Best Brain Waves for Learning

Have you ever struggled to get into the right headspace for learning?

Perhaps you feel a little muddled, and have trouble remembering what you’re learning.

Perhaps you’re stressed or anxious because of your workload or because of an approaching test or due date, and this makes it even harder for you to learn.

When you’re experiencing stress, anxiety, fear, or nerves, it disrupts your brain’s ability to learn and create memories effectively.

You might blank out or forget things or feel too overwhelmed and panicky to concentrate on what you need to learn.

A side-effect of anxiety and stress is brain fog, which causes your mind to feel cloudy, and makes it really tough to focus on work or learning and staying productive.

Fortunately, with the right strategies, you can switch yourself out of this fight-or-flight response mode – by shifting yourself into your alpha brain wave state.

Out of the four brain wave states – alpha, beta, theta, and gamma – your alpha brain wave states put you in the ideal headspace for learning.

You know how you feel clear-headed, calm but alert, when you wake up after a good night’s rest? This is your alpha brain wave state – you’re awake and focused, but also relaxed.

This state of mind eases away the reactive confusion of worry, stress, nerves and anxiety – and here’s how you can accomplish it, in a matter of minutes.

Table of Contents

1. Make Sure You’re Getting Quality Sleep

2. Get Your Caffeine Fix from Green Tea

3. Listen to Calming Music When You Work

4. Meditate with Focused Breathing

5. Take a Cold Shower

5 Ways to Activate Your Alpha Brain Wave State

1. Make Sure You’re Getting Quality Sleep

Best Brain Waves for LearningEarlier, you read about how waking up after a sound night of sleep puts you in the alpha brain wave state.

But what if you struggle with sleep at night?

In fact, not getting enough Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep might be one of the reasons you experience brain fog the following day.

Your brain’s amygdalae, which are small, almond-sized nuclei regulating your memory and negative emotions like anxiety, embarrassment, stress and fear, grow in size when you don’t get enough sleep.

Studies find that people who aren’t getting enough REM sleep therefore tend to be more responsive to negative emotions than those who get better sleep.

This means you’re more likely to be anxious or stressed, with your brain creating more of a waste product in your amygdalae that causes brain fog and interferes with your learning, focus and memory.

Not getting enough sleep also interferes with your hippocampus and neocortex’s activities of creating long-term memory.

When you’re in deep, slow-wave sleep, these parts of your brain stay active, going over what you learned during the day.

They make sense of this information, connecting it to what they already know and forecasting future events through it. They come up with new ideas and solutions to problems, and convert short-term memory to long-term memory.

When you don’t get enough sleep on the other hand, you’re more likely to forget what you learned the day before and overall perform more poorly in learning.

This can feed into the anxiety and stress you’re already feeling and make it even harder for you to learn and focus.

So how can you make sure you’re getting better sleep?

Cut Down on Blue Light

Best Brain Waves for LearningA lot of the devices you use, like your laptop, TV, and phone, and many ambient light sources like light bulbs and streetlamps, use blue light.

A bit of naturally occurring blue light, mixed in with other wavelengths of visible light (like the light rays that make up natural sunlight) is good for you.

However, after the sun goes down, the more you are exposed to artificial blue light, the more it can disrupt your sleep cycle, by slowing down your body’s production of the sleep hormone melatonin.

Typically, during the day, naturally occurring blue light keeps you alert and awake, in a good mood to get through your daily activities. After dark, though, because blue light reduces your melatonin levels, you end up struggling to get to sleep.

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The straightforward solution of course is to cut down on how much you use your devices a couple of hours before bedtime.

Switch out the lights in your home to more orange or red-toned bulbs for the evenings or use full-spectrum lighting which emulates natural daylight.

To protect your eyes from aggravating blue light from your screen, especially if you have to spend long hours looking at one for learning or work, you can use blue light blocking glasses.

Some options come with built-in UV protection and photochromatic lenses, which filter out blue light and make it easier for your eyes to focus on what’s on the screen, reducing visual strain.

Tinted glasses can also help. Yellow-tinted glasses are best during the day since they filter out the bad blue light (from your screens) while letting the good, natural blue light through. For night-time, red- or rose-tinted glasses are the best, since they completely filter out artificial blue light after dark.

2. Get Your Caffeine Fix from Green Tea

Best Brain Waves for LearningDo you rely on a cup of coffee in the mornings to help you feel alert and ready for learning?

The caffeine in coffee works to an extent in waking you up, because it interferes with the work of adenosine, a chemical messenger which makes you drowsy.

A cup of coffee can wake you up in just 15 minutes – but it can also stay in your system for up to 10 hours afterwards.

And because caffeine is addictive, and you end up drinking multiple cups through the day, not only can it make you jittery and worsen your feelings of anxiety and stress, but it can also mess up your sleep cycle.

Thankfully, there’s an alternative for your caffeine fix, which not only negates the caffeine jitters but can also help you get better sleep and shift into your alpha brain wave state – green tea.

Black and green teas, but especially green teas, contain an amino acid called l-theanine. This amino acid counters the effects of the caffeine in your drink while keeping you alert and calm.

L-theanine stimulates the production of brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, which make you feel focused, motivated and uplifted, reducing feelings of stress and anxiety.

It also helps you feel calmer and more relaxed, and studies find that l-theanine is a natural and safe way to shift into your alpha brain wave state, and the relaxing effect can even help you sleep better!

3. Listen to Calming Music When You Work

Best Brain Waves for LearningThere’s a long and growing body of scientific studies which show the magical effects music has on your brain.

Music can help activate many of the parts of your brain involved in learning and memory, boosting their cognitive and recall abilities.

Think about it this way – have you ever heard a piece of music that instantly helps you remember where you first heard it, what you were doing that day, what you were feeling, what you were wearing, who you were with?

Music activates several cognitive and emotional pathways of your brain at once and can help you create and access memories intuitively and naturally.

And the right sort of music can instantly place you in an alpha brain wave state!

Melodic, acoustic pieces without lyrics at 60 beats per minute (BPM) are the best music to help relax and calm you down while also keeping you alert and focused.

There are many instrumental pieces you can search up on YouTube and Spotify. I recommend creating a playlist or looping the same piece, so the switch from one song to the next doesn’t disrupt your state of concentration!

Listening to this type of soothing music while you work or learn is scientifically proven to speed up your learning and recall, and boost creativity!

4. Meditate with Focused Breathing

Best Brain Waves for LearningMeditation is one of the best ways of helping you enter your alpha brain wave state and reverse any feelings of anxiety and stress slowing your learning down.

When you’re feeling anxious or jittery, your body is reacting in a specific set of ways.

You can probably feel your heart beating really fast, your pulse rocketing, your breathing quick and shallow, your body tense, and more.

In this state of mind, because your fight-or-flight mode is activated, you can’t focus on learning and can blank out, making you panic even more.

When you’re feeling this way, your sympathetic nervous system is active. This system creates a circuit of the parts of your body reacting to your anxiety and stress.

However, these parts of your body are also part of your parasympathetic nervous system, and you can use this to your advantage.

Because breathing is the only part of this system you can control, when you slow your breathing down, it sends signals to the rest of your parasympathetic nervous system to reverse these effects.

First, breathing slowly and deeply stimulates your vagus nerve, your longest cranial nerve. This in turn sets off a chain reaction calming the rest of your body down – your heartbeat slows, your pulse becomes steadier, your muscles relax, and so on!

And yes, deep, slow and focused breathing switches you into your alpha wave brain state!

So, when you’re feeling anxious, overwhelmed and unable to concentrate – do this.

Sit up, shoulders straight, and breathe in deeply for 4 counts. Hold your breath for another 4 counts, and then breathe out deeply for 4 counts.

Do this several times – you’ll notice how your head feels clearer, and you feel calmer!

5. Take a Cold Shower

Best Brain Waves for LearningI know – that doesn’t sound very pleasant, does it?

But think about a time you jumped into a cold pool or into the sea at the beach. Or a time when you turned on your shower and received a blast of cold water because you didn’t check the temperature first.

After that initial shock, you probably felt as though your head was completely clear, right?

This is because contact with cold water makes your dopamine levels surge up. Dopamine helps regulate your motivation and focus!

It can help clear your head up, and relaxing in a nice, cooling shower once your body adjusts to the temperature can automatically shift you into your alpha brain wave state.

Another great advantage of cold showers is that it greatly reduces the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your system – so you leave your shower feeling much calmer and clearheaded, ready to learn!

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memory skills made easy

With these simple but effective ways to help put you in the ideal state for learning, you can now take control of your learning and memory whenever you start to feel stressed or anxious.

Which of these 5 tips are you going to try out first?

pat wymanPat Wyman is the CEO of and an internationally noted brain coach known as America’s Most Trusted Learning Expert.

Pat’s superpower is helping people learn, read and remember everything faster. She has helped over half a million people in schools and corporations such as Microsoft, Intel and Google improve their lives with her learning strategies, learning styles inventory and courses, such as Total Recall Learning™. 

Pat is the best-selling author of more than 15 books, a university instructor, mom and golden retriever lover!

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