If you’ve been looking for an alternative way to treat conditions like depression, anxiety, or ADHD, you may have come across neurofeedback in your searching. You may have also found yourself wondering what neurofeedback is, how it works, and if it could help you. For that, we’re here to help break it down.
What is Neurofeedback?
Even though neurofeedback has been around for decades and has been used by organizations like NASA and professional sports teams, many people haven’t heard of it until recently. This is likely due to the recent advances in science and technology helping neurofeedback become more widely accessible to the public.
Neurofeedback is a subset of biofeedback. Biofeedback is a broad term for being able to learn to control some of your bodily functions through real-time feedback. It’s like learning to slow down your breaths-per-minute by watching your breathing rate on a screen.
Neurofeedback is biofeedback that’s specifically targeted to your brain. It oftentimes uses an EEG machine and is sometimes referred to as EEG biofeedback. While there are several different forms of neurofeedback, the most common form is brain wave training.
Brain waves refer to the naturally-occurring electricity that we all have in our brains all the time. These waves range from slow- to fast-moving and can have an impact on how we feel. For example, too many slow waves occurring during the day could be contributing to focus issues. Too many fast-moving waves could play a role in anxiety.
Frequently, neurofeedback begins with brain mapping. This is done by attaching sensors to the scalp to get a real-time reading of your brain. This shows how and where these brainwaves are occurring in the brain. Neurofeedback then is the process of training these waves to operate differently, leading to more optimal brain function.
This ability for the brain to grow and change is called neuroplasticity. Studies suggest that people with larger, healthier brains may be at a lower risk of developing dementia. They may also experience stronger recall, clarity, focus, and creativity.
Studies have also linked neurofeedback training to improved memory. This may be a result of increased neuroplasticity. More neuroplasticity is correlated with more synaptic growth in the hippocampus, a part of the brain critical for short-term memory — like remembering names, dates, and conversations.
One study found that neurofeedback training significantly improved the visuo-spatial short-term memory in 70% of the study participants. Furthermore, other studies have found that neurofeedback training may be more effective than other cognitive training in some cases.
Many people who go through neurofeedback training report having improved sleep quality. Oftentimes, sleep disturbances correlate with dysregulation of slow-moving delta waves. Many people with sleep issues may find that they don’t have enough slow-moving waves at night to trigger the brain to fall asleep. Yet they may also find they have a surplus of these waves during the day, leading to drowsiness or a lack of focus when it’s time to be alert.
Other people may find that they have too many fast-moving waves at night, contributing to an overactive brain that doesn’t want to “turn off.” Neurofeedback can help bring these waves back into balance, which can help improve overall sleep quality.
Reduced ADHD Symptoms
People with ADHD have brain maps that tend to show an excess of slow-moving theta waves, coupled with a deficit in sensory motor rhythm. Research has suggested neurofeedback training may be a way to treat ADHD, by restoring balance to these areas in the brain. Some studies have even claimed that neurofeedback may be as effective as medication.
While ADHD diagnosis requires meeting certain criteria set by standardized behavioral checklists, these checklists can leave room for subjectivity. This subjectivity can even blur the lines between symptoms of different conditions. For example, sleep issues or anxiety could cause a person to feel unfocused yet on high-alert, possibly confusing these symptoms for ADHD. An added bonus of brain mapping is being able to see more objectively the source of certain symptoms.
Anxiety is usually associated with symptoms of racing thoughts, feeling “on edge,” and/or sleep disturbances. Oftentimes, this is reflected in a brain map that shows a surplus of fast-moving beta waves, and a deficit of alpha waves associated with calm and focus.
In one study, 32 participants were randomly assigned to receive either alpha-wave specific neurofeedback, or an active control training. The neurofeedback group showed an increase in alpha waves, as well as a reduction in anxiety symptoms when compared to the control group.
Improved Depression Symptoms
Some research has linked neurofeedback training with a decrease in depression symptoms. Depression symptoms can manifest differently when brain mapping, but it’s not uncommon to see a dysregulation of slow-moving waves associated with depression symptoms. This also correlates with the fact that many people with depression also have irregular sleeping patterns.
One study found that participants who underwent 8 weeks of training two to three times per week concluded that neurofeedback training could have significant effects in patients with major depressive disorder. The same study also showed significant reductions in anxiety symptoms amongst participants as well.
At Neurocore, we utilize both traditional biofeedback along with neurofeedback training methods. We’ve found that when biofeedback and neurofeedback are used independently of one another, many clients will see positive results. However, for optimal health and results, we provide a combination of both methods.
To learn more about how Neurocore’s training programs may be able to help you, give us a call at 800.600.4096.
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Neurocore makes no claims that it can cure any conditions, including any conditions referenced on its website or in print materials, including ADHD, anxiety, autism, depression, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, migraines, headaches, stress, sleep disorders, Alzheimer’s and dementia. If you take prescription medications for any of these conditions, you should consult with your doctor before discontinuing use of such medications.