Your Very Active, Unconscious Brain

Whether you are asleep or wide awake, your brain is always active.

Even when your body rests deeply in a coma — supposedly beyond the reach of feeling and thought — your brain is hard at work commanding the systems that are pumping blood through your body, moving air into an out of your lungs, and making sure your digestive system is processing food. Most likely, we now know, your brain is doing even more than that.

Research shows that the supposedly unconscious brain can indeed register sensations, store memories, and is where 99.9% of our mind activity resides. Even at root level (unconsciousness), our brain stores our thoughts along with perceptions and emotions, impacting what we say, think and do.

In studies at the University of California San Francisco, some sedated patients could, upon awakening, repeat word-for-word what doctors said while they were under sedation, indicating the brain may even be aware of its surroundings while anesthetized.

We know our brains work differently when under anesthesia and other drug-induced altered states. We also know those states are very different from the dreaming brain. And very different from an awake brain.

It is difficult to define consciousness. That’s why scientists studying the brain are turning their attention to brain connectivity rather than studying individual regions of the brain for clues to consciousness. When researchers track the way sensory signals (brain neural impulses) travel from one part of a conscious brain to another, these signals jump to many different parts of the brain. However, when the brain is unconscious, the signals don’t hop around. Instead, they tend to stay put and gradually fade.

This may mean that consciousness is more a matter of internal brain communication rather than information processing. And some brains, researchers are finding, are better about communicating information internally than others.

We are fascinated by just about everything related to brains here at INDY Neurofeedback. If you want to see how the connectivity in your brain is working and want to keep your brain in peak condition, give us a call.

12 Facts you Probably Didn’t Know About Your Brain

At INDY Neurofeedback, we are completely fascinated with understanding how the brain functions.

But we don’t study the brain just to understand it better. We use technology and neurofeedback to help people learn more about their individual brain function to help them use their brains more effectively and productively.

For instance, INDY Neurofeedback can help people overcome behavior issues from brain injuries, or help people stop repetitive or compulsive behaviors, bad habits, or overcome fears. Using neurofeedback, we can also help improve the quality of sleep, and help with anger and stress management. We can also help with chronic pain management, and help those with ADHD and autism symptoms.

Here are some interesting facts about our amazing brains and brain function. Did you know, for example, that:

  • Babies are born with all the neurons they will ever have?
  • An entire area of the brain is devoted to hearing consonants?
  • Your brain burns 20 percent of your body’s oxygen and glucose?
  • Your brain requires about 20 watts of electric power – about the energy as a household light bulb?
  • Completely different parts of the brain are responsible for determining quantity (how many) and volume (how much)?
  • Unconsciousness occurs eight-to-ten seconds after loss of blood supply to the brain?
  • Everyone, including the deaf, use the left hemisphere to process language?
  • You are more likely to remember something if the experience combines information and emotion?
  • There are special grid cells in the brain that help you navigate?
  • Seeing someone in distress triggers mirror neurons in your brain to feel similar emotions?
  • The part of your brain that recognizes an object is different from the part in your brain that locates it?
  • Reflex responses such as a knee jerk, come from the spinal cord, not the brain?

INDY Neurofeedback is here to help your brain responsiveness by helping you retrain the way you think, react, recall, and respond. If you have a question about your own condition or concern, we’re happy to activate our brains and listen to you!

Your Brain and Memories

Do you remember watching the video of that first passenger plane crashing into the World Trade Tower over and over again the day of September 11th, 2001? Most of us think that’s what we saw as we learned of the attacks. But most of us have remembered this incorrectly.

Because we saw that footage hundreds of times, it’s what we associate with that day. But the fact is, we did not actually see that plane crash footage until more than 24 hours after the attack occurred because it wasn’t released to the public until the afternoon of September 12th.

So if our memories cannot actually be completely trusted, what’s going on here? Quite a lot, actually.

It turns out that scientists have long known that recording a memory takes more than filing away a thought. Recording a memory requires adjusting the connections between our neurons – and we have a lot of those – 100 billion neurons in all. Each and every one of our memories adjusts a tiny subset of the neurons in the brain, changing the way they communicate.

Then those changed neurons need to send messages to one another across narrow gaps called synapses. A synapse is much like a busy mail center, complete with machinery for sending and receiving letters — our neurotransmitters — specialized chemicals that convey signals between neurons

Eric Kandel is a 2000 Nobel laureate neuroscientist at Columbia University in New York City who has done five decades of groundbreaking memory research. Kandel has shown how short-term memories—those lasting a few minutes—involve relatively quick and simple chemical changes to the synapse that make it work more efficiently. He proved that to build a memory that lasts hours, days or years, neurons must manufacture new proteins and expand the associations between other neurons to make the neurotransmitter memory stick and be retrievable.

Long-term memories must literally be cemented into the brain’s synapses with many, many neuro associations over time. Kandel calls this long term memory “consolidation.”

We tend to think that our memory system works something like a journal entry. Before the ink dries, it’s possible to smudge what’s written. But after the memory is written down (consolidated), it changes very little. Yes, memories tend to fade over the years, but under ordinary circumstances the content stays the same. But Kandel’s research challenges these assumptions.

Kandel found that a memory could be weakened by any sort of trauma. In animal testing, if an electric shock or a drug that interferes with a particular neurotransmitter was administered just after a lab rat was prompted to recall a memory (lab maze), the memory (the maze run) became disjointed. This suggested that memories were vulnerable to disruption even after they had been consolidated.

He also proved that memories are not consolidated just once, when they are first created. Instead, they need to be at least partially rebuilt every time they are recalled. That means that recollections can be swayed by intense emotions, misleading information, hearing another version of the same story, trauma, and many other brain interruptions. Kandel’s experiments and other scientists research suggested that memory can easily be distorted without people realizing it.

People do tend to have accurate memories for the basic facts of a momentous event, for example, that a two planes were careened into the World Trade Towers. But we quite often misremember smaller details around the momentous ones. In this example, television and other media coverage reinforce the central facts. But recalling personal memory experience allows distortions to creep in. Our memories become malleable, with whatever is present around you interfering with the original content of the memory.

“This may be a big part of the reason why,” suggests Leanne O’Neil of INDY Neurofeedback, “that family members witnessing the same family event, often remember it very differently. It’s also why those dealing with traumatic stress around a memory may have trouble remembering details. Strong emotions can absolutely affect or change the way our memories work.”

My experience with brain mapping at INDY Neurofeedback

What’s it feel like, exactly, to have your brain mapped at INDY Neurofeedback? I decided I wanted to find out for myself. (Full disclosure, as a blogger for INDY Neurofeedback, I wanted insight into what I was going to be writing about.)

A couple of weeks before my QEEG brain mapping appointment, INDY Neurofeedback sent me an email including several questionnaires. I was asked to complete a Profile, History and Metabolic sections, including questions pertaining to age, general health and wellbeing, smoker or non-smoker, drinker or abstainer, medications taken, that sort of thing.

I was also asked what in particular I wanted to understand about my brain — such as brain clarity, headaches, ruminating, memory, mood swings, poor concentration, anxiety, and/or organizational thinking. Had I been in any car accidents? Had any concussions? Taken any falls involving my head as an adult, or even as a child?

Since most of my prior trips to a health professional have not involved a lot of questions about brain wellbeing, it was interesting to – no pun intended – wrap my head around this. What, if anything, was I concerned about my brain health? What self-behaviors did I wonder about? What answers about how I think, react, emote, remember, and/or obsess about might I be looking for? Talk about being circumspect! I took my time with my answers (about 30-40 minutes), and sent back the questionnaires.

When I went to meet Leanne O’Neil over a week later, I wore comfortable clothes, and arrived very curious. Here’s what I learned right off the bat:

  • I needn’t have worried about fixing my hair for our meeting. Something akin to a bathing cap was comfortably placed over my head, rendering useless any styling techniques I might have employed.
  • Next, Leanne put a small dab of clear goo on several places on my head, and then attached several flexible wires to the cap. No wires stuck into me. Nothing itched. It was all very comfortable.
  • I sat in a softly lit room on a comfortable chair, facing forward. Leanne sat to my left, looking down at her computer monitor. She had placed a square sheet of paper with a black circle in the middle on a shelf a few feet away from me. She asked me to stare at the circle, blinking as little as possible, as she ascertained where various activity centers of my brain were.
  • She moved a few wires. I repeated the circle stare several times. I began to get better at not blinking.
  • Most frequently asked new client question: “Can you see what I’m thinking?” Answer: No. The scanner only reads brain region activity, nothing more.
  • “Can you feel or sense the scan?” Another no. I heard Leanne typing up the numbers she saw on her screen. I neither heard nor felt anything else.
  • “Is it like a lie detector? Will I be asked any compromising questions?” Not at all. The process is very quiet. Just a few instructions about relaxing and eye blinking as Leanne maps the areas of your brain.

The full mapping process took about an hour, plus another 30 minutes or so back in Leanne’s office to talk about the results. (Plus about 10 minutes between those time allotments to wipe a little goo from your scalp and fluff up your hair.)

Back in Leanne’s office, I sat across from her. She had about six pages of printed out results, including several easy to understand bar graphs and pictures showing the primary areas of my brain, and what each area was responsible for.

Leanne began the discussion with something like, “Here are your brain mapping results. Most likely, you already know most of what these results substantiate. There really shouldn’t be any surprises here. This just gives you concrete terms with which to understand what you are already aware of.”

I saw how each area of my brain was performing, taking clues from the graphs and print outs in front of me. Some areas were underperforming (dysregulated brainwave patterns) and others were more regulated. Since I am a question-asker, I asked quite a few. But someone else could have quietly listened, and taken it all in without a discussion, and that would have been fine, too.

I left Leanne’s office with my paperwork, knowing my results were confidential. INDY Neurofeedback follows all HIPAA regulations.

What might the next steps be? Well, the baseline scan numbers were right in my hands. If I wanted to strengthen or re-train any dysregulated areas of my brain, I could set up a series of sessions called biofeedback or neurofeedback. With the help of a brain scan and working with a trained professional, I would be able to help whatever areas of my brain I chose, such as strengthening memory, or re-directing pain signals, or helping regions affected by stroke or injury. The list is virtually endless, and it is guided by the patient herself. I would be able to see the results of any improvement I made with my next scan.

I have to say, I left fascinated. And intrigued to learn more.

If this sounds interesting to you for yourself or on behalf of a family member, it’s very easy to contact Leanne O’Neil with your questions or concerns. (P.S. She is real easy to talk to.)