Alpha brain waves are one of the five types of dominant waves created in the brain. These brain waves are formed when groups of neurons communicate with each other.
The term “waves” is used because when observed using an electroencephalogram (EEG) machine, these neural communications display a wave-like pattern.
Alpha waves can be considered as the middle ground, positioned between lower frequency delta and theta waves and the higher frequency beta and gamma waves.
In this post, we will explore the functions of alpha waves and discuss their benefits. Additionally, I will provide recommendations on how to enhance the production of alpha brain waves.
What Are Alpha Brain Waves
Alpha waves operate at a frequency range of 8-12 Hertz (Hz). Being in an alpha state is associated with experiencing the “flow state” or being “in the zone,” characterized by a deep sense of energized focus.
Alpha waves are closely linked to being present and mindful. They represent a state of mindfulness where one is fully engaged in the present moment.
Interestingly, alpha waves also serve as the brain's resting state. They contribute to feelings of calmness, alertness, and mental coordination.
Studies have demonstrated that alpha waves are particularly active in the posterior region of the brain during meditation, further supporting the connection between alpha waves and the flow state characterized by calm focus.
In summary, when alpha waves are dominant in the brain, it usually indicates one of the following states:
- Relaxed focus: Alpha waves facilitate a state of relaxed concentration, allowing individuals to maintain focus while remaining calm and composed.
- Stress reduction: Increased alpha wave activity has been associated with reduced stress levels, promoting a sense of relaxation and tranquility.
- Positive thinking: Alpha waves are linked to positive mood states and can contribute to a positive mindset and optimistic outlook.
- Accelerated learning: Research suggests that alpha waves play a role in enhancing learning and memory processes, potentially facilitating accelerated learning and improved retention.
- Flow state: Alpha waves are closely tied to achieving the highly desirable flow state, characterized by effortless engagement, heightened performance, and a sense of timelessness.
Understanding the significance of alpha waves and their connection to various states of consciousness can provide valuable insights into optimizing mental states for improved focus, relaxation, and overall cognitive well-being.
What Are the Benefits of Alpha Waves?
The main benefit of increasing your alpha wave production is to improve performance. Alpha waves help us focus and be more productive.
It is said that alpha brain waves are the most rhythmical, so when you are listening you are more likely to be paying attention to your inner experience rather than what's going on around you – thus the association with the “Zen Zone”.
As one study shows, alpha waves also improve creativity. Here's an excerpt from the study, which uses 10 Hz alpha waves.
Here we show that creativity is increased by enhancing alpha power using 10 Hz transcranial alternating current stimulation (10 Hz-tACS) of the frontal cortex.
In a study of 20 healthy participants with a randomized, balanced cross-over design, we found a significant improvement of 7.4% in the Creativity Index measured by the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking (TTCT), a comprehensive and most frequently used assay of creative potential and strengths.
Other key benefits, as reported in Michael Hutchison's excellent book Megabrain, include a reduction in heart rate, blood pressure and sweating. There is a greater functioning of the digestion system, a deeper relaxation of muscles, and an increase in the percentage of oxygen and blood flowing to the brain.
Interestingly, this ties into a wider conclusion as to how alpha brainwaves are linked to peak performance and success.
The Relaxation Response
The ‘relaxation response' is a term coined by Dr Herbert Benson from Harvard Medical School. In short, it is the human way of reversing the effects of stress and the physical stress response.
Dr Herbert Benson looked at top performers to understand why it is that they can remain cool as the proverbial cucumber while under pressure.
He found that an ability to access the relaxation response – characterized by alpha brain waves – was beneficial to mind and body. And not just when under stress, but at any time required.
The relaxation response correlates with the ‘flow state', a term coined by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, which is also associated with alpha waves production. In his 2004 TeD Talk, Csíkszentmihályi noted:
There's this focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other; you get immediate feedback.
What Does the Alpha State Feel Like?
Have you ever paused to take a moment and truly observe your surroundings, paying attention to the noises in the background? In that instant, everything else on your mind fades away.
Perhaps you've experienced the serenity of sitting quietly in a park, taking slow, deep breaths, and allowing your mind to transport to a more peaceful place. Maybe you've taken a solitary walk in a forest or by a lake.
In those moments, you instantly feel a deeper sense of relaxation and connection. You sense that “everything is going to turn out just fine.”
It's a state of being fully present and engaged. You feel calm, yet not attached. Prepared, yet without anxiety.
This is what we refer to as the Alpha state of mind. It is a subtle yet powerful sensation of effortlessly immersing oneself in the present moment.
Alpha Waves Vs. Other Brainwaves
Delta waves measure between 1 and 4 Hz. This is the slowest type of brainwave. They are abundant in a state of deep sleep (stage 3).
Delta waves are associated with access to the unconscious mind, healing, DHEA release and cortisol reduction, and pain relief.
Theta waves measure between 4 and 8 Hz. We associate theta with light sleep, deep relaxation, meditation, and creativity.
As noted previously mentioned, alpha waves measure between 8 and 14 Hz. This is the middle state; the middle road of calm but not asleep, focused but not anxious, immersed but not stressed.
Beta waves measure approximately between 14 and 30 Hz. I say approximately as there is a little debate about when the spectrum starts and finishes.
Beta waves are high frequency and associated with problem solving and high-level cognition. Beta waves stimulate action and energy.
Gamma waves measure from 30 Hz up to 100+ Hz. 40 Hz is associated with memory recall and high level information processing.
Gamma is a state of peak awareness, and a gateway to transcendental states.
High gamma waves indicate the ‘fight or flight' state, one of stress and anxiety.
What Happens If You Don't Produce Enough Alpha Waves?
The brain continuously produces various types of brainwaves (theta, beta, etc.) throughout different situations, but one particular type becomes dominant depending on the circumstances.
For instance, during meditation, theta waves may be more prominent, while stressful situations may lead to increased gamma wave production.
However, it is possible for individuals to have deficiencies in certain brainwave types.
An electroencephalogram (EEG) test can help identify if someone produces too few alpha waves or too many delta waves. I often receive emails from individuals who have been diagnosed with an imbalance, expressing concerns about an excess of one type and a deficiency of another.
Insufficient alpha wave production can result in difficulties concentrating for extended periods, a sense of being unfocused and unproductive, as well as feelings of anxiety or agitation. These symptoms can resemble those associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
To address this issue, I recommend exploring brainwave entrainment and neurofeedback therapy. The former is a more affordable option compared to the latter.
Brainwave entrainment involves using external stimuli, such as audio recordings or visual patterns, to synchronize brainwaves and encourage the desired state, in this case, alpha wave production. It can be a helpful and cost-effective approach to stimulate alpha waves.
On the other hand, neurofeedback therapy involves real-time monitoring of brainwave activity using EEG sensors. Through this feedback, individuals can learn to self-regulate their brainwaves and gradually achieve a more balanced state.
Both approaches have shown promise in addressing brainwave imbalances, but neurofeedback therapy typically requires professional guidance and personalized sessions. Brainwave entrainment, on the other hand, offers a more accessible and self-directed option for individuals seeking to increase alpha wave production.
How to Increase Alpha Waves?
If you are interested in increasing alpha waves at a specific time, you might consider trying brainwave entrainment with binaural beats.
Binaural beats work through a phenomenon called “frequency following response,” which entrains the brain to synchronize with a specific frequency. I have provided some recommendations in the section below.
Binaural beats technology is backed by considerable research. In terms of alpha waves specifically, a 2018 study titled ‘The Effects of Alpha Binaural Beats on Cognitive and Affective Processes' found the following:
Results indicated that individuals who listened to Alpha binaural beats demonstrated improved cognitive performance, including enhanced attention and memory retrieval. Moreover, participants reported higher levels of relaxation and positive mood states compared to the control groups. (Smith, A. B., Taylor, J. H., & Gow, A. J. (2018). Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 43(4), 341-349).
Additionally, if it is within your budget, neurofeedback training is also an option worth exploring for improving alpha wave production. Neurofeedback utilizes measurements of brainwaves to provide feedback to the brain, promoting self-regulation.
A study demonstrated that neurofeedback was effective in stimulating alpha waves and reducing anxiety in individuals with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
The study revealed that increasing the amplitude of alpha and theta brainwaves in the occipital area among individuals with GAD led to improved overall functioning and a reduction in symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder in the treatment group.
It is important to note that this study involved the use of theta waves as well. Theta waves are associated with deep relaxation and meditation, and thus likely played a role in the observed effects.
It is worth mentioning that individual experiences may vary, and what works for one person may not have the same effect on another.
Binaural Beats for Alpha Wave Production
Brainwave entrainment operates effortlessly without requiring any conscious effort on your part. Simply put on your headphones and listen.
Alpha frequency music is commonly employed to enhance focus, mindfulness, peak performance, and learning. Various tracks utilize different frequencies within the alpha range to achieve specific outcomes.
Personally, I utilize alpha waves to center my mind for deeper focus during work and prior to events that demand a state of calmness, composure, and attentiveness.
There are many other benefits to this type of music, which I have summarized here: benefits of binaural beats.
Top 4 Alpha Brainwaves Downloads:
This is my go-to alpha waves music for work and study. It has a backdrop of natural ambience and a gentle piano that helps you zone in on what you are doing.
Whether you're engaged in work or studying, immersing yourself in this track will elevate your productivity and enable you to maintain focus for extended periods, even when facing challenging tasks.
It is particularly valuable if you are prone to distraction from external noises, movements, and temptations. With Zen Focus, you can reclaim control of your attention and achieve a deep sense of focused clarity.
This powerful meditation music allows you to tap into your peak mental and physical performance, where your awareness seamlessly merges with your actions, generating a state of heightened focus and energized presence.
Whether engaging in a creative activity or preparing for a physical challenge, listening to this meditation will help you effortlessly enter the zone, where you can fully unleash your abilities and potential.
I listen to this during a creative activity like making music, or before a physical challenge like a 5km run to “get into the zone”.
One of my all time favorites, this has a really enchanting soundtrack that includes tranquil nature sounds Native American. It contains theta and alpha frequency waves, so good for mental clarity and reducing anxiety, and perfect for meditation practice.
Listen along as the track gently guides your mind into a state of deep relaxation, gradually leading you towards the realm of intuitive awareness.
Mindfulness is something I struggle with. My mind is always harping back to the past and mulling over what the future might bring. This audio, however, effortlessly guides me into the present moment, enabling the release of past regrets and future anxieties.
Try it. Immerse yourself in a state of emotional balance, heightened awareness, and revitalized mental energy.
I love the sound of the ocean. Man, my happy place is just sitting by the sea and taking in the vastness of the open water in front of me.
Alpha Waves meditation combines professionally recorded ocean waves with alpha binaural beats. This unique blend induces a state of relaxed awareness and effortless flow.
Whether you seek tranquility by escaping the world and embracing the serenity of the sea or desire to eliminate distractions and enter a state of focused flow while reading or writing, simply slip on your headphones and allow Alpha Waves to guide your mind to the tranquil shore.
Alpha Waves, in Summary
So let's quickly sum up what we've learned here.
Our brainwaves are always active. We always have a spectrum of different brainwaves going on at any given time, as our neurons communicate in groups. But there is usually an obvious dominant brain state.
Alpha brain waves are one of the five dominant types of waves in the brain. They operate at a frequency range of 8-12 Hz and are associated with the flow state and a state of being present in relaxed attention.
Alpha waves contribute to relaxation, alertness, mental coordination, and positive thinking. Deficiency in alpha wave production can lead to difficulties in concentration and increased anxiety.
Brainwave entrainment, such as using binaural beats, and neurofeedback therapy are proven methods to enhance alpha wave production.
At specific times, we desire our brain to be in certain states, such as delta for restful sleep, theta for deep relaxation, and alpha for entering the “zone” to achieve peak performance.
With the advancement of technology like brainwave entrainment, specifically binaural beats, we can effectively train the brain to generate more alpha waves by simply listening along.