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.
Entrainment is a phenomenon seen is a wide variety of different natural circumstance. In the field of chronobiology, the study of biological rhythms in living organisms, entrainment is the synchronization of a circadian rhythm with the rhythm of an external pattern, such as the synchronizing of women’s menstrual cycles with the phases of the moon or with one another in a group.
When we are mentally active various groups of neurons will be firing and the EEG will look like a jumble of different waves at different frequencies. When we are in a relaxed state, however, our brains settle into a steady rhythm – when fully awake this is the alpha rhythm, which as a frequency of 8-12 hz and other recognizable features. When drowsy our brainwaves slow to the theta range, 6-7hz, and when in deep sleep into the delta range, 4-5hz.
Other than that the experience of those brainwave states is no different. Once we achieve a particular brainwave state using entrainment there is one significant difference to the experience and that is that we are usually still at a high level of consciousness. We’re not (hopefully) zoned out as we are when daydreaming or unconscious as we are when we’re sleeping. We maintain awareness and therefore we get to consciously experience what those brainwave states feel like in some detail.
“A quite different phenomenon results when stereophonic earphones are used and the signals are applied separately to each ear. Under the right circumstances beats can be perceived, but they are of an entirely different character. They are called binaural beats. . . . Binaural beats require the combined action of both ears. They exist as a consequence of the interaction of perceptions within the brain.”
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.