Sleep affects everything in our day to day life from decision making to performance at our job or on the field. It is necessary for our bodies and minds to reset, engaging in processes of recovery, leading to optimal physical and mental performance the following day. Everyone knows that lack of sleep leads to feeling slow, exhausted and foggy; but there is so much more than that changing in your neurology.
The two brain wave frequencies commonly referenced when talking about sleep are the Delta and Theta frequency bands. These are the slowest brain waves with Delta referring to 1-3 hz and Theta referring to 4-7 hz. Theta can be thought of as a restful or relaxed brain wave and proper levels are important to allow the mind to relax and transition. Delta is generally thought of as the big restorative brain wave, most active when an individual falls asleep, allowing the brain to slow down and require less energy.
Sleep can be broken down into four stages, each with important but different EEG morphology. There are three stages of Non-Rem sleep, or NREM, followed by the REM stage; but first lets start with a wake brain. When an “normal” individual is awake, there is a well defined peak amplitude at 10 hz alpha, right in the middle of the alpha range (8-12 hz). You can think of this as a healthy idle. The faster beta activity (13-30) is dominant as the mind thinks, processes and focuses. These alert faster waves are necessary to be present and engaged. But as the mind slows and prepares for sleep, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, shifting the mind and body into “rest and digest” mode, conserving energy for later and regulating other functions such as digestion. As the brain enters sleep in stage 1(N1), alpha activity slows, shifting to theta dominant with irregularly spaced out slow wave bursts. The brain then enters stage 2(N2), where we see the dominant theta become synchronous on both hemispheres of the brain. In stage 3(N3), or deep sleep, the body and mind relaxes further as the brain shifts to delta dominant and there is a decrease in EMG muscle tension. This extremely important stage is the recovery mode that is vital for total rejuvenation. Finally, as one enters REM stage we see the opposite happen, and the brain actually speeds up, with some presence of beta activity similar to when one is awake. This is where we experience most dreams, this stage is also important for our brains to process learning and store memories. These 4 stages can repeat themselves, but sustained, uninterrupted sleep is needed for the healthy progression, as each cycle can take 70 to 120 minutes.
So what does all this mean, and how can we utilise this knowledge to optimise our wakeful performance? This is a delicate cycle and an interruption to any normal stage can throw us into a negative loop. You can think of the frequencies as a scale that needs to be balanced or it will crash. While beta activity is great and lets us think and plan, if we are experiencing that beta at an inoptimal time, such as at night as were trying to go to bed, the mind will be overactive, making it near impossible to fall asleep. You may close your eyes and lay there, but your mind is racing, thinking about the day you just had and planning for the day upcoming. This is where we need to increase the slow wave end of the scale and lower the fast wave side to enter sleep. But what if someone struggles with staying asleep, even if it’s just waking up every 2-3 hours to use the bathroom? Each stage takes time and the brain progressively slows in stages N1-N3. If your mind and body do not have enough time to get to N3 because you keep waking up in N2 and starting over, then you will not reach that N3 restorative stage needed for rejuvenation. And if you cannot reach REM stage then the brain is unable to properly process and store memory. Meaning this should be taken into consideration the next time you’re planning on cramming for a test and pulling an all-nighter. If you’re studying all night and not allowing your mind the rest and time to store memories, then you will struggle trying to recall anything that you went over. The slow waves will be overactive during the day because of the lack of activation at night, impairing your decision making, causing you to feel mentally slow and physically exhausted. With the elevation on the slow wave side of the scale, it will impair the ability for beta activation, significantly impacting focus and recall.
At BiofeedbackWorks we specialise in neurofeedback training to optimise brain function. Through training your brian waves to the ideal pattern for you, we can promote healthy slowing to allow an individual to naturally fall asleep, diminishing those racing thoughts, and allowing you to have that restorative rest. We can promote alpha activity to reset an individual to a healthy idle and teach them how to manually activate the parasympathetic nervous system(rest and digest), allowing them to fall asleep faster and improve quality of sleep. We can even utilise biofeedback to diminish an individual’s need to use the bathroom as often throughout the night, giving them the opportunity to cycle through the necessary stages. Devices like Alpha-stim, Bellabee, and even Vielight all improve sleep and can be combined into a treatment regimen tailored to your specific needs. Speak with one of our experienced specialists today and discover how you can retake control over your sleep.
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