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A better way to get Beta

When we awaken from the delicious dream state of delta - the slowest brain wave frequency, we slowly move from our subconscious to our conscious mind entering theta state where we enjoy feeling deeply relaxed and unburdened by thoughts. As we start to stir and our brain activity increases, we enter alpha, a light conscious but deeply relaxed state. Finally we arrive at the faster frequency of beta state which is fully awakened, thinking, alert and ready for action. 

Before we had many distractions of iPads and mobile phones at our finger tips, the progression of our brain state from delta to beta would be at least 10 times slower. This allowed our brains to gradually and naturally pass through the various states whilst reaping the benefits of longer periods spent in theta and alpha state. Unfortunately now for so many of us, our waking-up process is so rushed due to busy schedules and our mobile phones on our bedside tables, that we're missing out on the two most beneficial brain states for our well-being. 

What's so important about the theta and alpha brain states?

Apart from the peaceful and satisfying feeling of waking up after a restful sleep, theta and alpha state reduce stress, anxiety, depression and even inflammation in the body. Studies have also shown that increased amounts of time in these brain states improves clarity of thought, intuition, creativity, verbal performance, memory recall, higher serotonin levels, increased immune system responses, relaxation and inner peace. 

Without realising it, reaching for our phones immediately after waking has two detrimental consequences. It exposes our eyes to blue light which stimulates melatonin production, a catalyst to the wake-up response causing our brains to fast-forward through theta and alpha state and enter beta unnaturally quickly. The second hit comes as we open up apps, emails and start scrolling and reading as this too activates the faster brain activity of beta state. 

To be clear, it's not that beta is a 'bad' brain state to be in, but by cutting short our exposure time to the prior highly beneficial brain states of theta and alpha, we're essentially going from delta to beta too quickly and unnaturally. This results in us not making the best use of our brain's capacity and missing out on many positive health effects as a consequence.

In a world where mental, emotional and physical health appear to be in dramatic decline, I think it's time to look at simple ways in which we can help ourselves to make better choices given the information that's available to us.

My personal advice would be to make a morning wake-up plan that doesn't involve looking at your phone / iPad first thing. On waking up, stretch, snuggle, listen to music, meditate, focus on your breathing, visualise the day ahead. Try to be screen free for at least 20 minutes giving your brain time to naturally move through each brain state and reach peak performance. If you wish to purposely extend your theta and alpha exposure time you can listen to binaural beats or meditate. 

For children's developing brains, I would limit iPads, mobiles and other screened devices for at least an hour after waking and place sensible limits on their daily screen time exposure. I strongly believe that both parents and children need to be made aware of the effects of using electronic devices in a way that they can understand so they can make healthier choices for themselves. Those of us adults that grew up without any brain-altering influences of electronic devices are the last generation to have experienced life with and without them so it's really down to us to act with caution and vigilance until we have a better idea of the short and long term consequences. 

Until then, will you go screen free on waking-up for a week to see how different you feel and function? report back.

© Word With Yourself 2024

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