Brain Entrainment for Cognitive Enhancement and Brain Waves
What is the premise behind Brain Entrainment? Simply put, the contention is that producing different brain frequencies–whether by light, sound, or tactile input–will stimulate the brain to fall into a Frequency Following Response (FFR); it is like playing follow-the-leader. Ideally you could cause the brain to leave an undesirable state and slip into a desired state.
The five most commonly referred to states are:
- Delta Waves, which normally occurs only when you’re sleeping, manifesting itself from 0.2 Hz to 3 Hz. Delta and sub-delta forms feels extremely dissociative and can give out of body type feelings.
- Theta Waves, which predominates as you fall asleep is in the 3-8 Hz range. This is usually when we enter a sort of daydreaming trance and is very creative. Daydreaming types tend to have more Theta – leading them to be more creative, sensitive and capable of advanced abstraction. Of course this also feels sleepy and those types have the issue of being too switched off all the time.
- Alpha Waves, occurring when you’re awake, but relaxed, happens at 8-12 Hz. This is usually the goal of common meditation techniques people use, it is very anxiolytic but not sharp and high in productivity. Sometimes being in a relaxed state is better overwhelming conditions. This relaxed alert state is akin to when you read a book or passively intake information. Neurotypicals are often taught to meditate or use CBT because they tend to express too much Beta and thus overwork and can’t relax.
- Beta Waves, which occurs when you’re awake and alert between 12-30 Hz. Highly productive, executive/elite types have high levels of beta expression. Think doctors, lawyers, financiers and high level executives. People with cognitive dysfunctions such as ADHD and Autism generally lack the ability to express high levels of Beta frequencies.
- Gamma Waves, occurs when you are learning, forming ideas or processing memories and presents itself at 30 Hz and higher. This state is transient and generally not sustained for long periods. It is where some of the highest level of human cognition occurs.
As you can see, each of these is situation specific. Someone studying to learn something new whilst in a Theta state – for example, a college student cramming for an exam – they might very well fall asleep while they were attempting to study.
Someone who is excited and in a Beta Wave state would probably have a great deal of difficulty getting to sleep, for example, children waiting up for Santa Claus.
It is a mistake, however, to assume that a person is in one state or another. An individual playing an online game might have strong Beta activation in the memory center and the fine motor control center, but be in a predominantly Alpha state in most other areas. The fact is that discrete areas of the brain are all likely to be in different states depending on the activity being engaged in.
Who discovered Brain Waves?
Neurologist Hans Berger, most famous for his invention of the EEG, discovered Alpha waves first in the 1920s, since they are the strongest that we produce. Shortly thereafter he discovered Beta waves. He published his results in 1931, but they went largely unaccepted until 1937, when the famous physiologist Lord Adrian announced that he thought they had merit.
Brain Waves didn’t really come to the fore until the 1960s when experiments showed some success in controlling seizures in humans with Alpha wave therapy. Suddenly the field became interesting.
Better Techniques and Technology
With the surging 1960s space program in full swing there was a lot more research money available. We wanted to know everything possible about the animals, and eventually men, that we were sending into space. As usual, the technology benefitted researchers outside of NASA. We began to develop better tools and techniques and now know much more about a much larger range of brainwave states and their significance.
With increasing knowledge we knew when the states were most likely to occur – and when they occurred outside of their accepted parameters we began to recognize dysfunctions. For example Delta waves were associated with deep sleep but also occurred when coma resulted from brain injury. And just as Theta waves occurs when you’re sleepy, people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and dementia experience this too.
Too much Alpha activity has been noted when people over-internalize their struggles, projecting a pseudo-calm to those around them, to disguise their personal disquiet. It can also accompany mild head injuries, and manifests in people with attention deficit disorder (ADD).
Beta activity is subdivided into three bands:
- Beta 1/SMR, in the 12 to 15 Hz band, seen in the REM sleep cycle or when you are calm, attentive, and relaxed.
- Beta 2, in the 16 to 24 Hz range, reflects normal active attention and perception.
- Beta 3, in the 25 to 30 Hz range, is part of the “kill or flee response” in humans, also known as hyper-vigilance.
When Beta 1 is continuous, it can result in Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, preventing you from reaching a Theta state so that you can sleep. Too much Beta 2 has the same result. Beta 3 creates anxiety, decreases the ability to reason effectively, and can be physically exhausting due to the prolonged and unrelenting physical tension.
How does it work?
Brain Entrainment is sometimes referred to as the flicker effect, and you have probably experienced it at some point in your life. This often happens while sitting around a campfire or staring at a fireplace. The flames seem to come and go or flicker at a rate of between 4 and 13 Hz (cycles per second) which covers the range between Theta and Alpha waves. As Entrainment proceeds you become more relaxed and even sleepy.
Entrainment was originally discovered in 1656 by Dutch scientist Christian Huygens, the inventor of the pendulum clock. He mounted two of his clocks on the same support and noted that over time the two pendulums became synchronized. The tiny, almost imperceptible, exchanges of energy between the two clocks through their common connection became balanced.
Meditation can teach you to alter your current state, but it takes a great deal of time to become proficient. With the aid of an electroencephalograph (EEG) you can actually watch the changes as they take place. You can become familiar with how each state feels and cause it to recur, through this biofeedback, by emulating those feelings. Again, this is rather time consuming, requires expensive equipment, and is not readily available to the general public. (Apart from Pocket Neurobics)
Audio Visual Entrainment (AVE)
AVE on the other hand does not require training. Clinical studies have shown that combination units of audio stimulation and visual stimulation together create changes in state in just a very few minutes. Blinking LEDs behind a diffuser screen in a goggle-like device combined with accompanying aural signals for each ear create the effect in just moments. It is almost a case of automatic neuromodulation.
There seems little doubt that this process actually works. The question is: How are we going to be using it in the future?
Dr. Rudy Tanzi, one of the co-authors of the bestselling book Super Brain (with Deepak Chopra, M.D.), is working primarily on treatments for Alzheimer’s. Experts in the field know that beta amyloid proteins form nerve cell killing plaques which essentially cause dementia.
Washington University School of Medicine has discovered that chronic sleep deprivation causes an increase in beta amyloid derived plaques. Its creation correlated with wakefulness. The normal decrease in plaques during Delta state sleep time simply did not occur.
The rather strong implication is that achieving a Delta state might be helpful to Alzheimer’s patients, although this research has not yet been undertaken, since they’re still doing mice studies. This certainly gives us something to think about.