Stress and Brain Waves
There are 4 basic brain-wave oscillation patterns. They are delta, theta, alpha, and beta and can be monitored with an electroencephalogram or EEG. Delta waves (0.1-3.9 Hz) are associated with deep and dreamless sleep and the release of human growth hormone. Theta waves (4.0-7.9 Hz) are associated with REM sleep (dreaming), the production of catecholamines (hormones made from tyrosine and released during stress), and increased creativity. Alpha waves (8.0-13.9 Hz) are connected with relaxation, focus, wakefulness and the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain and gut that modulates mood, sleep, sexuality, aggression, and anger. Beta waves (14.0-30 Hz) are associated with concentration, arousal, alertness, and cognition but also anxiety, unease, fight and flight.
Alpha waves are the main brain wave pattern in the wakeful state when relaxed. A normal, healthy day should be spent oscillating from delta/theta to alpha then back to theta/delta. However, in the modern average life a different oscillation pattern is seen. Dr. Shawn Talbott author of, The Cortisol Connection, creates a vivid picture of the brain wave patterns in today’s faced-paced, stressed lifestyle. Imagine that your alarm clock wakes you from a deep delta sleep causing uneasiness and anxiety (beta). To help you wake-up and get focused, you drink coffee, the stronger the better and loaded with caffeine. This continues the production of beta waves and also the production of cortisol (the stress hormone that causes increased blood sugar levels and blood pressure). Your day doesn’t stop with stress and deadlines at work then rushing around with the kids. You’re exhausted when bedtime rolls around and your mind is still racing. You fall right into delta sleep while bypassing theta sleep and its unwinding benefits. The next morning the delta/beta cycle begins again.
The reason why brain waves are important is because the delta/beta cycle causes an elevation in blood sugar levels and blood pressure throughout the day. Chronically high blood sugar levels can cause hyperglycemia, metabolic syndrome, weight gain, and eventually diabetes. Without retreat to the alpha and theta waves, concentration, relaxation, and overall health are compromised.
What can be done? There are many ways to increase the alpha waves and replace stress and anxiety with an enhancement in mental and physical performance. The amino acid, theanine, found in green tea leaves has been found to reduce mental stress and tension and promote alpha waves. L-theanine can be taken in supplement form or in drinking green tea. Decaffeinated green tea has little theanine. Exercise is another way to reduce stress and depression and prevent diabetes and obesity. Exercise alters brain chemistry by increasing dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These chemicals are produced during alpha and theta states. There are also relaxation cds available, such as Brain Sync and Holosync, which are designed to stimulate the production of alpha and theta waves through guided meditation in 30 minutes. These cds use “engineered frequencies” to massage the brain into a relaxed state. And finally, there is a device called the Alpha-Stim CSC that treats stress, anxiety, depression and insomnia through electrical currents similar to the currents in body. The current is applied to electrodes that are attached to the ears. The device is worn for 20-60 minutes per day or when needed.
o Talbott S. The Cortisol Connection. Hunter House Publishers. 2002
Stress and Brain Waves