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Alpha waves are neural oscillations in the frequency range of 7.5–12.5 Hz arising from synchronous and coherent (in phase or constructive) electrical activity of thalamic pacemaker cells in humans. They are also called Berger's wave in memory of the founder of EEG.
Alpha waves are one type of brain waves detected either by electroencephalography (EEG) or magnetoencephalography (MEG) and predominantly originate from the occipital lobe during wakeful relaxation with closed eyes. Alpha waves are reduced with open eyes, drowsiness and sleep. Historically, they were thought to represent the activity of the visual cortex in an idle state. More recent papers have argued that they inhibit areas of the cortex not in use, or alternatively that they play an active role in network coordination and communication. Occipital alpha waves during periods of eyes closed are the strongest EEG brain signals.
Some researchers posit that there are at least two forms of alpha waves, which may have different functions in the wake-sleep cycle.
Alpha waves are present at different stages of the wake-sleep cycle. The most widely-researched is during the relaxed mental state, where the subject is at rest with eyes closed, but is not tired or asleep. This alpha activity is centered in the occipital lobe, and is presumed to originate there, although there has been recent speculation that it instead has a thalamic origin. This wave begins appearing at around four months, and is initially a frequency of 4 waves per second. The mature alpha wave, at 10 waves per second, is firmly established by age 3.
The second occurrence of alpha wave activity is during REM sleep. As opposed to the awake form of alpha activity, this form is located in a frontal-central location in the brain. The purpose of alpha activity during REM sleep has yet to be fully understood. Currently, there are arguments that alpha patterns are a normal part of REM sleep, and for the notion that it indicates a semi-arousal period. It has been suggested that this alpha activity is inversely related to REM sleep pressure.