Article from the BioCybernaut Institute website...
Alpha Brain Waves
Often when people ask, "What are Alpha Brain Waves?", they are really asking, "What are Alpha Brain Waves good for?", and "What do Alpha Brain Waves mean to me?" Answering the first question leads into the other two.
What are Alpha Brain Waves?
Alpha Brain Waves are one of four basic brain waves [Delta Waves, Theta Waves, Alpha Waves, and Beta Waves] which make up the EEG, which is short for electroencephalogram and also electroencephalograph. The electroencephalograph is the recording device that produces the electroencephalogram. These 4 brain waves are all oscillating electrical voltages in the brain, but they are very tiny voltages, just a few millionths of a volt. The Alpha brain waves oscillate about 10 times per second, and the range is 8-13 cycles per second. The brain waves called "Alpha" were the first to be discovered (around 1908, by an Austrian Psychiatrist named Hans Berger). That is why they are called "Alpha waves". Alpha brain waves were discovered first, and Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, like our "a".
Many hundreds of scientists have spent a lot of time studying these basic brain waves of the EEG, so there is a lot of basic knowledge about what Alpha brain waves are and what makes them appear and disappear in our brains. Yes, they appear and disappear. Alpha brain waves are not always present. For example, in deep sleep there are no Alpha brain waves, and if someone is very highly aroused as in fear or anger, again there are virtually no Alpha brain waves. Delta brain waves are seen only in the deepest stages of sleep (Stages 3 and 4). Theta brain waves are seen in light sleep and drowsiness (sleep stages 1 and 2). Alpha brain waves are seen in wakefulness where there is a relaxed and effortless alertness. Beta brain waves are seen in highly stressful situations, and where there is difficult mental concentration and focus.
Delta waves are the slowest oscillating brain waves (0-4 cycles per second). Theta waves oscillate somewhat faster (4-7 cycles per second). Alpha waves oscillate 8-13 times per second. Beta waves oscillate still faster (13-40 cycles per second). There are many other kinds of electrical activity in the brain, especially the short-lived evoked potentials that occur when the brain responds to sensory input (like a sound, or a touch, or a flash of light). However, the four basic EEG brain waves; Delta waves, Theta waves, Alpha waves, and Beta waves constitute the standard lineup of EEG brainwave activity.
What are Alpha Brain Waves Good For?
The foregoing discussion makes the point that each of the four basic EEG brain waves is linked to a different state of consciousness. Each of the four types of brain waves (Beta, Alpha, Theta, Delta) is good for something different. However, we can get into trouble if we can not turn on the type of brain wave needed for the task at hand. For example, if we can not turn on Theta brain waves and Delta brain waves, we will suffer from insomnia, among other things. On the other hand, people who can turn on the ideal brain waves to deal with each and every situation are considered gifted.
One useful metaphor compares the four basic brain waves (Delta, Theta, Alpha, Beta) with the four gears on a car. Delta brain waves (the slowest waves) are first gear. Theta brain waves are second gear. Alpha brain waves are third gear. Beta brain waves are fourth gear. No one gear is best for every driving situation, and no one brain wave is best for all of the challenges of life. We get into trouble if one of the gears on our car goes out, or if we forget to use some of the gears. For example if we drive our car starting in first gear, and then shifting directly into fourth gear (skipping second and third), we will have low gas mileage and high repair bills. The same is true of our brains. Sadly, many people often skip their second and third brain gears (Theta and Alpha brain waves). The consequences of driving our brains in this manner are low productivity and high medical bills. How does this happen?
The way this occurs in everyday life can be illustrated by an example. People often wake up suddenly out of a deep sleep (Delta brain waves) with an alarm. Then they immediately feel stress and anxiety (Beta brain waves) about being late or being under time pressure. After insufficient sleep they pour caffeine down their throats to force themselves into (Beta brain waves) wakefulness, and the caffeine suppresses Theta and Alpha brain waves, while promoting Beta brain waves. All day they work under stress, pressure, and time urgency (Beta, Beta, and more Beta), until at night, they fall exhausted into deep sleep (Delta brain waves), having spent too little time unwinding, relaxing, and drowsing (which would have given them a bit more Theta and Alpha brain waves). Thus many people shift their brains suddenly and forcefully from Delta to Beta, and then back to Delta.
Alpha brain wave production is an innate skill of our brains, but one consequence of the modern stressful lifestyle is that we forget how to produce Theta and Alpha brain waves. Then we easily fall victim to anxiety and stress-related diseases. Anxiety and stress measurably reduce the strength of our immune systems. People who have more Alpha brain waves have less anxiety. Thus having more Alpha waves could mean less anxiety and, correspondingly, stronger immune systems, and this is good for everyone.
Creativity is another activity for which Alpha brain waves are helpful. Scientists have shown that highly creative people have different brain waves from normal and non-creative people. In order to have a creative inspiration, your brain needs to be able to generate a big burst of Alpha brain waves, mostly on the left side of the brain. The brains of creative people can generate these big Alpha brain wave bursts, and do so when they are faced with problems to solve. Normal and non-creative people do not produce Alpha brainwave increases when they are faced with problems, and so they can not come up with creative ideas and solutions. Any time you have an insight or an inspiration, you know your brain just produced more Alpha waves than usual. Increased creativity is helpful for everyone. One way to increase creativity is to increase Alpha brain waves.
Peak performance is another activity for which Alpha brain waves are helpful. Recently sports scientists have shown that increases of Alpha brain waves (often in the left side of the brain) precede peak performance. One key difference between novice and elite athletes is in their brain waves. Just before their best free throws, an elite basketball player will produce a burst of Alpha waves on the left side of their brain. Just before their best strokes, elite golfers will produce a burst of Alpha waves in their left brain. Just before their best shots, elite marksmen and archers will produce a burst of Alpha waves in their left brains. Novice and intermediate athletes do not show this Alpha brain wave pattern. However, one study of archers training over many weeks, showed that as they improved their performance, they gradually increased the amount of left brain Alpha waves which occurred just before their best shots. The Alpha brain waves seemed to be essential for peak performance and were increased, albeit slowly, by the archery training.