How brain waves work and can be activated – theta waves as frequencies of relaxation

Our brain creates electrical vibrations called brain waves. Depending on their rhythms, these waves are associated with different functions and states of consciousness. Theta waves play a crucial role in relaxation.

In the following you will find out:

  • which brainwaves there are and how they work.
  • how to measure and stimulate brain waves.
  • what theta waves in particular do in our body and how you can activate them.
  • how the Qi-Shield from Waveguard can support you in this and what the Fraunhofer IAO found out in a study.

Researching the brain waves

Brainwaves – discovered by Hans Berger about 100 years ago

In 1924, the neurologist and psychiatrist Hans Berger (1873–1941) discovered that there are brain waves. In one patient’s case, he was able to measure electrical activity from the cerebral cortex through an open area on the skull, essentially inventing the electroencephalogram (EEG).

EEG (electroencephalography)

The following physiological reactions can be measured using individual electrodes that are attached to appropriate parts of the body, such as the upper body or arms:

  • Cardiac activity (electrocardiogram, EKG)
  • Muscle activity (electromyogram, EMG)
  • Skin conductivity (electrodermal activity, EDA)

In these examination methods, the processing of emotions or disorder-relevant stimuli, as in anxiety patients, are in the foreground. In fear, for example, we can find an acceleration of the heartbeat, which is visible in the EKG, with which the electrical activities of all heart muscle fibers are measured.

The EMG is primarily used to record facial muscle activity through emotions. For example, lifting the upper lip is a typical sign of disgust.

The EDA measurement measures the activity of the sweat glands in the hand, which allows conclusions to be drawn about physical excitement such as strong emotions or stress.

Other research methods

The EEG examination is harmless, painless and takes about 20 minutes. The patient sits relaxed in an armchair and is occasionally asked to open or close their eyes. Several electrodes are attached to the scalp, registering and recording weak electrical activity of the brain through the skull bone. The electroencephalogram is the graphic representation of the brain waves. By evaluating these brain waves, it allows scientists to draw conclusions about brain diseases such as epilepsy, tumours, inflammation or circulatory disorders.

The rhythms of the brain waves correspond to different activities and states of consciousness (Srimaharaj 2018):

  • Gamma waves have frequencies between 30-100 cycles per second. The rapid brain waves take part fast processes in the brain system such as bodily movement and are also important for learning and information processing.
  • Beta waves have frequencies between 12.5-30 cycles per second. These very fast brain waves are involved in the five senses and are increased by cognitive activity.
  • Alpha waves oscillate more slowly, with frequencies between 7.5-12 cycles per second. These slow brain waves are active in the normal waking state, relaxation state and some forms of meditation. Alpha waves are also associated with creativity and enhanced learning, and the gap between the waking and sleeping states.
  • Theta waves have frequencies between 4-7.5 cycles per second, and are associated with daydreaming, light sleep and the brain’s default mode network activity: the natural brain state when the mind is at rest.
  • Delta waves are the slowest brain waves, with frequencies between 0.5-4 cycles per second. Delta waves are associated with deep, dreamless sleep and the unconscious state. Important restoration and healing processes occur in during sleep when delta waves are enhanced.

ECT – oldest method of brain stimulation

Brain waves can not only be measured, but also influenced. For instance, it can have a positive effect on neurological diseases such as depression, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) is the oldest method of brain stimulation. Depressive and schizophrenic patients were treated with it as early as the 1930s. Studies show that ECT has an antidepressant effect in more than half of the patients who do not respond or hardly respond to medication. It is particularly helpful in patients in whom no external factor for the depression can be determined.

But what exactly happens when ECT is used repeatedly in the brain is unclear. A positive effect is an improved connection and communication between the brain areas, for which brain waves play an important role. Nerve cells interconnect and vibrate together. The same rhythmic patterns can then also be recognized in distant areas of the brain.

Theta waves

Theta waves, theta activity, theta rhythm, E theta waves, outdated term intermediate waves, are rhythmic fluctuations in the electrical brain activity derived from the scalp.

These brain waves are rarely found in the normal resting electroencephalogram in an adult. They can be found during sleep in infancy and toddler age. The brains of adults produce theta waves in the falling asleep phase (sleep stages I and II), during hypnosis, when half asleep or in trance states. Shamans all over the world drum in this rhythm to lead the audience into an altered state of consciousness. Certain music that works with so-called solfeggio frequencies is also said to stimulate relaxation.

In very old people and dementia patients, resting activity can again be characterized by theta waves.

Frontal Theta Brain wave Changes with Qi-Shield

Fraunhofer IAO study – content and results

Waveguard GmbH has performed a large-scale double-blinded controlled study on the effects of the Qi-Shield from September 2020 to April 2021 at Fraunhofer IAO, Stuttgart. The objective of the Project was to systematically test for effects of the device on the well-being of consumers after a time exposure of seven days.

This study controlled for the placebo effect by giving half of the subjects ‘sham’ devices that appear identical to an active Qi-Shield, but are not configured to produce any biological effects. While no changes in subjective well-being measures were observed, there was a significant increase in theta-wave brainwave power in the frontal brain areas for subjects who used the active Qi-Shield device for one week. No such changes occurred in the group who received the inactivated sham devices.

Effects of theta waves in the frontal brain

Theta-band power is the amount of electrical activity in the brain oscillating between approximately 4-8 cycles per second. Frontal theta activity, in the forebrain, is correlated with cognitive control (Cavanagh 2014), working memory (Itthipuripat 2013) and mindfulness meditation (Tang 2019). Theta-band power has also been associated with increased sleepiness (Hinterberger 2014) and is increased in several forms of meditation (Lee 2018).

Frontal theta-band power is also an index of the brain’s Default Mode Network (DMN) activity – the activity in the brain while at rest, not attending to any specific tasks (Scheeringa et al., 2008):

The DMN is an intrinsically correlated network of brain regions that is regularly observed to deactivate during attention demanding cognitive tasks. Activation of this network has recently been linked to stimulus- independent thought, or in other words, mind-wandering (Mason et al., 2007). A negative correlation of frontal theta power with the DMN therefore suggests that frontal theta activity can be used as an index of DMN activity, at least in the resting state condition.

Increased frontal theta power indicates:

  • reduced activity in the DMN,
  • less spurious activity in the brain’s natural resting state,
  • higher subjective well-being and
  • resilience (Shi 2018, Miyagi 2020).

In contrast, enhanced DMN is involved in sustained heightened alertness (hypervigilance) and hyperarousal, and may indicate reduced well-being (Shi et al., 2018).

Waveguard is presently planning a follow-on study to confirm and further explore these exciting findings.

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References

Web

Literature

  • Cavanagh JF, Frank MJ. Frontal theta as a mechanism for cognitive control. Trends Cogn Sci. 2014;18(8):414-421.
  • Hinterberger T, Schmidt S, Kamei T, Walach H. Decreased electrophysiological activity represents the conscious state of emptiness in meditation. Front Psychol. 2014;5:99.
  • Itthipuripat S, Wessel JR, Aron AR. Frontal theta is a signature of successful working memory manipulation. Exp Brain Res. 2013;224(2):255-262.
  • Lee DJ, Kulubya E, Goldin P, Goodarzi A, Girgis F. Review of the Neural Oscillations Underlying Meditation. Front Neurosci. 2018;12:178.
  • Mason MF, Norton MI, Van Horn JD, Wegner DM, Grafton ST, Macrae CN. Wandering minds: the default network and stimulus-independent thought. Science. 2007;315(5810):393-395.
  • Miyagi, T., Oishi, N., Kobayashi, K. et al. Psychological resilience is correlated with dynamic changes in functional connectivity within the default mode network during a cognitive task. Sci Rep. 2020;10:17760.
  • Scheeringa R, Bastiaansen MC, Petersson KM, Oostenveld R, Norris DG, Hagoort P. Frontal theta EEG activity correlates negatively with the default mode network in resting state. Int J Psychophysiol. 2008;67(3):242-251. doi:10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2007.05.017
  • Shi L, Sun J, Wu X, et al. Brain networks of happiness: dynamic functional connectivity among the default, cognitive and salience networks relates to subjective well-being. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2018;13(8):851-862.
  • Srimaharaj, Wanus & Chaisricharoen, Roungsan & Chaising, Supansa & Sittiprapaporn, Phakkharawat. (2018). Classification of human brain attention focused on meditation, effected by L-theanine acid in Oolong tea. 262-266.
  • Tang YY, Tang R, Rothbart MK, Posner MI. Frontal theta activity and white matter plasticity following mindfulness meditation. Curr Opin Psychol. 2019;28:294-297.
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