Retraining the Brain

The brain is a fabulously complex organ that controls every aspect of who we are and what we do, yet researchers believe we’ve only identified a small part of the brain’s full capabilities. As we continue to expand our knowledge of these abilities, we’re discovering new tools and techniques that allow us to make changes to the brain’s functioning to address conditions like anxiety and depression, or just general improvement in attention and function.

Training-your-brain-1Benefits of Retraining Your Brain

Brainwave retraining helps students improve their concentration, memory, and attention span. Others retrain their brain to manage stress more effectively, get better sleep, and improve their mood. Brainwave retraining can also be used as an add-on therapy to help treat clinical levels of depression, anxiety, and addiction.

Here’s an example of how retraining the brain works for anxiety. People with chronic anxiety experience persistently elevated levels of beta waves. Research has revealed that when these people listen to binaural beats in the alpha, delta, or theta frequencies, their levels of anxiety fall significantly. In these cases, brainwave entrainment mitigates anxiety by reducing the beta waves while simultaneously increasing alpha and theta waves, which encourage feelings of calmness and serenity.

Brainwave entrainment has also been found effective in addiction. In a 2005 study, 121 people with a mixed-drug substance abuse disorder learned to increase their levels of alpha and theta waves. A year later, 77 percent of the study participants remained drug-free.

Brainwaves Make Retraining the Brain Possible

The brain’s 100 billion nerves, called neurons, work by sending small electrical signals to each other. Neurons that are performing the same tasks at any one time tend to synchronize their sending and receiving of signals with each other, increasing the brain’s efficiency. This synchronization creates regular rhythmic patterns of electrical activity that can be measured.

These rhythms, referred to as brainwaves, are associated with similar brain functions and states of awareness. The most essential characteristic of brainwaves for brain retraining is that brainwaves will also synchronize to external stimuli. Using particular types of external stimuli allows a person to change their brainwave patterns from their current state to a more desirable pattern.

Brainwave entrainment (BWE) uses different kinds of sensory stimulation to help the brain shift from one brainwave pattern to another, more helpful pattern.

Neuroscience recognizes five brainwave patterns. These are the brainwaves we use in brain re-training.

  • Delta brainwaves (1 to 3 hertz). Delta waves are associated with deep sleep that’s dreamless, peaceful, and rejuvenating. Delta waves are the slowest brainwaves and are never seen when a person is awake. The delta state is necessary for healing injuries and fighting illness during sleep.
  • Theta brainwaves (4 to 7 hertz). Theta waves happen when we’re dozing between wakefulness and falling fully asleep, but they’re also present when we’re daydreaming. Theta waves develop when we’re feeling calm and serene but paying little or no attention to our surroundings. Common in meditation, theta waves are associated with the release of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, a chemical that slows neural activity and reduces stress by reducing beta waves.
  • Alpha waves (8 to 12 hertz). Alpha waves are the result of an alert and awake consciousness that is neither focused nor concentrating on any one thing. They occur when we’re observing our surroundings. Alpha waves are also present in meditation.
  • Beta (13 to 38 hertz). Our waking, alert and focused mind gives rise to beta waves. Beta waves are also prominent when we’re under stress, worried, or afraid. When our brains are in the higher levels of beta waves, we’re on the lookout for trouble. It’s a highly attentive state of alertness that takes a lot of energy and can become exhausting.
  • Gamma (39 to 42 hertz). The fastest brainwaves, gamma waves show up at our highest levels of concentration. Problem-solving and integrating many sources of information at once, to which some refer as “multitasking” results in production of gamma waves in different locations in the brain. We do our best concentrating and learning in the gamma state.

Gamma and beta waves help a person improve their mood, increase attention span, and improve their memory. Theta and delta waves can help a person get better sleep, while alpha waves are associated with a decrease in stress and anxiety.

Brain Retraining Methods

Brain retraining uses different kinds of sensory stimuli to help a person change their brainwaves. Auditory and electric stimuli are the most common of these.

Audio-visual entrainment (AVE). Audio-based brain retraining uses music tones called monaural and binaural beats to stimulate the brain and change its brainwaves, and can be synergized with light therapy.

  • Binaural Beats. Binaural beats are the most preferred form of audio entrainment. In binaural beats, a person wearing headphones is presented a single tone is played for each ear. The tones are close to each other in frequency, e.g., 300 and 320 hertz. The listener hears a 20-hertz tone, not a 300 hertz or the 320-hertz tone. This is a kind of auditory hallucination caused by the brain’s perceptual cortex, which determines how we interpret the information our senses collect for us. It’s this perceived 20-hertz tone that causes the brainwave shift. In this case, the 20-hertz beat would shift a person’s brainwaves to beta waves.
  • Monaural Beats. Monaural beats are produced when two similar tones like our 300 and 320-hertz examples are combined, then sent to each ear. Monaural and binaural beats have about the same results, with the only major difference being that monaural beats don’t require headphones.

Electrical Stimuli. Cranial Electrical Stimulation (CES) is a popular form of brainwave entrainment that’s been used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and depression. Many people also use CES to improve their performance at job tasks or to increase their well-being and happiness. In CES, a practitioner places electrodes on the eyelids, earlobes, or temples. Very low levels of direct electrical current are delivered—from 50 micro-amps to 4 milliamps.

CES has been used as an add-on therapy to treat insomnia, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression. In all cases, CES has produced measurable improvements. Researchers believe CES works by stimulating the facial nerves to signal the brain to shift its brainwave patterns.

The takeaway

Retraining the brain is a researched, effective method of improving the quality of a person’s life. Most techniques used in brainwave entrainment require no physician’s prescription and can be done at home. By using these techniques to manipulate the electrical activity of the brain, anyone can learn to more effectively manage unpleasant and unproductive psychological states like anxiety and depression.

Works Cited

  • Alipoor, A., Oraki, M., & Yazdian Sabet, M. (2014, April 29). Efficiency of brainwave entrainment by binaural beats in reducing anxiety. Journal of Kermanshah University of Medical Sciences.
  • Angres, D. H. (2016, July 8). Opiate Addiction: Treatment Perspectives. Rivermend Health Institute. Retrieved September 9th, 2021
  • Braboszcz C, Cahn BR, Levy J, Fernandez M, Delorme A (2017) Increased Gamma Brainwave Amplitude Compared to Control in Three Different Meditation Traditions. PLoS ONE 12(1): e0170647.
  • Bracciano, A. G., Chang, W. P., Kokesh, S., Martinez, A., Meier, M., and Moore, K. (2012). Cranial electrotherapy stimulation in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder: a pilot study of two military veterans. J. Neurother. 16, 60–69. doi: 10.1080/10874208.2012.650100
  • Brunyé, T. T., Patterson, J. E., Wooten, T., & Hussey, E. K. (1AD, January 1). A critical review of cranial electrotherapy stimulation for neuromodulation in clinical and non-clinical samples. Frontiers.
  • Chaieb, L., Wilpert, E. C., Reber, T. P., & Fell, J. (2015). Auditory beat stimulation and its effects on cognition and mood States. Frontiers in psychiatry, 6, 70.
  • Gunther, M., and Phillips, K. D. (2010). Cranial electrotherapy stimulation for the treatment of depression. J. Psychosoc. Nurs. Ment. Health Serv. 48, 37–42. doi: 10.3928/02793695-20100701-01
  • Scott, W. C., Kaiser, D., Othmer, S., & Sideroff, S. I. (2005). Effects of an EEG biofeedback protocol on a mixed substance abusing population. The American journal of drug and alcohol abuse, 31(3), 455–469.
  • Stark, Jeannette and Dörfel, Denise, "Fast and Effective Stress Relief in Women through Brainwave Entrainment Technology in Pandemics" (2021). ECIS 2021 Research Papers. 86.

Leave A Comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.