Right now your brain is emitting neural oscillations, which is a fancy name for brainwaves. These brainwaves are constantly cycling and depend upon our current level of activity as per their frequency level. The machine that reads these brainwaves or neural oscillations is called an EEG or electroencephalogram. If you have never been hooked up to one there is every likelihood that you have seen an EEG on TV. When an individual experiences brain death these frequencies stop, and it is called flat lining.
The reason we study these brainwaves is to potentially influence them. Scientists are hoping it is possible for the brain to actually change based upon outside activity. And as usual when science doesn’t keep up, lots of people try it out anyway! This is one reason why you will see this as such a popular subject these days. You just have to make sure that you pay attention to the folks who make outlandish health claims. It is possible to still have curiosity in a medicine or healing effect yet still remain vigilant to malarkey! Before we can discuss potential health benefits, let’s first breakdown the various brainwaves, particularly the theta wave.
How Do Theta Waves Compare to Other Brainwaves?
Luckily you are reading this at the moment so it is safe to say you would see very noticeable squiggly lines on your EEG reading! That machine will be able to tell your current state of mind, which would likely be one of the following brainwaves;
Right now you likely are at the beta level as you are reading and engaged, but probably not on high alert. The most common waves you will hear about are alpha, theta, and delta. Which makes sense as most people are looking to relax or put their brains to sleep. Gamma brainwaves can cause headaches and potential stress so it’s not often a sought after state of mind. You still can find gamma and beta waves to listen to, some folks think they bring a heightened state of consciousness. However most people prefer the slower three waves. Delta waves are often found in many sleep and meditation tracks, for those looking for a very deep rest. And theta waves are stuck between the waking and sleeping world.
Theta brainwaves operate in the 4-7 Hz frequency. The closer we get to 7 Hz the more we are in a meditative state, move down to 4 Hz and it is starting to get into deep relaxation and the first stages of sleep. Scientifically speaking we haven’t figured out all there is to know about the theta wave yet. (In fact there is another form of theta wave that comes from the hippocampus, not to be confused with the wave we are discussing). Again our reasons of having interest in the theta wave is for brain entrainment. A process where we play theta waves in hopes our brains will simulate this same state of mind.
Theta Waves in Meditation
One of the most important potential uses of the theta frequency is in meditation. Meditation has had different definitions throughout history depending on the culture and time period. It’s also not something with a clear medical definition. However, nearly any professional in the field of health will tell you meditation is good for us! It is true we can’t pinpoint the exact positive effects of meditation, but like exercise, it is an activity we should practice often. Perhaps one of the very few downsides to meditation is keeping proper posture!
So if we should meditate more, how does one go about meditation in the proper manner? Some people have a hard time shutting down their brains and getting to the point of really deep concentration. Much of the time we remain in the alpha state where we are relaxed, but that is as far as we go. We hope with theta sound waves that we can coax our minds into reaching a deeper point of meditation. Just as we use weights and tension to help us with our exercise, why not use theta waves to help us with our meditation.
Because meditation is not an exact science, we are left with using ourselves as guinea pigs to see how theta sound waves really help us with meditation and deep concentration. When it comes to research empirical evidence is found in a controlled and precise manner, while anecdotal evidence is basically word of mouth. If the anecdotal evidence is right than the theta frequency is clearly beneficial as many people report it helping with meditation. Across the board the general takeaway is they are left feeling relaxed, reset, and recharged. They are ready to face the world again. Perhaps enough theta waves will lead to enlightenment!
It’s not just delta waves that help a person sleep. In our quest to get a better night’s rest researchers have studied a variety of frequencies and potential sounds that may help. There are a few different stages of sleep and we need a mix of all of them to be healthy. When people are looking for really deep dreamless sleep, they turn to delta waves, but this may not help those who just need to fall asleep in the first place! The theta waves sleep stage is right by the 4 Hz mark, any further and it becomes delta waves.
Because the theta waves exist at this intermediate stage between relaxation and deep rest it is hoped that they will help lull a person to sleep. For many folks that is one of the problems of their particular insomnia, just simply falling asleep. Many sleep tracks that use brainwave entrainment will often start with beta or alpha waves and slowly move down to theta waves (for the bulk of the time) and finally ending on delta waves. Many people who use this method find the slow and gradual wavelength change helps them wind down and simply chill. Depending on what final state of mind you want, will determine which frequencies you want to use.
Binaural Beats and Theta Waves
So let’s say we want to use this theta brainwave to help us relax, sleep, or meditate. How do we do it? We use an auditory illusion that is called the binaural beat. If you take two frequencies that are very close together and play one in each ear, your brain will “hear” a third frequency. Say you take a sound wave that is 520 Hz and another that is 525 Hz, when played together (in separate earphones) you will hear a 5 Hz beat. Now to be clear that 5 Hz is not really there, but somehow our brains pick it up. We have no idea yet why our brains perceive this illusion or where it originates in the brain, but it definitely occurs. The first time you hear a binaural beat it is very obvious!
Remember theta waves are in between 4-7 Hz, so a 5 Hz binaural beat will be a theta frequency. And it is our hope that this theta binaural beat will help us alter our own brainwaves. Now again the science is still catching up with the potential uses of these auditory hallucinations. In general though they are at least safe to use and have very few warnings. There is some potential to cause problems in people with epilepsy so for those individuals maybe wait for the final word on binaural beats.
If you would like to experiment with binaural beats there are a ton of samples of various waves on YouTube. There is also specific software and apps used to create binaural beats at your own computer. Most are very simple, you input the waves you want, and the software takes care of the rest. This would allow you to make your own sleep or meditation tracks in any order or time you want. You could stick to a pure meditation track of alpha and theta waves or put them all together for an end of the day mental wind down that will help you fall asleep!
Bringing It All Together in Music
In most cases you will see more than just plain theta waves or binaural beats. Many creators of meditation and sleep tracks will often add more to the track. It is very common to add ambient sounds written on a synthesizer or recorded sounds of nature. With a home computer and the right software a beginner can easily make a track for brain entrainment that includes music (and even voice for a potential hypnosis track!).
Considering we are not exactly sure on how brainwaves work it is wise to approach them in this method. Ambient music and natural sounds like light rain or a summer evening are already relaxing to hear. These alone can put a person in a theta state of mind. By adding the binaural beats we only increase our chances of finding something, anything at all, that will help us meditate or achieve a deep rest. Don’t just depend on the theta wave alone, put it all together!
If you have no interest in putting this together yourself, well a few companies have you covered with the mind machine. Mind machines come in a variety of costs, some are very expensive, none are cheap. If you want one, make sure to research them all and read reviews. These machines mix binaural beats, music, and even imagery to help you achieve different mental states. They have sound canceling headphones and glasses/goggles for visuals. Of course if you only want the auditory part you can skip the visuals. These machines have all the settings you need for all types of brainwaves and states of mind.
At the rate modern science progresses we shouldn’t have to wait long to find out more about brainwaves and their potential to be influenced. We know that visual and auditory oscillations have the ability to affect humans and other animals. Very low sound waves like infrasound have a tendency to make us uncomfortable, nauseous, and even paranoid. Green light oscillations have recently been shown to be beneficial to migraines and headaches. It’s only a matter of time before we learn the exact benefits of the binaural beats that imitate theta waves.
In the meantime it can’t hurt to give brain entrainment a try. Of course mind the warnings for epilepsy and stop if you have any discomfort. If it makes you uncomfortable than there is no reason to do it. But for most people, using binaural beats and simulating their own brainwaves has a beneficial effect. Start simple and try out some pre-made theta wave binaural beats. Get a decent set of headphones, perhaps a blackout eye cover and see which tracks work best. If you can’t afford a mind machine there are plenty of home methods of making your own. If music and ambient sound work well in conjunction with binaural beats than stick with that.
One last thing to remember is you can’t just jump into binaural beats and brainwaves and except them to work on their own. Just like with exercise we also diet and drink lots of water. Simple healthy choices will likely make our brainwave entrainment work even better. Avoiding alcohol or large meals before meditating or sleeping is essential. Approaching binaural beats and their uses with basic common sense will take you a lot farther in the long run. With some sound decisions and perhaps the help of simulating neural oscillations you may find your meditating is more relaxing and your sleep is more restful!