When you first wake up in the morning, what’s the first thing you do? Perhaps you turn off your alarm clock and stretch. At this point, your brain might be relaxed.
So, while you’re warming up your muscles, your brain is producing alpha waves. You’re not asking your brain to process a lot of information or solve any big problems. The waves simply indicate that you are in a state of wakeful rest.
You may also be able to increase your brain’s production of alpha waves when you stop focusing or concentrating on a task, and simply try to relax and unwind.
Interestingly, a 2009 study suggests that your brain may produce even more alpha waves in the posterior part of your brain when you meditate. Your brain isn’t totally at rest, but it’s not attempting to tackle anything big that requires concentration.
Alpha brain waves are only one type of brain wave. There are actually five common types of brain waves.
Brain waves are measured by frequency, which is cycles per second, or hertz (Hz), and they range from very slow to very fast. Alpha waves fit in the middle of the spectrum, between theta waves and beta waves.
Here’s the full spectrum of the five common types of brain waves that you experience every day, from slowest to fastest:
When you’re deep in a state of dreamless sleep, your brain is producing delta waves, which are the slowest type of brainwave. They measure between 0.5 and 4 Hz.
When you’re sleeping more lightly or when you’re extremely relaxed, your brain may produce more theta waves. Theta waves measure between 4 and 8 Hz.
As mentioned, alpha waves fall in the middle of the brain wave spectrum.
Your brain produces these waves when you’re not focusing too hard on anything in particular. Whatever you’re doing, you’re probably feeling relatively calm and relaxed. These waves measure between 8 and 12 Hz.
With these kinds of brain waves, you’re wide awake, alert, and focused. You’re going about your activities of daily living and making decisions. This is when your brain produces higher-speed beta waves, which measure between about 12 and 35 Hz.
Your brain produces the speediest of brain waves, the gamma waves, when you’re actively involved in processing information and learning. You’re concentrating and solving problems, and these brainwaves, which tend to measure upward of 35 Hz, are the proof.
You may be wondering why alpha waves are so important. When your brain is producing these waves, it’s responding to activities like meditation and rest that can reduce your stress levels and help you feel calmer.
If you’re able to produce alpha brain waves, you’re probably able to tap into a state that can help you get some rest and relaxation.
Boosting your alpha waves might also increase your creativity levels. In a 2015 study, researchers found evidence that they could trigger a surge in creativity if they specifically focused on enhancing alpha waves.
The study was small — only 20 participants — but as a randomized trial, it could hold promise for the use of noninvasive brain stimulation to rev up your brain’s production of alpha brain waves.
Alpha waves, or the alpha rhythm, are neural oscillations in the frequency range of 8–12 Hz likely originating from the synchronous and coherent electrical activity of thalamic pacemaker cells in humans.