Archive for 'Biofeedback / Neurotherapy'

Sleep and Relaxation

This is the first of a reader’s request series. Email me at [email protected] with suggestions for future articles.

Like most things relating to a complex creature, sleep and relaxation are not isolated things, but spreads on a spectrum. Quality of information on the matter is also on a spectrum – the following is my take on what’s good at the moment. No warranty expressed or implied.

The spectrum in terms of brain rhythms ranges from 0Hz (dead) through delta (sleep/coma/baby) to 4Hz, on through theta (dreamy, hypnogogic, inspired half-sleep) to 8Hz, alpha (relaxed aware) to 12Hz, SMR/beta (motion and mundane thought) to about 18Hz, and into creative consciousness, currently recognised to about 100Hz.

In a naturally ordered life, with activity, rest, feeding and sleep correctly aligned to the solar day, the needs of our animal are properly met. Sleep/depression problems increase with distance from the equator – the latitude at which our animal was optimised.

Since then we’ve not only moved to latitudes where the solar cycles are sub-optimal for our animal’s genetics, we’ve further confused our natural rhythms, and prevented proper acclimatisation to a changing environment, by operating 24/7 with artificial lighting, climate control and on-demand feeding. The body is deprived of triggers for the neurochemical processes that cause the body to go into relax and sleep modes.

One innate requirement for sleep or relaxation is a sense of security. This is where stress and anxiety come into the picture. If things aren’t right in your world, then your desire for sleep is conflicting with fight-or-flight chemistry – guess which wins!

So, what to do about it?

First, make sure everything else is right. Nutrition, exercise, life schedule and substance use all affect sleep. Unattended problems will persist. Obviously there’s some choices.

If you are not exposed to natural light for a reasonable part of most days, bright light is an excellent way to re-sync that part of the clock. A wake-up session with Audiostrobe at high brightness is a great way to start the day – open eye white or blue being best. A wake-up session accompanied by a natural dawn chorus and the rays of a rising sun is the ultimate.

Sleep corresponds with serotonin/melatonin conversion, which, in the wild, was a response to the reddening light of evening and the security of a fire after an exhausting day of outside work. Closed-eye red is correct for sleep session Audiostrobe. Settling of SMR (sensorimotor region) also happens best as night falls – the SMR region is responsible for keeping the body still during sleep (loosely referred to as “sleep paralysis”). 14Hz SMR an hour or two before the desired sleep time can help simulate dusk (Insomnia Help protocols).

Once down, you want to encourage delta activity as quickly as possible. Stepping down from alpha to delta in 3-4 minute steps works superbly. Ramps sound nicer, but steps tend to be followed. Sine shaped isochronic beats are suitable across the range. Binaurals can be good from low theta down, but their action is quite different to the direct stimulus of isochronic – my impression is that binaural is better suited to theta/delta meditation than sleep induction, the asymmetric structure stimulating higher consciousness is not desirable for sleep (a good robust delta meditation will always be accompanied by gamma activity). Monaural beats (a particular build of isochronic) are a good compromise between the bluntness of standard isochronic beats and the subtlety of binaurals. Some great effects can be created by building monaurals from tracks with different pitch waveforms (MWS).

What to do after first arriving at somewhere in the 1-2Hz range (low end introduces pain relief and healing/growth features – the high end is more psychologically recuperative) depends on whether you typically get there on the first pass. Repeated ramps down to delta from ever lower starting frequencies can be very helpful. Knowing that there’s a plan for any initial restlessness helps alleviate insomnia anxiety – maybe start with 10Hz alpha to delta in 2Hz steps of 2 minutes each, followed by 3 minute 1Hz steps from theta to delta, finally 4 minute 0.5Hz steps from high delta to the sleep target. Adapt the frequencies and timing to match your wake/sleep behaviours. Don’t forget to use the automatic step calculation in MWS! Stepping or ramping slowly up and down 0.25Hz each side of the sleep target frequency allows for individual variation. Random periods of 1-3 minutes at random beats in the target +-0.25Hz range also work well. If you don’t like the sound of steps, short ramps between steps are fine. Sleep induction sessions can be played while settling for sleep – if you’re a pre-sleep book reader or TV watcher you can have the session in the background to help you along. TV or computer use too close to bed time is not recommended if you have sleep problems – very stimulating and lots of blue light – yellow tinted glasses in the evening can reduce negative effects of artificial lighting on serotonin/melatonin conversion. A computer monitor illuminating the bedroom with NP3 or MWS Screen Flashing, screen out of direct sight, is a great way to enjoy the benefits of sleep-time Audiostrobe without glasses-tangle.

Relaxation begins when you close your eyes. At that moment there is a burst of 10Hz alpha, a release of serotonin, and the present frame of visual perception is flushed creating something of a “wait state”. Any beat in the theta/alpha range will be conventionally relaxing – the lower the frequency, the greater the likelihood of slipping into sleep and the greater the psychological benefit if awake. 10Hz is a natural for quick breaks and the perfect place to start from for relaxation/sleep sessions, as the process begins with that moment of closing eyes. The 7.8Hz Schumann Resonance, has an excellent reputation for deep relaxation. Alpha is the range of choice for alleviating stress and anxiety, so alpha relaxation is invaluable for stress induced insomnia.

If plain sleep or relaxation is the objective, the simplest session that sounds relaxing to you will be the most effective. Isochronic noise (noise with modulation or entrainment) is excellent and can be woven into natural noise sounds – modulated synthetic noise is more compelling than a modulated wind, water or rain track, but a well balanced blend can be almost as effective. Pure sleep/relaxation sessions are the hardest to improve. You’re not supposed to be engaged with sessions such as these – your consciousness is meant to be elsewhere. If you’re engaged in aesthetic critique, or being challenged by complex structures, you are using faculties that require beta – and that’s the end of sleep, and your relaxation has become a contemplation. The best way to improve a simple session is to fine tune the frequencies to your brain’s responses. GSR biofeedback uses skin conductivity as the indicator of stress/relaxation. EEG can provide specific numbers for personal optimisation, or provide automatic optimisations with MWS Bio-Optimization. Your own experience will tell you if you relaxed or slept better – however clever the session may be, if it doesn’t work, then something different needs to be tried. In deciding what’s working, be persistent but not stubborn – if a therapeutic-type session isn’t delivering after half a dozen fair attempts, it’s probably not going to without changes. Bio-Optimization with NP3 or MWS is an excellent tool for mapping your personal responses. The preset sessions included with NP3/MWS can be considered “reference designs” – with very few frills or aesthetic compromises, these sessions appropriately apply the most verified research. They’re a great basis for new sessions – delete every track other than the essential beats and then add your own extras – that way you will always have the scientific basis in place. The bare-beat versions are very convincing on an EEG.

Once “in the zone” other things can be introduced to the session to encourage other aspects of a state. For example, the addition of theta and gamma to a sleep session increases the likelihood of dreaming. Triggers, ranging from direct stimulus to verbal and psychological prompts can be used to encourage more specific modes of sleep, dreaming or contemplation/meditation.

Clearly there are many factors influencing an individual’s ability to relax or sleep. AVS/entrainment helps in three specific ways; it directly supports natural processes, it provides a habit that means “stop”, and it alleviates some of the hopelessness that comes with powerlessness over well-being.


Neuro-Programmer 3 release!

We are proud to introduce the long-awaited Neuro-Programmer 3!

In the last five years since the release of version 2, we have invested heavily into research to improve the neural stimulation and overall effectiveness of the program. We have also been collecting input from our customers on how to increase usability and enhance the user experience.

This release adds an array of new and exciting features, making Neuro-Programmer more powerful, usable and more effective than ever before.

Here are a few of the new features available in NP3:

– Improved sessions and neural stimulation methods

– Biofeedback-optimized neural stimulation

– Export to MP3 or OGG

– Reverberation / Echo effects

– Pitch / tempo effects

– Volume normalization

– Visual plugins and enhanced screen flashing

– ALL sessions are now editable

– Improved recording and hypnosis scripting tools

– New layout, wizards and overall enhanced user experience

Try it out for yourself today! Explore the website for more information:

What’s new



Video Tutorials

Upgrade from version 2


Neuroplastic changes found following brainwave training

A user just sent me a link to an exciting new study outlined in Science Daily about brainwave training resulting in changes in brain plasticity (or the ability of the brain to adapt to change):

Significant changes in brain plasticity have been observed following alpha brainwave training.

A pioneering collaboration between two laboratories from the University of London has provided the first evidence of neuroplastic changes occurring directly after natural brainwave training. Researchers from Goldsmiths and the Institute of Neurology have demonstrated that half an hour of voluntary control of brain rhythms is sufficient to induce a lasting shift in cortical excitability and intracortical function.

Mattel gets into the EEG business

A new brain gaming toy is coming out later this year, in the same vein as the Emotiv Headset and MindBall. This one is from an established toy company, Mattel. 

Yes, Mattel. From the people who brought you Hot Wheels, you will soon be able to purchase an EEG and accompanying game set.

Check out the video demonstration:


Read more about it here.

The sensors measure theta-wave activity in your brain; the waves are directly related to your level of focus and concentration. The sensors register the theta-wave activity, translate that activity into a signal, and transmit it as a radio frequency to the Mind Flex.

The more theta-wave activity there is, the faster the little fan in the unit will spin. The speed the fan spins at, and therefore moves the ball, is based on how hard you concentrate. The faster the fan spins, the higher the ball goes along the Z axis. Turn a dial and move the ball along the X and Y axis.

Anger, stress and healing time

The last few weeks have been taken up by my favorite part of this job: testing new equipment. I’ve been working on making the BioScan and EMWave (HeartMath) devices compatible with our Mind WorkStation software. We also received the latest LightStone hardware from Wild Divine. So, I’ve been able to spend a lot of time lately in stress-free biofeedback bliss.

But some of my fellow Columbus residents haven’t been so lucky.

In a recent study by Jean-Philippe Gouina, at our own Ohio State University, 98 Columbus residents valiantly lent their forearms to the cause of science, in order to confirm that high anger levels will likely increase the time it takes to heal:

A sample of 98 community-dwelling participants received standardized blister wounds on their non-dominant forearm. After blistering, the wounds were monitored daily for 8 days to assess speed of repair.

Individuals exhibiting lower levels of anger control were more likely to be categorized as slow healers. The anger control variable predicted wound repair over and above differences in hostility, negative affectivity, social support, and health behaviors. Furthermore, participants with lower levels of anger control exhibited higher cortisol reactivity during the blistering procedure. This enhanced cortisol secretion was in turn related to longer time to heal.

These findings suggest that the ability to regulate the expression of one’s anger has a clinically relevant impact on wound healing.

Find the study here.

So, next time your boss yells at you, or some guy cuts you off on the highway, you will have the satisfaction of knowing that they can’t heal as fast as you.

TED Talk On Biofeedback

If you haven’t viewed any of the TED videos, you’ve been missing out. There are some really stunning and thought-provoking ideas floating around.

Released this month is a short talk by neuroscientist Christopher deCharms, on the future of biofeedback technology. More specifically, he talks about the use of a rtfMRI, or “Real-time Functional MRI.”

Mental drumming

The Scientist released article today about a show in New York called “Trio for percussion and brain waves”.

The show consisted of three percussionists using their thoughts of drumming to create the performance. Their brain activity was measured, and certain spikes in that activity caused the instruments to play.

The fascinating part, to me, is that this was a trio – three people on stage, harmonizing with each other, using nothing but brainwaves.

From the article:

As a rapt audience watched, sounds issued from three laptops connected to the drummers by Bluetooth technology. The musicians’ brainwaves traveled through the air, triggering tones from the computers before leaping to life on the 12-foot-high screen hanging behind them.

The performance was part of an experiment designed by David Sulzer, Columbia University neuroscientist. It demonstrated Sulzer’s idea that thinking about an action could stimulate the brain in much the same way as actually carrying it out. 


When one of the three musicians started a mental music piece and the other two tried to accompany it, the brainwaves of the three synced up intermittently. “That was because they constantly needed to catch up with each other,” said Sulzer.

Here’s the article: 

David Sulzer explains the process behind this more in a video here:

The Mind WorkStation release

A couple months ago I was browsing through some old posts on the forum and I found one from September of 2006 where I talked about an application that was going to be in beta testing in “a couple months”. How’s that for an off estimate?

After two years of research and development, Mind WorkStation was finally released on Monday. We celebrated with a pizza party.

A huge amount of work went into this. This is the seventh software product we’ve released, and by far the most ambitious and complex. All through the development, release and support of the other products I’ve been taking notes about what users want to be able to do, what research needs to be done and what problems are encountered. So, in this application we had a very large to-do list. And all throughout development we were working very closely with other researchers, developers, AVS manufacturers, EEG and biofeedback vendors.

Dr. Huang’s new research played a big part in constructing the sessions that come with it. For example, we have been able to separate sessions into verbal vs non-verbal skills improvement. A session for memory has been developed, based on some very promising studies. There are also more fascinating sessions included, such as a migraine session using alternating-eye photic stimulation at 30 Hz, or a muscle contraction headache session randomly stimulating 1-3 Hz. Another even more successful migraine session uses frequencies chosen by the user based on comfort, instead of using a set protocol!

The idea of self-chosen frequencies is very interesting, especially when dealing with a large frequency range and people who have no experience with brainwave entrainment. Some choose gamma, others choose theta, others choose delta, and so on. Yet, at least with migraines, all appeared to benefit the user tremendously.

Michael Hutchison wrote that people have a subjective feeling of “connectedness” to a frequency when they are being entrained to it successfully. Perhaps this subjective feeling has a part to play in the success of self-chosen frequencies. I’ve written many times about how different everyone’s response is to brainwave entrainment. One person may respond very well to 8 Hz but not to 10. Or to 5 Hz but not to 7. EEG research has yielded some intriguing insights into why this is.

Brainwave entrainment occurs best at one’s natural dominant frequencies. In fact, the more dominant the frequency is (the higher the amplitude), the narrower the range a person can entrain to. Someone with a very high dominant 10 Hz frequency, may not be able to entrain at all to 7 Hz.

This is where EEG-Driven stimulation becomes very useful. It is a simple thing to discover a person’s dominant frequency in any frequency band, and that data can then be transferred in real-time to Mind WorkStation to be converted into audio/visual stimuli. We worked with the fine people at Thought Technology to develop a number of EEG protocols that do this. I also developed similar protocols in BioExplorer as well, so our EEG customers can do the same. The EEG-driven sessions I’ve tried so far have been nothing short of amazing.

The response to Mind WorkStation so far has been very positive. It is already being put to use developing sessions for clinics, nursing homes, ADD kids and more. I’m really looking forward to seeing what people do with it. We purposefully designed it to be as flexible as possible, so I fully expect to see it used in ways I could never have imagined. In the end, that’s the point; to make research and development in this industry easy.

Before I get back to regular blogging, I thought I would use this space to share some cool Mind WorkStation features.

Waveform Ramping

In Mind WorkStation waveforms can be “morphed” into each other over time. For example, you could start with an isochronic beat, and slowly morph it into a sine wave:

Here is an animation showing what happens to the sound over time:

3D Audio Positioning

This allows you to position audio in 3D space. Take a listen to the results with a relaxation script read by Max, along with some other relaxing sounds. Listen with headphones if possible.

 3D sound sample.mp3

Ambience Generator

The ambience feature randomly generates sound, reducing habituation by creating a different experience every time.

Random ThunderStorm.mp3

Random Forest.mp3

Those are three neat features I like to show off, but there is a lot more to the program. Biofeedback integration, playlists, entrainment-safe audio effects, filtering methods, new stimulation techniques, and so on. Visit the below links if you’re interested in learning more:

Better yet, download it and try it out for yourself!

Regular posting will resume soon. A lot has happened in the entrainment and neuroscience world in the past few months, I just haven’t had time to write about it. 🙂

Weekly Brain Video: Mind Ball Tournament

Here are 2 videos of an EEG-based game that looks fun and interesting, called MindBall. The idea is that you either relax or concentrate, speeding up or slowing down your brainwaves, causing a ball to move closer to your “goal”.

For our Canadian readers, the first video pits 2 Canadian Idol judges against each other.


This video is of an actual Mind Ball tournament:


Brain-controlled games coming closer to the mass market

“It’s like the Force,” said the darth-vader clad demonstrator of a new neurofeedback device. As his brain becomes more focused, a “light saber” he is holding starts to flare up. The feedback mechanism controlling the light saber is crude, and is just meant as an example, but what is unique about the latest generation of biofeedback devices is how easily they can be used by the general public, who wouldn’t normally bother with awkward head caps or messy electrode paste.

The neurofeedback device used to control the light-saber can be used without electrode paste, and operates more like a pair of headphones than an EEG:


These headsets have been distributed to game and toy makers, and hopefully that will result in some exciting new games brought to the market in the near future. The company said it could also be used in MP3 players, allowing it to adapt the music to the mood of the listener.

Another gaming system that has been around for a while is called the Play Attention, which uses a bicycle helmet converted to an EEG device to detect the wearer’s brain activity. It is designed mostly for children, and seems geared specifically toward helping with ADD. The company claims it is currently being used in over 400 school systems.

We had a chance to experiment with another system that is relatively simple to use,  called IBVA, which you can check out here: Instead of traditional electrodes, it incorporates the use of a simple headband. The headband used disposable electrodes that would snap in when you needed them. It was very user friendly, but probably still not what the majority of consumers want to deal with. It was also quite pricey, at $1800+.

A problem with bringing neurofeedback technology to the public has always been price, but that is changing as well. NeuroSky, the company behind the brain controlled light saber, say they will have their headphone-looking device out this year, and that it will be priced at $50. “The technology has been around for a hundred years,” company spokesman Greg Hyver said. “The problem was the cost, and we fixed that.”

Another problem with these systems is that they seem largely restricted to measuring from the forehead. This is no problem if all you want to measure is concentration, but can be very limiting if you want to “train” a different part of the brain, or measure deeper states of relaxation. This is one of the reasons we ultimately couldn’t use the IBVA system for our work. I don’t know how any of these other devices will overcome this limitation, aside from requiring that users shave their heads. But, for students, children and many adults, this kind of system would be ideal, and at $50… why not?