|It is well known that the brain is an electrochemical organ; researchers
have speculated that a fully functioning brain can generate as much as 10 watts of
electrical power. Other more conservative investigators calculate that if all 10 billion
interconnected nerve cells discharged at one time that a single electrode placed on the
human scalp would record something like five millionths to 50 millionths of a volt. If you
had enough scalps hooked up you might be able to light a flashlight bulb.
this electrical power is very limited, it does occur in very specific ways that are
characteristic of the human brain. Electrical activity emanating from the brain is
displayed in the form of brainwaves. There are four categories of these brainwaves,
ranging from the most activity to the least activity. When the brain is aroused and
actively engaged in mental activities, it generates beta waves. These beta waves are of
relatively low amplitude, and are the fastest of the four different brainwaves. The
frequency of beta waves ranges from 15 to 40 cycles a second. Beta waves are
characteristics of a strongly engaged mind. A person in active conversation would be in
beta. A debater would be in high beta. A person making a speech, or a teacher, or a talk
show host would all be in beta when they are engaged in their work.
The next brainwave category in order of frequency is alpha. Where beta represented
arousal, alpha represents non-arousal. Alpha brainwaves are slower, and higher in
amplitude. Their frequency ranges from 9 to 14 cycles per second. A person who has
completed a task and sits down to rest is often in an alpha state. A person who takes time
out to reflect or meditate is usually in an alpha state. A person who takes a break from a
conference and walks in the garden is often in an alpha state.
The next state, theta brainwaves, are typically of even greater amplitude and slower
frequency. This frequency range is normally between 5 and 8 cycles a second. A person who
has taken time off from a task and begins to daydream is often in a theta brainwave state.
A person who is driving on a freeway, and discovers that they can't recall the last five
miles, is often in a theta state--induced by the process of freeway driving. The
repetitious nature of that form of driving compared to a country road would differentiate
a theta state and a beta state in order to perform the driving task safely.
Individuals who do a lot of freeway driving often get good ideas during those periods
when they are in theta. Individuals who run outdoors often are in the state of mental
relaxation that is slower than alpha and when in theta, they are prone to a flow of ideas.
This can also occur in the shower or tub or even while shaving or brushing your hair. It
is a state where tasks become so automatic that you can mentally disengage from them. The
ideation that can take place during the theta state is often free flow and occurs without
censorship or guilt. It is typically a very positive mental state.
The final brainwave state is delta. Here the brainwaves are of the greatest amplitude
and slowest frequency. They typically center around a range of 1.5 to 4 cycles per second.
They never go down to zero because that would mean that you were brain dead. But, deep
dreamless sleep would take you down to the lowest frequency. Typically, 2 to 3 cycles a
When we go to bed and read for a few minutes before attempting sleep, we are likely to
be in low beta. When we put the book down, turn off the lights and close our eyes, our
brainwaves will descend from beta, to alpha, to theta and finally, when we fall asleep, to
It is a well known fact that humans dream in 90 minute cycles. When the delta brainwave
frequencies increase into the frequency of theta brainwaves, active dreaming takes place
and often becomes more experiential to the person. Typically, when this occurs there is
rapid eye movement, which is characteristic of active dreaming. This is called REM, and is
a well known phenomenon.
When an individual awakes from a deep sleep in preparation for getting up, their
brainwave frequencies will increase through the different specific stages of brainwave
activity. That is, they will increase from delta to theta and then to alpha and finally,
when the alarm goes off, into beta. If that individual hits the snooze alarm button they
will drop in frequency to a non-aroused state, or even into theta, or sometimes fall back
to sleep in delta. During this awakening cycle it is possible for individuals to stay in
the theta state for an extended period of say, five to 15 minutes--which would allow them
to have a free flow of ideas about yesterday's events or to contemplate the activities of
the forthcoming day. This time can be an extremely productive and can be a period of very
meaningful and creative mental activity.
In summary, there are four brainwave states that range from the high amplitude, low
frequency delta to the low amplitude, high frequency beta. These brainwave states range
from deep dreamless sleep to high arousal. The same four brainwave states are common to
the human species. Men, women and children of all ages experience the same characteristic
brainwaves. They are consistent across cultures and country boundaries.
Research has shown that although one brainwave state may predominate at any given time,
depending on the activity level of the individual, the remaining three brain states are
present in the mix of brainwaves at all times. In other words, while somebody is an
aroused state and exhibiting a beta brainwave pattern, there also exists in that person's
brain a component of alpha, theta and delta, even though these may be present only at the
It has been my personal experience that knowledge of brainwave states enhances a
person's ability to make use of the specialized characteristics of those states: these
include being mentally productive across a wide range of activities, such as being
intensely focused, relaxed, creative and in restful sleep.