The 5 types of brain waves

Can you distinguish all types of brain waves? Know what they are, their characteristics and with what processes they are developed.

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist Elena Sanz on October 28, 2021.

Last update: October 28, 2021

The human brain is one of the great mysteries of humanity. Although we do not know much about it, it is also correct to assert that we understand very well some of its functions. For example, we know that the best way to define it is as an electrochemical organ. Proof of this are the types of brain waves that we will talk about below.

We all know that the brain continuously generates electrical impulses. For example, the analogy that uses as much power as a 10 watt light bulb (debatable, by the way). It does all of this through different types of brain waves. If you want to understand what they are and with what processes they are related, stay that we will present it to you shortly.

What are brain waves?

Brain waves are a record of the electrical activity of the brain, which has allowed human beings to study in depth the functioning of this organ.

You cannot understand what the types of brain waves are if you do not first understand what a brain wave itself is. The key lies in the neurons. All your emotions, thoughts and actions are possible thanks to them.



Neurons are cells of the nervous system that respond to stimuli through a nerve impulse. They form a wide network in the brain and other parts of the body. An average adult has 86 billion neurons. All of these generate or receive nerve impulses that govern what you think, feel or do.

However, brain waves are nothing more than the synchronized electrical impulses of a chain of neurons. Not all waves are the same, since they differ in speed or frequency. We can measure them with the help of an electroencephalogram by placing sensors on the scalp.

All types of brain waves are measured in hertz (Hz). A hertz is a unit that measures the frequency of a wave based on cycles per second. For example, five hertz is five cycles in one second. In very simple terms, brain waves are the reflection of the central nervous system function at that moment.



5 types of brain waves

Now that you have a general idea of ​​what a brain sling is, you can better understand what its types are. Your brain activity varies according to the activity you do in reality.

For example, the brain manifests different waves when you are quiet and at rest than when you are active and speaking. Let’s look at the 5 types of brain waves.

1. Delta brain waves

They are the slowest, highest amplitude, and lowest frequency brain waves. They oscillate between 1 and 3 Hz, although sometimes they can reach 4 Hz. They are the characteristic waves of when we are asleep and were cataloged for the first time in 1930 thanks to Gray Walter.

They manifest mainly in stage 3 of sleep, and come to dominate almost the entire brain in stage 4 (see sleep phases). They originate in the thalamus or in the cortex and, according to the researchers, there are differences in production in terms of men and women (from 30-40 years, women produce more).

2. Theta brain waves

Theta brain waves are those that oscillate between 4 and 8 Hz. They are associated with stages 1 and 2 of sleep, so they develop when you are in a dreamy or even meditative state. These are not the only contexts in which you can develop theta waves, as they can also appear in front of automatic activities.

For example, when brushing your teeth, combing your hair and even doing sports (when it involves a repetitive, automatic movement and free of dangers or surprises). That is, those states that are right in the middle of the path of waking and reverie. Simply put, those things you do on autopilot.

3. Alpha brain waves

We begin to slowly put aside the waves associated with sleep and welcome those involved in wakefulness. Alpha brain waves are those that serve as a hinge. They range between 8 and 12 Hz. They appear when you are relaxed, but when you are still awake and in a situation of potential alertness.

They originate in the occipital lobe and, according to some researchers, are related to creative ideas or processes. You develop alpha waves when you quietly close your eyes and think of something relaxing. You are awake and attentive to an external stimulus, but at the same time disconnected enough to let yourself be carried away by your mind.

4. Beta brain waves

When being attentive in some work activity, it is normal for beta waves to appear more frequently.

They are types of brain waves that appear during wakefulness. They oscillate between 13 and 38 Hz and are related to states of full consciousness. When you are concentrating on something, developing some type of intellectual activity (reading, studying, building) or making a decision, you manifest these brain waves.

They are sometimes divided into three subtypes: beta 1, 2, and 3. For example, a person suffering from generalized anxiety disorder will develop an unusual number of beta 2 and 3 brain waves. so that they cannot be maintained for many hours without causing consequences (such as stress or fatigue).

5. Gamma brain waves

Lastly, we find the gamma brain waves. They are the fastest and the highest frequency. They oscillate between 39 and 42 Hz and are related to activation processes in different parts of the brain. They are thought to modulate perception and consciousness, although they are also developed in the face of very complex activities (solving mathematical puzzles, for example).

They are known to develop around 4-5 years of age and are associated with alertness or sensory stimulation (such as epilepsy). Apart from this, the function of these waves is unknown. Some think that they are a by-product, others that they involve more complex mechanisms that we do not yet know.

These are the 5 types of brain waves that you develop according to the context. As you can see, none of it is 0 Hz, since this is associated with brain death (since no electrical signals are produced). Although there is some controversy about it, it is believed that we can control brain waves through EEG feedback.

This type of treatment is still in experimentation, and the results must be assimilated with caution. Since some states or phases of brain waves are related to certain behaviors (anxiety, insomnia, attention deficit, hypervigilance, and so on) this is a productive field in which to explore.

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