Dear Sasquatch: Are Alpha Waves Relaxing?
One of my teachers played music in our class that was supposed to increase the alpha waves in our brains. He said this would relax us and make us more creative. Since we were all lying down while listening, I admit that it was relaxing. I got a good nap in. Is it true that increasing our alpha waves can have these effects?
These conclusions are based on a confusion between correlation and causation. Because alpha waves (which are a particular frequency range of electrical activity in the brain) tend to be present when we are relaxed, such as during meditation, people have concluded that they somehow cause relaxation. But the evidence doesn’t support this.
Because alpha waves are related to a lack of visual processing, they will increase if you simply close your eyes. So you can be totally stressed out and close your eyes and your alpha waves will increase—even if you’re still anxious. Other claims about creativity, boosting the immune system, and so forth have even less plausibility, much less support, than the claims about relaxation. I’m guessing these came about from people believing that alpha waves decrease stress and thinking that must mean they also affect these other things.
They actually decrease when you’re sleeping, except during REM sleep, so odds are they increased when you first closed your eyes, then decreased during your nap. So the relaxation you felt afterward is more likely to be due to the effects of your nap than to the music’s effects on your alpha waves.
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