The Mysterious Connection Between Sleep and Brain Waves

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Unless you're a medical expert, you might not know what brain waves are, or you may think of them as some ridiculous pseudo-science. But this couldn't be any further from the truth. Brain waves represent different levels of brain activity. using brain waves to measure brain activity has led to many scientific breakthroughs in the fields of Mental Health and, for the purposes of this article, sleep disorders.

How Brain Waves Function During Sleep

Your brain waves are constantly transitioning throughout the day. They also transition several times at night while you are sleeping. Interestingly, brain waves and the human sleep cycle have one surprising thing in common: they each have five stages. When measuring brain waves, certain waves - like beta and gamma - only happen when you are awake and fully conscious. The other three, however, are very important to your sleep cycle.

Alpha Waves

Alpha waves straddle the fence between a shallow level of sleep and a deeply relaxed state of consciousness. When you're in an alpha wave state, you are either close to or currently in stage 1 of your sleep cycle. Some say that when alpha waves are active in your brain, there is enhanced activity in the visualization, imagination, concentration, and learning zones of your cortex. Your intuition may also be stronger when your brain is producing alpha waves.

Theta Waves

Theta waves Mark the halfway point between alpha and delta waves.They're usually produced when you are somewhere in the middle of your sleep cycle, including stage 2, stage 3, and REM sleep. Although you are in a relaxed state of unconsciousness, theta waves represent some conversely complex activity. if you've ever had an extremely Vivid dream, then you have theta waves to thank for it. Unless it was a nightmare - then your theta waves are to blame.

Delta Waves

Delta waves occur when your brain is in its deepest, most inactive state of unconsciousness. They occur during deep, dreamless sleep. This phase of your sleep cycle is essential for physical restoration of the body. When you're in deep sleep and your brain is producing delta waves, your body essentially cleans house, eliminating toxins and repairing damage that you endured during the day. Not getting enough delta wave sleep can cause you to have a weak immune system, recover more slowly from an injury or a hard workout, feel "foggy" the next day, or even result in reduced cognitive function over time.

Promoting Healthy Brain Wave Function

Controlling your brain waves is similar to breathing; it's something that happens automatically, all the time, but you can take control of it when you make the conscious decision to do so. Unlike breathing, however, it's a little trickier to get your brain to produce the waves it needs to produce in order to get a restful night's sleep. Thankfully, although it's tricky, it is not impossible. And it is much safer than using a chemical solution, like sleeping pills, to get your brain relaxed. You can easily control the level of your brain wave activity with these simple "mind hacks":

  • Binaural beats - Binaural beats are a form of brainwave entrainment. By putting on stereo headphones and listening to different frequencies in each ear, you can stimulate your brain to reach certain levels of wakefulness or relaxation.
  • Isochronic tones - This is another form of brain entrainment that uses audio stimulation to augment your brain waves, but they don't require stereo headphones (or headphones at all). These tones are to your ears what a blinking light is to your eyes; the faster or slower it turns on and off, the more it will change your level of brain wave activity.
  • Meditation - there are many relaxed states of brain wave activity, especially alpha and theta, that can be reached with simple meditation alone. Some meditation programs are specifically designed with brain waves in mind, but you don't have to find a monk or a guru to learn them. Many are easily accessible over the internet.
Of course, the first step to a good night's sleep is achieving the coveted alpha wave state of relaxation. And if you really want to get relaxed before bed, you can help stimulate alpha wave activity by taking a natural sleep supplement. Instead of using audio, the botanicals in these supplements produce alpha waves through your body chemistry. And if you pair a natural sleep aid with any of the suggestions above, it will only amplify the effect for a truly restful night's sleep.