Brainwaves and behaviour
Brainwaves and behaviour are inseparable. Brainwaves are the sum total of millions of neurons all firing at once and have a spectrum of frequencies. The brain continually generates a complex range of brainwaves, but the balance changes according to our experience in the world. Issues happen when specific frequencies do not fire optimally for a given activity. Our state of consciousness at any given moment (ie. whether we are alert, anxious, angry, calm, awake, drowsy) will be mostly determined by our dominant brainwave frequency. For example, it is not optimal for the faster ‘alert’ brainwave, beta, to be dominant at night or it may cause insomnia. By the same token, delta, the slower ‘sleepy’ brainwave causes daytime drowsiness if is too active during the day.
There are characteristic brainwave patterns that are associated with various symptoms and conditions. For example, if you are highly anxious, this can be a result of an overproduction of fast brainwave activity (beta). People with ADHD, on the other hand, tend to show an increase of the slower brainwaves (theta) and an underproduction of the faster beta/SMR brainwave activity.
Through neurofeedback training, brainwaves that are over-used can be quietened, and those that lay dormant, stimulated. For example, neurofeedback can help a client with ADHD gain control over their slow brainwave production and thus improve their focus and attention. Unlike more conventional therapy, brainwave activity can be seen on a screen. A qualified neurofeedback coach can teach trainees how to change brainwave patterns and hence reach mental states previously unachievable.
Through neurofeedback training, a person’s brain learns to become more efficient, flexible and resilient.
Types of brainwaves
At the source of all our thoughts, emotions and behaviours lies the communication between neurons within our brains. Brainwaves are produced by synchronised electrical pulses from an abundance of neurons communicating with each other.
Brainwaves are detected using sensors placed on the scalp. They are divided into bandwidths to describe their functions (below), but are best thought of as a continuous spectrum of consciousness; Delta being slow, loud and functional – to Gamma being fast, subtle, and complex You may prefer to think of brainwaves as musical notes – the low frequency waves like a deeply penetrating drum beat, while the higher frequency brainwaves are like a subtle high pitched flute. Brainwave speed is measured in Hertz (cycles per second) and they are divided into bands delineating slow, moderate, and fast waves.
Our brainwaves change according to what we’re doing and feeling. When slower brainwaves are dominant we can feel tired, slow, sluggish, or dreamy. The higher frequencies are dominant when we feel wired, or hyper-alert.
The descriptions that follow are only broadly descriptions – in practice things are far more complex, and brainwaves reflect different aspects when they occur in different locations in the brain.