencing the alpha state when you allow your mind to drift or float. You might feel yourself “zoning out” when watching television, sitting in a class, at a lecture, or even while driving. Meditation can also produce alpha waves and the alpha pattern plays a significant role in the dream state.

As one is falling asleep the Theta pattern predominates at 4-8 Hz. This state, often filled with mental imagery, is sometimes referred to as “twilight sleep.” Theta waves might also be predominant during deeper states of meditation.

Among adults, an excess of delta brain waves while awake may be a sign of dementia.
Among adults, an excess of delta brain waves while awake may be a sign of dementia.

Finally, delta waves pulsate at a mere 0.5-4 Hz, indicating deep, dreamless sleep. Delta waves are also the signature of comatose patients. It is interesting to note that babies experience a predominance of delta waves when awake. In an adult, this can be indicative of diseases such as schizophrenia, dementia, of intoxication or of drug-induced delirium.

Yoga and meditation practices can help increase the flow of alpha waves in the brain.
Yoga and meditation practices can help increase the flow of alpha waves in the brain.

In today’s stress-conscious world, the alpha state has received much attention because of its association with relaxation. Some types of alternative medicines promote purposely changing the brain wave pattern to produce calming alpha waves. Simple techniques such as closing the eyes and sitting quietly while letting stress “drain” from the body might have the effect of increasing alpha waves and altering the mood.

Self-therapy involving positive affirmations is commonly believed to be more effective when practiced in an alpha state. Such techniques often include listening to calming, tranquil music or sounds of nature as a prelude to affirmations. Other disciplines geared towards increasing alpha waves include meditation, yoga and chanting. Creative outlets like painting or playing an instrument might also increase alpha wave activity.

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Discussion Comments

anon85368

What is R Kayne's first name. and where can i find information about him for bibliographical needs. Thanks

anon48257

Who wrote this article?

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    • Listening to calming music might induce an alpha state.
      By: WavebreakMediaMicro
      Listening to calming music might induce an alpha state.
    • Agitated states of emotion such as anger generate beta waves.
      By: gstockstudio
      Agitated states of emotion such as anger generate beta waves.
    • The alpha wave pattern plays a role in the dream state.
      By: Deyan Georgiev
      The alpha wave pattern plays a role in the dream state.
    • Alpha waves are one type of brain wave that can be recorded by an electroencephalograph (EEG).
      By: Tobilander
      Alpha waves are one type of brain wave that can be recorded by an electroencephalograph (EEG).
    • Among adults, an excess of delta brain waves while awake may be a sign of dementia.
      By: riccardo bruni
      Among adults, an excess of delta brain waves while awake may be a sign of dementia.
    • Yoga and meditation practices can help increase the flow of alpha waves in the brain.
      By: godfer
      Yoga and meditation practices can help increase the flow of alpha waves in the brain.