The best brainwaves to use while studying are the Alpha waves and/or Beta waves. Alpha waves help to put you into a relax state, this helps you absorb the information you are studying. Beta waves help you to concentrate and stay alert.
Gamma waves are also very beneficial to studying providing focus and memory binding effects however it has been shown to cause stress and anxiety if too much is produced in the brain
How studying effects the brain
When studying, the goal is to gain mastery of the topic or subject, whereas reading might not be for any specific purpose. When studying, the brain does a lot of work from controlling motor functions to creating neurons that are connected in a way that stores knowledge.
- The cerebellum of the brain controls motor functions e.g. blinking of the eyes, respiration, heart rate, etc.
- The occipital lobes of the brain control the images and letters we see, and then connects this information to the information you have stored in your memory.
- The temporal lobes help in creating and recalling memory and other information that has been stored. This is why, for example, when you see an image or a word, you may remember something from your childhood or an event from your past.
- The cerebrum is the most active part of the brain involved in studying. The cerebrum creates a sync between information gained, and then goes on to store it. The cerebrum is considered the seat of intellect. It is the cerebrum that helps you think and carry out most other cognitive functions.
All of these processes and patterns are transmitted through the brain (and to the corresponding parts of the body) through neurons. The neurons transmit information through signals at different frequencies. These signals are called brainwaves. Brainwaves are the synchronized forms of communication between neurons. They are electrical signals that help the neurons identify and carry out a specific function. Waves can be classified according to their frequency, and brainwaves are no different. Brainwaves are grouped from slowest (waves with a lower frequency) to those with a higher frequency (considered to be fast) and they include;
- Delta waves; these are the slowest brainwaves with a frequency of 1-3Hz. Delta waves are produced during sleep.
- Theta brainwaves; which have a frequency of 4-7Hz. When you daydream, you are most likely producing theta waves.
- Alpha brainwaves; sits next to theta waves in terms of frequency. Alpha brainwaves measure 8-12Hz in frequency, and are put to use in states of relaxation.
- Beta brainwaves; the wave state of intellectual activity. When you are alert and concentrating on a particular task, your brain produces beta brainwaves. Beta brainwaves have a frequency of 13-38Hz.
- Gamma brainwaves; these are the fastest of all the brainwaves with a frequency of 39-42Hz. Perceptive states as well as states of consciousness produce gamma brainwaves.
Now, do not think that each brainwave group is produced in its respective state? How do I mean? Do not assume that your brain only “has” alpha brainwaves when you sleep. All groups of brainwaves are present in the brain. It is just that one type of brainwave becomes dominant in a particular state.
Why alpha waves are good for studying?
I did not start with delta brainwaves because it is impossible to study while sleeping. Alpha waves are the brain waves that are dominant when you are meditating or resting. These waves are usually produced when you wake up, moving past the beta brainwave phase. Alpha waves are important in studying for a number of reasons;
Alpha waves can boost creativity
When studying a particular subject, you need to be creative. This is because applying creativity in your study will help you save time while you focus on a subject. In this manner, alpha waves can be useful for studying. Also, creative studying makes your study period fun. This way, you rarely forget the information you gather. Studying in a creative way also makes your study environment easily relatable. Studies have shown that alpha waves can enhance creativity levels significantly.
Alpha waves reduce stress
Alpha waves are produced during relaxation, causing a decrease in stress levels. When this happens, you feel calmer. This might not be much of an advantage until you understand how detrimental it is to study under stress. Increased stress levels are bad for your health. They can cause heart diseases (like hypertension, high blood pressure, etc.), and affect mood and behavior. Your immune system can also be adversely affected due to elevated stress levels. Stress can also impede your level of concentration when studying.
As studies have shown, stress reduces the size and volume of brain cells. This makes cognition and learning difficult and slow. Your memory strength also reduces when you are stressed. This is why it is important to study when you are relaxed and calm. When you are relaxed, you are able to think and focus clearly, as well as recall easily and quickly too. This is why alpha waves are considered great for studying.
Alpha waves improve attention
A major advantage alpha waves confers on studying is its ability to increase attention span. Studies have shown that the parietal cortex of the cerebrum in the brain gets stronger when there is a production of alpha waves. The parietal cortex of the brain is the area responsible for connecting the different information the brain receives from sources like sound, sight and touch. These studies showed that it is possible to control alpha brainwaves, and this in turn controls attention span.
This attention span gets enhanced for a longer time due to the ability to manipulate alpha waves. Its job is beyond just attention. Alpha waves also influence and enhance visual response between the eyes and the brain.
Alpha waves also help in conscious learning
Conscious learning is the process of learning in a state of total awareness, thinking about what you are learning, and trying to memorize and recall what you have learnt. It is also called Active Learning or Explicit Learning. Alpha waves create a stronger connection between conscious learning and unconscious learning.
When you are learning actively, there is the need for the brain to process and store the information easily. This method of processing and storing information by the brain is done unconsciously. In fact, only less than 20% of the processing activities of the brain is done on a conscious level. This is why alpha waves are extremely useful for studying.
As much as alpha waves improve attention, they also improve assimilation and memory retention. After studying, a good way to assess the knowledge you have gained is by trying to remember what you have learnt. This comes easy when you study in the alpha brainwave state. Alpha waves help you learn, store the information and also make memory retention easy. Studies have shown an improvement in memory retention when alpha waves are produced.
Alpha waves are synonymous to relaxation. Thus, they are useful not just during studying but also after studying.
Why gamma waves can be good and bad for studying?
Gamma waves are the fastest brain waves with the shortest amplitude. These waves indicate that an individual is at a high level of consciousness, concentration and perception. They are produced when the brain is learning, processing and storing information. When you are concentrating hard and trying to create solutions to a problem, you brain is most likely producing gamma waves and operating more actively within the wavelength. Gamma waves are very good for studying for the following reasons;
Gamma waves improve learning and cognitive abilities, especially in children. Gamma waves create stronger connections between neurons, which makes it easier to learn. The amount of gamma waves produced when you’re learning increases, especially at a state of peak concentration. Studies show that people with learning difficulties and other impairments that are mentally related may not produce a high amount of gamma waves. During learning, information that is seen (or heard) is transmitted to the brain and then turned into information that can be used. This is the function of gamma waves in the brain. A study carried out on children concluded that gamma waves had a function to play in both learning and language skills.
Focus and Perception
Gamma waves make the brain feel “alive”. In this state, the brain is able to grasp information very fast, and in an accurate manner. Gamma waves sort of “activate” the processing capacity of the brain. When the brain is in the gamma wave state, it processes information very quickly and stores it for future use.
IQ and Memory Binding
Gamma waves move from the front to the back of the brain at a relatively fast speed. This is why neural connections within and between the hemispheres of the brain become stronger when gamma waves are produced. In such a state, all senses (visual, auditory and olfactory) become much heightened. These sensory connections are also linked to the brain, connecting information from many parts of the brain. As this goes on, the brain is actively storing and retrieving information.
This information is then packed as memories in a process known as memory binding. That’s why individuals with high amount of gamma waves are considered to be exceptionally intelligent. They also have a relatively high Intelligent Quotient (IQ) compared to others.
- Gamma waves also improve creativity.
- Gamma waves help in the development of certain parts of the brain. The prefrontal cortex of the brain is usually the last part of the brain to develop (because the brain grows from back to front) and the extent of gamma wave activity in the brain shows the rate and extent of brain development (especially in children).
Negatives to Gamma Waves
As much as there are a lot of advantages to gamma waves and their effects on studying, there are also downsides. When gamma waves are produced too frequently, there is a high chance of anxiety and stress. This might be a little confusing as gamma waves are produced during meditation and peak concentration. Dopamine is released during gamma wave production and vice versa. Therefore, frequent production of gamma waves can lead to high amounts of dopamine in the body. This will lead to a range of diseases and conditions such as anxiety, insomnia, stress, etc.
Extreme levels of gamma wave production can lead to mental disorders such as Schizophrenia and Mania. On the other hand, infrequent production of gamma waves in the brain can also be detrimental. This usually leads to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), depression, as well as cognitive disabilities. Here is why you should strive to maintain a balance with the production of gamma brainwaves, even with all the obvious advantages that gamma brainwaves confer.
Are beta waves good for studying?
Another class of brainwaves that could be looked at with respect to its usefulness in studying is Beta Brainwaves. Beta waves are the brainwaves produced when an individual is active and awake. Beta brainwaves are next to Gamma waves in terms of frequency. Whenever you are consciously learning or actively concentrating, you are in a beta state. When you are attentive and in a critical thinking mode, your brain is most likely producing beta waves. Beta brainwaves are also classified into 3 categories (also according to the frequency), which include;
This brainwave is also known as Lo-Beta wave and it oscillates at a frequency between 12 and 15Hz. Beta-1 wave is produced during quiet thinking and inward concentration.
Also known as Mid-Beta wave, this brainwave has a frequency of 15 to 22Hz and is produced when there is a high performance. Beta-2 are also produced with increased energy and engagement.
This wave is also called Hi-Beta and oscillates between 22 and 38Hz. It is the closest to the gamma wave frequency, and is produced during complex thinking.
Beta waves are good for studying in the following ways:
Reading and Memorizing
Whenever you study, there is a level of consciousness that is involved. In fact, the very act of taking a decision of the particular topic to study takes a conscious effort. Beta waves are indicated during reading. Active studying is the process by which you customize what you have learnt in such a way that it becomes unique to you alone. This happens when you use the information you have learnt from studying to relate with happenings around, create examples that help, and that you can remember easily, etc. This process is only effective due to beta waves.
Memorizing in itself is a conscious act. This is because while studying, the brain is working (unconsciously) to process and store the information. But you will not know how much you have learnt (and stored) if you do not memorize what is being studied. Memorizing helps you commit what you have learnt to mind such that you can accurately recall the piece of information.
Just like Gamma brainwaves, beta waves also help increase focus. When you concentrate actively while studying, your brain produces beta waves. The production of beta waves then helps improve focus and aid with so many other cognitive activities. This will help you concentrate, thus improving your study. Research shows that concentration and immersion improve with an increase in beta waves.
Preventing learning disabilities
Scientists have also been able to show that beta waves prevent learning and psychiatric disorders such as ADHD. This is because beta brainwaves are used to indicate (and measure) alertness, focus and concentration. Active learning and active thinking produce much more beta waves, which help keep the brain in optimal shape and prevent psychiatric disorders. As proof, research has shown that children with learning deficits have a low level of beta wave activity.
A brilliant advantage of beta brainwaves is that it enables the brain control memory. Beta brainwaves help the brain switch information easily. This is why when studying, you might see a word or image that will make you remember something you know. This is because the brain filters the information you are learning, brings forward a memory and links them together using beta brain waves. The brain can also move from one thought to another with the help of beta waves. Memory control also helps you prevent distraction which is very important when studying.
Negatives of Beta waves
As useful as beta waves are to the brain, using beta waves at a continuous rate can cause a lot of harm as well. Beta waves of high frequency (especially Beta-3 group) can take its toll on the brain, expending a lot of energy. This can lead to stress, fatigue, anxiety, and paranoia.
Why theta waves are not good for studying
Theta waves are next to delta waves in terms of frequency and are produced during daydreaming and light sleep. You have to be in a relaxed, almost sleepy state to produce theta waves. Theta waves are also produced when you are learning unconsciously or carrying out an unconscious act. For example, activities like brushing the teeth, riding a bike, or even driving are first learned; but soon, they can be carried out with some level of sub consciousness that they feel automatic. Theta waves help to reduce stress and anxiety, and improve creativity as well as intuition. Any activity you carry out in the theta state helps you relax. However, theta waves might not be useful in studying for a number of reasons:
Theta waves might slow you down
Due to the relaxed state theta waves produce, you might feel sleepy and inactive. This can leave you feeling disorganized and your studying becomes slow.
If daydreaming happens while studying, it tends to take a long time to snap out of the daydream and shift focus back to the study. This means that the time one would have used to study will be spent on something else or nothing at all.
Theta waves prevent active studying.
Implicit learning is useful for grooming habits, but not for studying. Inasmuch as the brain works unconsciously to store what is studied, it is still very important that studying should be done actively. This will help improve focus and create an environment that makes it easy to recall what was studied. And that cannot be done in the theta phase.
Distraction and Loss of Concentration
There is a relative amount of concentration when an individual is in the other brain wave states (except the delta-sleeping wave state) compared to theta wave state. Studies show that there is a significant decrease in concentration levels in the theta wave state.
Studying in the theta wave state makes active recall hard
The brain is always working to process and store information, even during daydreaming. This is not an advantage when studying because it is important to practice active recall when studying. This helps you retrieve information that was stored in the memory during study. Active recall also helps measure the efficiency of your study. But if information is stored during the theta wave state, it is most likely stored as “automated” or subconscious information. It is usually difficult to recall such information.
There are advantages of theta waves as they improve emotion, intuition and creativity. However, these advantages have little or no effect on studying.
How you should use brainwave entrainment for the best results
You may ask, what is “brainwave entrainment”? Brainwave entrainment is the stimulation of the brain to enter a particular brainwave frequency other than its dominant brainwave at a particular time. This can be done through electromagnetic fields, sound and light. The most popular type of brainwave entrainment is done using sound. The sound is played at a steady frequency for a period of time till the brain is stimulated to produce waves at the same frequency as the entrainment sound. The sound is also played in a pulsating form at a particular volume.
This is especially important in brainwave entrainment using sound as leaving the sound at a high volume for a long time can cause hearing loss. Brainwave entrainment is seen as a form of “supercharge” or “relaxation” of the brain. It can be done in all forms of brainwaves, as it helps to maximize the inherent benefits of all types of waves. Some of these benefits include;
- Brainwave entrainment at the Delta wave state can cause deep sleep
This type of entrainment also improves the quality of sleep, and may not seem important until you realize the benefits of sleep and how it improves studying. Research shows that sleep helps in memory retention, concentration and improved academic performance. Sleep is also a mechanism with which the brain rests and filters information that has been processed. This is why it is easier to focus and study when you are well rested.
- At the Theta brainwave state, the brain learns faster
This is why brainwave entrainment at the theta wave state can improve learning. Theta waves not only enhance learning, but also improve memory.
- Brainwave entrainment at the alpha wave state helps you relax
After studying for a period of time, the brain might feel saturated. In fact, you will probably agree that you have once studied to a point that you felt like if you looked at another page, your head would explode. That was your body giving you a signal that it was stressed and you needed to rest. Using brainwave entrainment to attain the alpha state helps you reduce such stress levels.
- Beta wave states help the brain improve creativity and alertness
Being alert helps you when studying in that it improves concentration during active studying. Brainwave entrainment at the beta wave state helps sharpen focus. Studies have even shown that the effects of brainwave entrainment are significantly noticed in learning. The effects are even sometimes evident in behavior.
- Brainwave entrainment at the Gamma wave state is considered a “fast charge” of the brain
Gamma waves improve brain power in terms of memory retention, recall, processing of information and communication between the parts of the brain.
One thing is certain; no matter the frequency or type of brainwave entrainment, there are more advantages of brain entrainment than disadvantages. Brain entrainment also improves mood, prevents psychiatric disorders, and ensures overall brain function among others. If you want to learn more about brainwave entrainment check out this post for more information
Should you listen to brainwave entrainment before or after studying?
Is there a right time to use brainwave entrainment in relation to studying? Should you listen before or after (or even during) studying? To answer this question, you need to identify (and understand) what works for you. But there are general principles of brainwave entrainment that you can use.
Theta brain waves help in relaxing the body. You might feel slow and sleepy when your brain produces theta waves. It is therefore advisable that you practice theta brainwave entrainment after studying, because you might fall asleep.
Beta waves and alpha waves, on the other hand, help memory retention and concentration. They also help reduce stress levels. You can, therefore, listen to beta and alpha brainwave sound while studying. This will make studying easier and more effective for you.
You can practice gamma brainwave entrainment at any point of your study because gamma waves help your brain function at an optimum level. You will process and recall information at a faster pace with gamma waves. Like stated earlier in the post remember that too much gamma can increase anxiety and stress
One thing you must not do before studying is listen to delta waves. You will fall into a deep sleep, which usually takes a while, thus hampering your study period. But you can practice delta brainwave entrainment after studying, to help you fall into deep sleep and rejuvenate your brain (and your body as well).
In conclusion, alpha, beta and gamma waves are ideal and efficient for studying. There are a lot of studies to back this up. Do not forget that balance and moderation are important, as staying on a particular brainwave frequency for too long can have damaging effects.