What Are Brainwaves?
The term brainwaves refers to a series of electrochemical impulses created by your brain. Your brain basically operates like a large battery. It uses a combination of specific chemicals and electrical impulses to create a pattern of communication between the cells in your brain. Brainwaves look different depending on what your brain is doing.
The more we study ADD/ADHD, the more we realize that the electrochemical process that we call brainwaves looks different in those who ultimately get labeled as ADD or ADHD.
In the past, we decided that this was a disorder and gave it a diagnosis.
More current research is finding that more and more people have brainwave processes that we have labeled as ADD or ADHD. Perhaps it is not a disorder, but a more advanced way of thinking that is preparing the human population for the changes that will be coming due to environmental and social circumstances.
How Brainwaves Are Measured
Brainwaves are measured by an Electroencephalogram, or EEG. A more specialized measure is called the Quantitative Electroencephalogram, or EEG-q.
Results from the EEG-q are presented as Z-scores, which are standard deviations from a sample of brain map recordings from databases of healthy individuals of a similar age. The Z-scores range from -3 to +3 based on the number of standard deviations from normal. The Z-scores are placed on brain maps and are color-coded according to the positive or negative deviation.
How Brainwaves Are Classified
Brainwave activity is separated into five categories depending on the speed or frequency of the movement repetitions per second. Here is a list of those five categories.
Delta. These brain waves are the slowest brainwaves and are present primarily during sleep or when in a non-aroused state.
Theta. Theta waves are present when we are daydreaming or fantasizing and are commonly associated with creativity and intuition. Interestingly, the lower range of Theta waves are present during the time between waking and sleep when we are feeling very calm, serene and in drifty states.
Alpha. These brainwaves are associated with a state of relaxation. Alpha waves will occur when our brains shift into a relaxed and disengaged or idle state. By closing our eyes and picturing something peaceful, we will quickly increase our Alpha brainwaves.
Beta. Beta waves are present when we are in a state of mental or intellectual activity and outward focus, like when we are thinking, problem-solving, processing information or feeling anxious.
Gamma. Gamma waves are the fastest measured brainwaves and are considered essential for information and sensory-binding. They are present during cognitive thought when the brain is processing and linking information from all parts of the brain.
At any given time, everyone has a mix of these brainwaves present in different parts of the brain. The important factor for psychologists is to make sure the brainwave activity is appropriate for the emotional state or cognitive function.
So, how does this relate to ADD/ADHD?
Higher ranges of Theta brainwaves are commonly found when we engage in complex, inwardly-focused problem solving – like doing math problems in our head.
Children and adults with ADHD will produce excessively lower frequency Theta waves, indicating that the brainwaves they are producing make it more difficult to engage in these complex, inward-focused tasks. They are more outwardly focused, more stimulated by things in the environment, and think more quickly, moving from one observation to the next with almost lightning speed.
So, how do we harness this amazing observational speed and match it to internal problem-solving? The answer is to increase the amount of time the brain is able to spend in Beta and Gamma wave time.
That will be the focus of future posts. So, see EAD for ADD Part 3 for more information on how the brain works and why brainwaves are important.