Understanding Brainwaves and Mental States

Before beginning to use any brainwave entrainment process it is helpful to know a few of the major types of brainwave groups and the mental state that is associated with them.

In reality people don’t only have one frequency of brainwave at any given time but rather an EEG would show a composite of many frequencies, however there is usually one that is dominant over the others. A good analogy would be to relate each brainwave state to a sting on a violin. Each string makes different notes, yet one or more strings can dominate the overall sound at a greater volume.

There are 5 common groups of brainwaves that you are likely to encounter; Delta, Theta, Alpha, Beta and Gamma. Each of these identifies a particular range of brainwave frequencies, and the typical mental processes and behaviours you would expect to find if someone’s dominant brainwave is in this range.

Delta Waves – From approximately 0.5 to 4 Hz

(1 Hz means one complete cycle in 1 second i.e. on an EEG you would see a wave with one peak and one trough). Each image below depicts a one second snapshot of human brainwave activity, as detected by an EEG.

Delta waves are often associated with being fast sleep, hyper-relaxed or in a deep meditation. Delta waves are also the dominant brainwave in babies up to about 1 year. Certain frequencies, in the delta range, have been shown to trigger the body's healing and growth mechanisms.


Theta Waves – Between 4 and 8 Hz

Theta waves indicate a normal or light sleep, drowsiness or daydreaming, and creative and imaginative thinking that is led by the subconscious i.e. when ideas suddenly just come to you. This suggests that Theta waves allow for easier communication between the conscious and subconscious minds. Theta waves have also been identified as key in learning, memory and reduction of stress. This is the standard frequency range for children up to their early teenage years.


Alpha Waves – Between 8 and 12 Hz

Alpha rates are increased by closing the eyes and relaxing, and can be reduced by opening one's eyes or any concentrated effort. They are associated with a fully awake and conscious but relaxed state of mind. When you get back in from school or work, sit down and put on the TV your brainwaves will be in the alpha range. This is the typical relaxation range for anyone over the age of about 13.


Beta Waves – Between 12 and 30 Hz

Beta waves are characteristic of an engaged mind, which is alert and well focused. These are the dominant waves most of us will experience during the day. They are produced when our attention is directed to the outside world. They are also used in complex problem solving, having conversations, any form of active exercise (using motor skills) and in learning new information and skills. Towards the upper end of the Beta range can indicate stressed or anxious thoughts.


Gamma Waves – Between 30 and 90 Hz

Gamma waves are found when carrying out very complex motor processes. When people describe themselves as being ‘in the zone’, highly alert and focused, these are Gamma wave traits. They can also be associated with very anxious or panic attack type behaviour. Gamma waves are important in harmonizing and bringing together thoughts being processed in different parts of the brain. They are also produced during hypnotic states.

There are the states and frequencies that comprise the vast majority we are all likely to experience on a daily basis. An appreciation of these should help in understanding how brainwave entrainment can be used to bring about useful and positive changes in our state of mind. For a look at some rare and more difficult to achieve states beyond these ranges and a consideration of the boundary states e.g. Alpha-Theta please see our Full Brainwave States article.


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Brainwave Entrainment - Related Articles & Techniques

Introduction to Brainwave Entrainment

Full Brainwaves and Mental States Table

Methods of Brainwave Entrainment


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