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Types of brain waves: Delta, Theta, Alpha, Beta and Gamma

Types of brain waves: Delta, Theta, Alpha, Beta and Gamma

March 25, 2024

The electrical activity of the neurons that populate the human brain it is part of the basis of all thoughts, feelings and the acts we perform. That is why it is so difficult to understand what neurons do in each moment; everything that makes up our mental life consists in that inexplicable jump that goes from the frequency with which the neurons send electrical impulses to the transformation of this so simple in mental processes in all their complexity.

That is there is something about how these nerve cells coordinate with each other that makes sensations, thoughts, memories appear , etc.

Of course, it is still very far from understanding in a detailed way what kind of electrical signals in a part of the brain produce such a thought in a particular person and at a particular time, but there is something that is known about the functioning of the organ of the mind; depends on something that is known as neuronal oscillatory activity , that is, firing frequencies of electrical impulses that generate what is known as the different types of brain waves .

The oscillations in neuronal electrical activity

The concept of oscillation in the activity of neurons refers to the different rhythms and frequencies that the electrical activity expresses in the central nervous system. This idea is very broad, and it is applied both to refer to what an individual neuron does and a group of neurons that work in a network .

For example, the oscillation can refer to the degree of electrical activation of a single neuron over time, measuring the rate at which the appearance of a nerve impulse becomes more probable according to the degree of depolarization; but it can also be used to refer to the frequency with which several neurons in a group send signals almost simultaneously .

Be that as it may, in all cases these oscillations in electrical activity can be represented by waves by means of encephalography, in a similar way in which the beating of the heart is measured by the electrocardiogram.

The types of brain waves

As we have seen, the activity of neurons in the brain is not absolutely chaotic, but follows a very complex logic in which you can see how different neurons fire electrical signals at almost the same time in a continuous way.

This frequency constituted by the activity of several neurons forms what is known as brain waves , activation patterns that, unlike what happens with the activation frequency of a single neuron, are powerful and clear enough to be registered by placing sensors outside the scalp (through encephalography, one of the most used in research on the nervous system).

At the same time, brain waves can be classified into different types according to their frequency , that is, the time that passes between the moments in which many neurons fire electrical signals at the same time.

These types of brain waves receive in the name of Delta waves, Theta waves, Alpha waves, Beta waves and Gamma waves.

1. Delta waves (1 to 3 Hz)

The Delta waves are the ones with the greatest wave amplitude , that is, that its frequency is very low. They are characteristics of the deep sleep phase, which is one in which we rarely dream. However, representing the activation patterns of this phase of deep sleep does not mean that the brain is relatively subdued. Although it is in a state of rest, it ceases to be activated, yes, it is occupied with processes that do not depend on being in a state of consciousness.

2. Theta waves (3.5 to 7.5 Hz)

After the Delta waves, the Theta are those that have a greater wave amplitude. You are associated with deep calm states , relaxation and immersion in memories and fantasies, and also with the REM sleep stage, which is the one in which we dream. Therefore, when these waves appear, it is estimated that there is consciousness or that it is very likely that there is, although it is a consciousness disconnected from what happens around us and centered in imaginary experiences.

3. Alpha waves (8 to 13 Hz)

Alpha is a type of brain wave that is more frequent than theta, although it is still related to states of relaxation. For example, may appear during walks in a park, lying on a beach or watching television . Thus, they are not characteristic of the dream state, but of deep calm, an intermediate step.

4. Beta waves (12 to 33 Hz)

In Beta waves, neuronal activity is intense. They are related to actions that require staying in a certain state of alert and agile management of care , such as a speech before a broad audience, the process of answering an exam question, etc.

Thus, this type of brain waves is linked to an agile management of the focus of attention, depending on the objectives, and with concern for what happens in the present, usually around us, since we must react quickly to possible unforeseen

5. Gamma waves (25 to 100 Hz)

These are the type of brain waves with a greater frequency and smaller amplitude. They appear in waking states and it is believed that their presence is related to the appearance of consciousness , with the expansion of the attentional focus and memory management.

Types of Brain Waves and Their Functions (March 2024).

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