Sleep / Waking / Awakening
Dr. Jeffrey D. Thompson, D.C., B.F.A.
is an active process, not just the absence of wakefulness. Many of the
brainwave states associated with different levels of sleep are also seen
in certain states of waking consciousness as well. Awakened levels of
consciousness are to waking consciousness as waking consciousness is to
with waking consciousness, the eyes are open and the brain is attending
to external information processing, dealing with ordinary world events,
talking, thinking, figuring, walking, driving, and generally doing
things. EEG patterns of the brain's electrical activity at these times
show rapid, rhythmic discharges of electrical activity from the neurons
of the brain.
discharges are not random, but exhibit regularity and rhythmicity. In
the case of the normal, externally directed attention described above,
the pulses of the rhythm of these electrical discharges from the brain
are rapid and of a low amplitude of electrical charge. In other words,
the electrical pattern that emerges during this type of externally
directed attention is rapid with a low power level.
speed of these discharges tend to always fall within a certain pulse
rate speed: 30 electrical discharges per second down to around 13
discharges per second - or cycles per second (cps), or more commonly
referred to as Hertz (Hz) after the scientist who did the originally
defining work on discovering these interesting little facts about the
pulsing discharges of brain cells during different states of
consciousness. He did this with a special, new measuring device called
an "Electroencephalograph" or "EEG". Electro: electrical activity,
Encephalo: pertaining to the brain, Graph: graphing the information as
pen-tracings on graph paper.
this first level of human consciousness we might term "waking"
consciousness, has brain cell electrical discharges that pulse in
rhythmic, sweeping waves of activity across the brain's surface between
13 and 30 Hz (or times per second). It's a brain dance of electricity
that sweeps across the brain in rhythmic waves. We call these rhythmic
electrical waves of the brain: "brainwaves".
who have explored this interesting dance of the electrical waves that
sweep across the brain, have noticed that different states of
consciousness always have a corresponding, associated dance of
electrical waves sweeping across the brain. They eventually cataloged
these pulses of electrical activity into four general categories: Beta,
Alpha, Theta and Delta.
love to name things with Greek letters and the like - it sounds more,
well, scientific. It just wouldn't sound right if you named them
logically in English - like A, B, C and D. They couldn't even get that
straight in Greek - B, A, T and D for Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta. As
we will see later, other researchers have seen other types of brainwave
activity (I'm one of those researchers!) which shows activity slower
than the slowest brainwaves recognized (that was my work) and faster
than the fastest brainwaves recognized and named them also after Greek
letters (I'm afraid I'm guilty here as well).
this more rapid 13-30 Hz pulsing of the brainwaves associated with
externally directed, linear thinking of the ordinary "waking state"
falls into the "Beta" category of brainwaves associated with 13-30 Hz.
a person turns their attention inward, or closes their eyes, the
electrical activity of the brain immediately changes. The electrical
discharges immediately slow down and become larger in amplitude, or have
more power. Consciousness has become slower, more stilled, and more
reflective. The rhythmic discharges of the brain cells slow down and
become larger in amplitude - have more power.
pulsing of the brainwaves at this time falls between 13 and 7 Hz and
are named "Alpha" brainwaves. This "Alpha" state of consciousness could
be looked upon as inner-directed, non-linear thinking. It is still a
mental state, an activity of the mental body, but inner directed - more
of a "pondering" function. The Beta state could be seen as looking at
the trees and the Alpha state as looking at the forest.
is the kind of electrical activity that shows up when you go to bed and
first close your eyes and begin to slowly drift down into yourself and
eventually into sleep. Sleep researchers have seen that volunteers
awakened from Alpha sleep have uniformly reported that they were not
asleep at all, but not awake either. They were in a "twilight" state of
consciousness in which their mind was open and focused on a larger
picture of things - the "forest" instead of the "trees," so to speak.
is interesting to notice that Zazen and Zen meditation practices show a
strong Alpha pattern of brainwaves appearing. In this case, whether
with eyes open or closed, the mind has been brought into a state of not
seeing what the eyes are looking at - the focus is on everything
simultaneously. If you keep your eyes open and go into a stare at a
single spot, the eyes accommodate to the stared-at object and soon cease
to see it - the mind and attention are elsewhere - internalized.
this moment, even though the eyes are open, the brainwave pattern
shifts from Beta to Alpha even though the eyes are still open. Once the
mind is no longer attending to the images entering the eyes from the
external world, the brain behaves exactly as if the eyes were closed and
the Beta brainwave function collapses and the Alpha function expands.
This is what happens in an "eyes open" meditation.
is an important, fleeting moment which usually gets passed over quickly
without notice when the brainwaves go from the slowest speed of Beta
and cross over into Alpha: the Beta/Alpha Bridge.
The Beta / Alpha Bridge
is not a state mentioned in the ordinary EEG literature, but it is
something I have noticed and begun working with and eventually named.
this is the first stage of sleep, when the eyes close and the Beta
function collapses and the Alpha function expands. When external,
linear, mental activity gives way to internal non-linear mental
activity. Brainwaves slow down, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure
and the body's general metabolism also slow down as well.
these processes slow down more and more, the Alpha brain frequencies
show slower brain electrical discharges at a higher amplitude.
a non-sleep state, this Beta/Alpha bridge state is the mental place the
brain goes to when it becomes hyper-efficient in dealing with the task
at hand, because it can focus on the details as well as the overall
scope of the problem or task at the same time.
In Beta/Alpha Bridge meditation states, the mind is perfectly poised between the inner and outer worlds.
the point when the brainwaves have slowed to the bottom of the Alpha
range of frequency discharge of brain cells, at around 7 - 8 Hz, the
brain goes into a completely new and different state: Theta.
Theta brainwave state is between 7 - 3.5 Hz and is the place where
dreaming takes place. When the brainwaves cross over from lowest Alpha
into upper Theta, this is the moment when sleep has really begun. There
are a number of unique things that take place at this moment both in the
brain, central nervous system and body.
portion of Theta sleep is the time in which dreaming sleep takes place.
During this time a crucial part of the brainstem, called the Reticular
Activating System (RAS) goes into a special function in which it
literally closes off the muscular control signals from the brain to the
body. The body becomes essentially paralyzed. Some stray electrical
discharges do trickle past which accounts for minor twitching of the
fingers and toes. It is also during the dreaming state that the eyes
move back and forth and around under the closed eyelids in what is
called Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REM Sleep). Occasionally, at the very
moment that the brain goes into the dreaming state, the RAS door has not
completely closed yet in the brainstem and a major brain signal gets
across and the body goes into a characteristic jerk for an instant. So,
during the whole period of Theta, dreaming sleep, the entire body is
essentially paralyzed and makes no movement. During Alpha sleep, on the
other hand, there is a lot of movement: punching the pillow, rolling
into different positions to get comfortable, adjusting the blankets,
reason the body saw fit to develop this intentional paralysis system of
the body during dreaming sleep, was to protect the unconscious body
from harming itself by physically acting out one's dreams. It is a
symptom of a disorder of the RAS area of the brainstem, in which the
door does not close at all the signals from the brain to the body, which
we call "Sleep Walking". Since the brainstem extends down from the
skull to the level of the second cervical vertebrae, Chiropractic-type
misalignments of the 1st and 2nd cervical vertebrae can put torque and
twist pressure on these very RAS brainstem areas and be a causative
factor in sleep walking.
the other hand, upper cervical misalignments which put pressure on the
RAS brainstem areas can also initiate nerve signals to the brain which
jump start the sleep program in the neural cortex - since the RAS area
is so intimately involved in coordinating this important area of sleep
each night. This condition is known as Narcolepsy, or the abnormal
falling asleep at inopportune times during the day at a moments notice.
Other factors in Narcolepsy have to do with fatigue of the cellular
energy system of the body - in particular the Mitochondria power house
organelles of the cells.
Theta portion of sleep is where the Emotional Body recuperates, heals
and "tunes" itself for the next day. There are various levels of dream
material which get processed during this time, some dreams are
superficial re-hashing of the day's events to clear them out, while
deeper Theta dream states are associated with the clearing of deep
emotional traumas - sometimes back to childhood. It is not so much what
people are saying in a dream, but the emotional scenario which one is
part of, that defines the Theta dreaming state as an emotional state.
is the ultimate creative exercise. You create an entire world, with all
your senses, place yourself in it so convincingly that you do not even
know you are in a dream while you are in it. That is creativity!
the non-sleep state, Theta is associated with intense creativity,
visualization ability, imagination and problem-solving. Some of the most
famous people in history have had their greatest moments of creative
achievement and problem-solving at night and in the middle of a dream -
they wake up with the full-blown answer.
meditation, the Theta state is associated with the classic "out of the
body" experience. One is no longer aware that one has a body. One is
transported to a beautific place with the "Master". In Christianity,
this was the place of Holy visitation, conversing with angels, meeting
with the saints, etc. In the Shamanistic traditions, this is the realm
of the Shamanic "Journey".
backtrack a bit: on the journey to Theta, we have a second important
crossover point in consciousness: The Alpha/Theta Bridge.
The Alpha / Theta Bridge
is the balance point between the Mental and Emotional bodies. It is the
place where our mental belief systems and our emotional states feed one
another. It is where we have the possibility of having non-attached
emotional awareness at a physical level. When the King and Queen rein
hand in hand in true partnership, the whole realm flowers and blossoms
The Theta / Delta Bridge
the Theta brainwave activity slows to the bottom-most frequencies of
Theta at around 3.5 Hz, dreaming stops and the brainwaves cross over
into Delta - the slowest and largest amplitude electrical activity of
the neurons of the cortex. At this crossover point in brain frequencies
lies the place where emotional imbalances, which express themselves in
the physical body, are balanced and healed.
the waking state, this is the place where the brain goes to access
long-term memory. Usually, when you can recall a name, you concentrate
harder - but this only increases the speed of brainwaves further into
Beta. Where the brainwaves need to go to get this memory information is
down to the Theta / Delta Bridge.
the sleep cycle reaches Delta, the RAS area of the brainstem releases
the constraints on the communication between the brain and the body's
muscles. However, the body still remains completely still and non-moving
through the whole period of Delta sleep. This is not because the body
is paralyzed by the RAS, but because the body is now in its most
quiescent, relaxed and stress-reduced state. As the brainwaves sink
deeper into slower and slower Delta brainwave patterns, the body goes
into the lowest blood pressure, respiration, heart rate, metabolism and
body temperature it experiences. This is the time at night in which the
body recuperates, heals and re-tunes itself for the next day. There are
no mental processes, no emotional processes and no sense of time. This
is the most difficult time to try to awaken a person sleeping.
In meditation states, this is the "Void" state or "White Light" state - a state of timeless suspension.
Ecstatic and Extraordinary States:
neurophysiology, until very recently, has recognized only the four
brainwave states mentioned so far: Beta, Alpha, Theta and Delta.
Recently new evidence has emerged of brainwave states above the highest
recognized brainwave frequencies of Beta (30 Hz). These higher-than Beta
frequencies are being called Gamma brainwaves. These Gamma brainwaves
resonate at around 40 Hz and seem to be associated with the function of
the brain which holographically synthesizes all the bits of individual
data from various areas of the brain and fuses them all together in a
higher point of view.
began to see evidence a number of years ago, that certain of my
patients were exhibiting slower-than-Delta brainwave activity. This
brainwave activity seemed to be associated with states of self
awareness, higher levels of insight and information, psychic abilities,
out of the body experiences, etc. Many EEG machines are not even set up
to measure frequencies outside the classic Beta-Alpha-Theta-Delta
ranges. Once I started looking more closely at this phenomenon, I saw
more and more evidence of it happening. Eventually, I named this new
region of brain activity and states of consciousness associated with it:
EPSILON (since this was the next Greek letter after Delta - and it
I came across references on the Internet from EEG researchers who were
noticing extremely high brainwave frequencies above Gamma, at up to 100
Hz. Interestingly, they were reporting that these states seemed to be
associated with states of self awareness, higher levels of insight and
information, psychic abilities, out of the body experiences, etc. -
word-for-word the same descriptions I was making for the Epsilon state
which was an extremely slower than Delta (below 0.5 Hz) set of
frequencies. I thought this was extraordinary in itself: that totally
opposite speed brainwave frequencies - some at 100 Hz and others at less
than 0.5 Hz - should have exactly the same states of consciousness
associated with them. Since these researchers did not seem to have come
up with a name for these high-range brain frequency states, I named
them: HyperGamma. Later information showed new evidence of frequencies
even higher than this, at almost 200 Hz. These I have named: Lambda
brainwave frequencies and states of consciousness.
later realization was that these HyperGamma / Lambda and my Epsilon
frequencies, must be linked together in a circular relationship -where,
if you looked with a magnifying glass at an extremely slow Epsilon brain
frequency, you would see hidden within it a modulation frequency of 100
- 200 Hz. This being so, if you were to stand back far enough from an
extremely fast 200 Hz brainwave frequency, you would see that is it
riding on the crest of a slow motion modulating wave of Epsilon.
believe it is this Epsilon state of consciousness which is the state
Yogi's go into when they achieve states of "suspended animation" - where
western medical doctors can perceive no heart beat, respiration or
pulse. I think that the HyperGamma and Lambda states of consciousness
are probably the states associated with the ability of certain sects of
Tibetan monks who can mediate in the Himalayan mountains in sub-zero
temperatures with scanty clothing and melt the snow all around them.
how are we to know that we are not just dreaming this experience we are
having right now? Pinch ourselves on the arm to wake up? I'm afraid it
would just be dream fingers pinching a dream arm and dreaming that the
pain was not a dream. Perhaps we might even dream that we woke up from
Copyright: 2000 - Dr. Jeffrey D. Thompson, D.C., B.F.A. - Center for Neuroacoustic Research