Theta: This brainwave pattern is associated with deep relaxation and with some stages of sleep, including the lighter stages of non-REM (NREM) sleep. REM sleep itself is mostly composed of beta wave and other activity that’s similar to an alert, waking brain. Deep meditation produces theta waves, which are slower and lower frequency (between 5-8 hertz) than Alpha waves. That murky barrier between sleep and wakefulness, when you’re drifting in and out of sleep, and your thoughts feel dreamlike and difficult to remember? That’s a theta-dominant state of consciousness.
In the 1980s, a researcher in Japan, Tsuyoshi Inouye described how light stimulation creates synchronization of brain hemispheres. Since then, other researchers have detailed the positive effects of hemispheric synchronization including a 1984 study by researcher Dr. Gene W. Brockopp stating that hemispheric synchronization resulted in improved intellectual functioning as well as improvements in long-term memory, and these effects are cumulative over time.
Reading can be a wonderful (and healthy) escape from the stress of everyday life. Simply by opening a book, you allow yourself to be invited into a literary world that distracts you from your daily stressors. Reading can even relax your body by lowering your heart rate and easing the tension in your muscles. A 2009 study at the University of Sussex found that reading can reduce stress by up to 68%. It works better and faster than other relaxation methods, such as listening to music or drinking a hot cup of tea. This is because your mind is invited into a literary world that is free from the stressors that plague your daily life.
Alpha: Alpha brainwave patterns are associated with a state of wakeful relaxation. Slower and lower in frequency (between 9-14 hertz), alpha waves are dominant when we’re calm and relaxed, but still alert. Alpha waves are associated with states of meditation (your yoga class probably puts you in an alpha state), and also with our ability to be creative.
Just as stress can increase the risk for chronic diseases and other health problems, dealing with chronic conditions and poor health can increase the amount of stress one experiences. Stress also influences behaviors that affect health. Diet choices, sleep habits, and drug use are behaviors that are often negatively affected by stress (3). The APA’s 2011 survey showed that 39% percent of respondents reported overeating or eating unhealthy food because of stress, and 29% reported skipping a meal (3). In addition, 44% reported lying awake at night because of stress (3). On a positive note, 47% of respondents reported walking or exercise as a way of managing stress (3).
Theta is very subtle. It is one of the most elusive and extraordinary brain states you can explore. Theta is a state of somnolence with reduced consciousness; you are neither fully awake nor asleep yet. It is also known as the “Twilight state” or “Stage 1 Sleep” which you normally only experience fleetingly as you wake or drift off to sleep. In the Theta brain state, your senses are withdrawn from the external world and focused on signals originating from within.
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Entrainment is a physics principle in which one rhythmic system falls in synchrony with another rhythmic system. If you’ve ever found yourself moving your body to the beat of your favorite song, then you’ve experienced entrainment in its most basic form. Besides music, this principle can be found all around you, probably more than you realize. Here are a few examples:
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Binaural-beat perception originates in the inferior colliculus of the midbrain and the superior olivary complex of the brainstem, where auditory signals from each ear are integrated and precipitate electrical impulses along neural pathways through the reticular formation up the midbrain to the thalamus, auditory cortex, and other cortical regions.
Your brainwave activity during sleep is largely distinct from your brain activity when you’re awake. (REM sleep is one exception to this—during REM, your brain is active in ways very much like when you’re awake.) During non-REM sleep, the slower, lower frequency theta and delta waves dominate, compared to the alpha and beta waves that are prominent when you’re alert and active.
When people begin to believe these kinds of claims it is only half a step further for them to begin to attribute all of their own curious little experiences to entrainment. After all, they reason in the back of their minds, if 3.84Hz can cure an ovarian cyst, isn’t it just as reasonable that listening to a track at 8Hz might cause the room to appear to spin and change colors? There is an old saying that suggests that the more outrageous a claim is, the more people will be inclined to believe it. Don’t fall for outrageous, ridiculous claims. If you do you’re heading for disappointment, guaranteed.
Entrainment is a term originally derived from complex systems theory, and denotes the way that two or more independent, autonomous oscillators with differing rhythms or frequencies, when situated in a context and at a proximity where they can interact for long enough, influence each other mutually, to a degree dependent on coupling force, such that they adjust until both oscillate with the same frequency. Examples include the mechanical entrainment or cyclic synchronization of two electric clothes dryers placed in close proximity, and the biological entrainment evident in the synchronized illumination of fireflies.