Alpha brainwaves are most abundant when the brain is in a “resting” state — when you are awake, calm, alert and having quietly flowing thoughts, such as when you are daydreaming or watching TV.
Brain waves are measured in hertz (Hz), with each Hz representing one cycle per second. Alpha waves fall in the midrange frequency zone (8 Hz to 12 Hz) among the five different types of waves: gamma, beta, alpha, theta and delta (listed from highest to lowest frequency).
When alpha waves are abundant, your sensory inputs are minimal and your mind feels at rest. This relaxed mental state is anywhere from 4 to 20 Hz lower than the highly-focused beta-wave state, which occurs when you are taking a test, for example. So if you were quietly daydreaming and then had to start your homework, your alpha waves would lessen and the beta waves would take over.
Since alpha waves are associated with more tranquil mental states, increasing these waves is the goal of many brainwave treatment programs for mental illness. Alpha wave biofeedback (a method of learning to control one’s mental state by monitoring your own brain waves) has been found to successfully treat anxiety and depression. Mindfulness and meditation are other ways to enhance alpha wave production naturally.
Higher levels of alpha brainwaves are linked to greater creativity as well. If you are experiencing a creative block or writer’s block you may have too much beta and too little alpha activity. A recent study by researchers at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine found that administering a low dose of electrical currents (10 Hz) to the brains of healthy adults enhanced alpha brain activity and boosted creativity by 7.4%.
Example: The patient’s anxiety and racing thoughts diminished after participating in only one session of alpha wave biofeedback.
Pedersen, T. (2016). Alpha Brainwaves. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2017, from https://psychcentral.com/encyclopedia/alpha-brain-waves/