The functional health and capacity of the brain can be measured by four metrics: voltage, speed, balance and synchrony. Voltage measures the intensity or amplitude of the electro-chemical signal in response to stimuli (external sensory perception or internal thought process). The “resting” membrane potential of a nerve cell is about -70 mV i.e. the cell interior is negative with respect to the external milieu. When the nerve cell fires an action potential this voltage typically increases to +30 mV, a total displacement of 100 mV. Speed determines how fast the brain process information, particularly sensory information. For 100 years, psychologist has been using “reaction time” to measure the speed of brain. A balanced brain generates brains’ electrical-chemical signals in a rhythmic flow, implying that the brain chemicals – the neurotransmission chemical systems are in balance, they are neither in excess nor in deficit. Synchrony is the combinations of different types of brain waves in different brain regions resonate and reinforce each other. Voltage and speed of the brain contribute to the efficiency in completing the cognitive tasks, better ability to focus attention, improved memory, faster and effortless in accomplishing tasks. Balance and synchrony keep one away from disorganized state of the mind – free of stress, anxiety, irritation.
There are 4 types of measurable brain waves each corresponding to one dominant state of the mind. EEG (electroencephalography) is the technique used to record and graph brain waves. The frequency of the brain waves (Hz i.e. cycles per second) determines the different types of brain waves and the speed it oscillates. Different mind states (from full alertness/intense cognitive activity to relaxed mind to deep rest) and behavior is associated with different brain wave patterns. Alpha wave is the range of brain wave with the speed of frequency between 8 – 12 Hz. Alpha wave is best observed when one ‘s mind is in relaxed mode and internal calmness. It is associated with wakeful relaxation. Stress and anxiety can interfere with this brain wave, de-harmonize Alpha wave. Beta wave is in the range of 12 – 40 Hz. Beta wave correlate with full alertness state of the mind – the fastest of the all the brain waves – and is best observed when one is performing intensive cognitive activities where attention and concentration is required. Theta waves travels at the rate of about 4 – 8 Hz, and are associated with extreme or deeply relaxed state of the mind – typically during deep meditation, hypnosis and is just below the surface of waking consciousness in between Alpha wave and Delta wave. Delta wave (1- 4 Hz) corresponds to the deep resting state of the mind, typically during sleep. When the brain transmits delta wave, deep restorative process and unconscious memory consolidation is going on. Research has shown that unconscious memory consolidation of delta wave contributes to the overall conscious memorization process during which beta wave is involved. Beta wave is the gateway to memory and cognitive activities, representing the most intense state of alertness and the result of intense mental activity of maximum mind power. All sensory info processing, logical thinking/reasoning, working memory are associated with beta wave.
How alpha wave and theta wave patterns or synchronizes with beta wave for memory encoding, consolidation and retrieval is less well documented. One research published on “Nature” by Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and California Institute of Technology suggests that when memory-related neurons (i.e. neurons activated during memory process) fire in sync with certain brain waves, the resulting image recognition and memories are stronger than if this synchronization does not occur. Synchronization is influenced by “theta”- a brain wave identifies the state of deep relaxation and drowsiness. Theta wave appears to be associated with memory and learning as well through synchronization. It is common sense that a relaxed mind is ready to receive new information better than a stressed mind. This state of mind has been implicated to allow the memory neurons to work together to enhance memory retention. Studies have also shown that learning in alpha state synchronization enhances the performance of students. It also develops the interest of studies.
The gamma brain wave is another type of brain wave with band of frequency of 30-100 Hz identified more recently. Increased gamma brain is implicated in the memory and cognitive activities believed to be associated with people with intelligence, strong memory, enhanced mental status, achievers in all fields. See this post (“What Is Gamma Brain Wave?”) for the unique properties of gamma brain wave and how it differs from other brain wave types and its role in cognition.
The next task is to dig into the root generator of all these brain waves by introducing the major chemical systems in the brain. There are 4 categories of brain chemistry systems that contribute to the electrochemical signal transmission pathways within the complex networks of neurons consisting of billions of nerve cells. Mind powers and brain health depend on the balance and coordination of the four chemical systems. Catecholamine system features the neurotransmitter dopamine. This system determines voltages and Is responsible for firing neurons transmitting primarily beta waves. Catecholamines primarily activate neurons in the frontal lobe where working memory is located. The anterior of the frontal lobe (prefrontal lobe) is important for memory, cognitive function and personality while the posterior of the frontal lobe consists of the premotor and motor area.
The cholinergic system consists of neurotransmitter acetylcholine. This system is associated with the speed of brain. Parietal lobe is the region of the brain produces acetylcholine. This is where sensory signals are perceived and being processed. Acetylcholine mediates/generates electrical signals with the frequency of alpha wave. A loss of acetylcholine would significantly decrease brain speed, resulting in disjointed thinking. In extreme cases, deficiency in acetylcholine is linked to the Alzheimer’s disease.
GABAergic system contains the hormone and neurotransmitter GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). This brain chemical is connected to electrical balance and synchrony. If affects stability and calmness of the mind. The part of the brain houses the GABA is the temporal lobes. Medial temporal lobes is the site where long term explicit memories are stored. Neurons in temporal lobes (for memory and language) produce chemical GABA and transmits theta brain waves. GABA system balances frontal lobe (dopamine and beta wave) with the parietal lobes (acetylcholine and alpha wave), coordinating and synchronizing the connection between thinking, movement, personality and behavior, balancing and stabilizing the brain.
Serotonergic system features the brain chemical serotonin. Serotonin is connected to synchrony. The Occipital lobes which controls visual memory storage also control brain’s ability to rest and resynchronize by producing chemical serotonin. The resulting brain wave from serotonin activated neuron is the Delta wave. Serotonin also affect the mood. An imbalance in serotonin is known to cause depression.
Brain chemicals system does not work by themselves, instead, their act synergistically for whole balanced brain function. Dopamine and acetylcholine turn on brain’s energy and speed while GABA and serotonin are the off switches that relax and balance the brain.
Brain wave synchronization is no longer a new technology. Mind machines, audio tapes, and other devices have been available around for years. Principles of the brain wave sync has been applied for enhancing cognitive functions. Products of brain sync technology on the market have been used for whole brain functionality improvement, for training or coordinating brain into one intended state of consciousness or alertness and for facilitating learning, memory improvement.