Hans Berger discovered the first brain waves using electrodes to measure the electronic pulses in the brain. ‘Brain waves’ are produced by electrical pulses passing between neurons within the brain. These cycles of electrical activity occur at various speeds and in different parts of the brain depending on our mental activity. Brainwaves can therefore be measured (in Hertz – cycles per second) and grouped dependant on their speed.
So far five groups of brainwaves have been identified, all linked to different states of mind and brain function:
- Gamma Waves (40-100Hz) – The fastest waves; associated with the simultaneous processing of information from different areas of the brain.
- Beta Waves (12-40Hz) – Associated with normal wakefulness and a state of alertness and problem solving. Beta waves are present when we’re focusing on a task, taking an exam, playing sport etc.
- Alpha Waves (8-12Hz) – Dominant throughout quietly flowing thoughts, while the brain is relaxing after a strenuous task or during a light meditation session. Alpha waves are said to be somewhere between the subconscious and conscious mind.
- Theta Waves (4-8Hz) – Theta waves generally occur during sleep but can also be induced through deep meditation.
- Delta Waves (0-4Hz) – The slowest brain waves with the greatest amplitude, Delta waves often occur during very deep, dreamless sleep. They can be found often in infants as well as very young children.[i]
Whilst all groups of brainwaves are associated with both positive and negative traits, Alpha waves, are most often positively associated with health and wellbeing and with biophilia.
High amplitudes of Alpha waves have been linked to heightened creativity, avoiding depression and even potentially treating chronic pain[ii] while lower levels are associated with anxiety and depression as well as problems with our sleeping + eating habits, heart rates and blood pressure. In a study examining brain activity in groups of people with and without clinical depression, “the alpha waves in a depression group were found to be low compared to the normal group”.[iii]
It has therefore been suggested that boosting Alpha waves could improve our health and wellbeing…
…and it IS possible to boost them! (both naturally and, well, less naturally)
Flavio Frohlich (Assistant Professor or psychiatry, cell biology and physiology, biomedical engineering and neurology) found that using electrodes to stimulate alpha waves in the brain increased creativity in his study participants by 7.4%![iv]
While this methodology was obviously successful in boosting Alpha waves, it does seem a bit high tech for every day! So if you’re looking for a way to boost your alpha waves without all the technology, Roger Ulrich (in his paper ‘Natural Versus Urban Scenes, Some Psychophysiological Effects, 1981’) explores whether a more biophilic approach can boost your Alpha waves![v]
By measuring levels of Alpha waves in people viewing scenes of nature and urban landscapes Ulrich found that “amplitudes (Alpha) were consistently higher when the individuals viewed the vegetation slides, rather than the urban scenes.” In other words, visual exposure to nature was shown to boost your alpha waves! Getting outdoors or having access to natural scenery leads to higher levels of Alpha waves, leaving you more relaxed and creative as well as reducing your risk of depression!
A recent study goes even further; proposing that only 30 minutes of exposure to nature throughout the course of a week could decrease the national incidence of high blood pressure and depression by seven and nine percent respectively. [vi]
So get outdoors! Walk to work through a green space if you possibly can and if you can’t, get a pot plant for your desk (remember Ulrich’s study only used images of nature! Imagine how much more beneficial the real thing could be!)
[i] https://www.cwilsonmeloncelli.com/the-5-brain-waves-and-its-connection-with-flow-state/, 12/5/17
[ii] http://www.manchester.ac.uk/discover/news/scientists-successfully-tune-the-brain-to-alleviate-pain/, 12/5/17
[iii] Decrease Alpha Waves In Depression: An Electronencephalogram (EEG) Study, D.P.X Kan and P.F.Lee 2015
[iv] http://news.unchealthcare.org/news/2015/april/scientists-use-brain-stimulation-to-boost-creativity-set-stage-to-potentially-treat-depression, 12/05/17
[v] file:///Z:/Job%20Files/086%20Biophilia%20Interface/Research/170425%20Brainwaves/Ulrich%20(1981)%20Natural%20Versus%20Urban%20Scenes.pdf, 12/5/17
[vi] Health Benefits from Nature Experiences Depend on Dose, Danielle F. Shananhan et al. Scientific Reports 2016