For many people interested in brainwave entrainment and binaural beats, beta waves are what we are trying to avoid. However, beta waves are not inherently negative. Just like alpha, theta, delta, and gamma waves, the beta brain wave state is also essential to a fully functioning mind and body.
In this article, you will find some interesting facts about beta brainwave states. Even if you use brainwave entrainment and binaural beats to reduce beta activity, this information may give you a deeper understanding and appreciation of why beta brain waves are an essential part of a healthy, functioning mind.
Beta brain waves were the second type of distinct electrical activity observed in 1929 by Hans Berger, the discoverer of brain waves. Berger’s first discovery was alpha waves, and he named them after the first letter of the Greek alphabet.
As he continued his research, he became aware that beta waves were different from alpha waves and noticed that beta waves accompanied alert mental activity.
Initially, Berger considered all brainwaves above the alpha level to be beta waves. However, before long, he and other researchers determined that theta, delta, and gamma waves each corresponded to different states of awareness. Each brain wave type has a different function and outcome for our state of mind and level of consciousness.
Beta waves have low amplitude and happen in the frequency range of approximately 12 to 30 Hertz or cycles per second of oscillation. Beta activity sits just above the alpha frequency range, and the highest levels of beta overlap with gamma waves.
Beta waves are the most common types of electrical activity in our brains when we are awake. Beta waves accompany those times when we are alert, focused, and mentally active, including periods where we are:
- Talking and engaged in conversation
- Thinking logically and analytically
- Mental focus and concentration
- Learning new skills
Obviously, there are lots of times when we need this type of brain activity. Essentially, beta brainwaves are the type of electrical activity occurring in our brain when we experience normal, alert, and awake consciousness.
Different Types of Beta Wave Activity
Neuroscientists who study brainwaves with EEG machines and other technology distinguish between two different types of beta activity.
In one type, known as Rolandic beta rhythms, beta activity occurs in the sensory-motor area of the brain with a frequency of 20 Hz. This type of beta wave activity appears as a person prepares to move their body. It then disappears briefly as the person makes the action, returning shortly afterward.
Another type of beta activity is known as Frontal Beta Rhythms. This type of beta wave occurs in the frontal areas of the brain, where logical thinking happens. The amount of this type of beta activity varies depending on the difficulty level of the mental task the person is performing.
Low beta brainwaves are those between 12.5 to 21 Hz, overlapping slightly at the lowest range with alpha frequencies. Low beta is likely to be present as your mind moves from an alpha state during meditation or daydreaming toward thinking about something specific or engaging in an activity.
High beta activity ranges from about 20.5 to 32 Hz. High beta is what you find in a person who is intensely engaged in an absorbing task. For example, someone involved in a debate or argument is likely to be in a high beta state.
High beta brainwaves states are also associated with mental stress, anxiety, an inability to relax, and the ‘fight or flight’ response. If you have ever felt so wound up about something you could not get to sleep or stop thinking, you have experienced a high beta brain state.
Problems with Beta Brainwaves
Beta brain waves become a problem for us when we can’t get away from them and reach the relaxing and renewing brain waves of alpha, theta, and delta. When our brain stays too long in beta waves, the hemispheres become less synchronized. An excess of beta wave frequency can result in:
- Panic attacks
- Overthinking of problems
Studies of people who have stress disorders such as PTSD show abnormalities in brain wave activity, including beta waves.
Being stuck in the beta state activates our adrenal glands and produces an excess of the hormone cortisol.
When you have a genuine emergency, cortisol is your friend. This chemical gives you the energy and motivation to act quickly to avoid danger.
However, long-term stress can result in our brain and adrenal glands getting caught in a feedback loop. This vicious cycle results in an overproduction of cortisol, too much beta brain wave activity, and less synchronization between brain hemispheres.
Reasons for Stimulating Beta Brainwaves
Beta brain waves are the brain wave frequency needed for mental activity, critical thinking, problem-solving, and action. Most of the time, most people do not have a problem generating sufficient beta waves to engage in these types of activities. The opposite, too much beta activity, is more likely to be a problem.
However, if you are trying to study or focus on mental tasks and find it difficult, stimulating beta brain wave activity may help. You can do this by listening to binaural beats designed to induce brain wave frequencies in the range of 13 to 30 Hz.
Some neuroscience researchers have also discovered that people diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) have decreased beta brain wave activity. Based on this observation, these researchers suggest that training to increase beta waves may be helpful for people with ADHD.
For most of us, listening to binaural beats in the alpha, theta, or delta frequencies ranges is a safe and straightforward way of reducing excess beta waves. For some people, inducing beta waves with binaural beats or other techniques may help in achieving better mental focus and concentration.