The question, “When should I use an alpha frequency and when should I use a gamma frequency?” is not new. In the context of brain photobiomodulation and Vielight products, this question refers to the Vielight Neuro Alpha and Neuro Gamma devices. More specifically, answering this question requires an understanding of the differences between these two devices, their effects, and their applications.
There is a relatively simple way to think about when to use the Vielight Neuro Alpha vs the Neuro Gamma transcranial photobiomodulation (tPBM) devices. To be more precise, the name “pulsed transcranial photobiomodulation (PtPBM) devices” offers a more complete description of the function of these unique products. Furthermore, this name refers to the only difference between these two devices, which is the pulse rate of the near-infrared (NIR) light that they emit.
What is the benefit of the pulsed light tPBM? The answer can be simple, and it can be complex. Here is a simple answer: the pulsation of the light acts as an additional brain stimulation mechanism. Distinct pulse rates can stimulate the brain differently, producing differentiated effects. They can modulate and regulate corresponding brain waves, as well as the entire spectrum of neural oscillations. Distinct pulse rates can also affect and help to induce different brain states.
About Vielight Neuro Devices
To bring research to practice, Vielight has developed home-use transcranial photobiomodualtion devices. These tPBM devices can modulate cellular processes in the neurons and stimulate neural oscillations in the brain. The Vielight Neuro devices have been on the market since 2016. The current generation of these devices, the Neuro 3 lineup, was launched in late 2021. The redesigned models offer better user experience, comfort, and longevity, while delivering the same high-quality pulsed photobiomodulation to the brain.
The Vielight Neuro line of devices includes three models: the Neuro Alpha, the Neuro Gamma and the Neuro Duo. All three devices share the same headset and nasal applicator designs. The headset is designed to cover and stimulate the default mode network (DMN) of the brain. These devices also have the same LED light sources. Four LEDs are located on the headset, and one on the nasal applicator. All of them emit 810 nm near-infrared (NIR) light.
What are the differences between Vielight Neuro models?
You may recall that the difference between the Neuro models is in the pulse rate of the NIR light that they emit. We touched on this subject earlier in this article. Let’s dive deeper into this.
The Vielight Neuro Alpha
The Vielight Neuro Alpha device emits 810 nm NIR light pulsed at the frequency of 10 Hz. This is the frequency that falls within the range of brain’s alpha oscillations band. The Neuro Alpha device can stimulate and regulate brain’s alpha neural oscillations, while also affecting other frequency bands of neural oscillations (Zomorrody at al, 2021). The researchers in this study conclude: “Findings from this study provide novel evidence that tPBM modulates neural oscillations in a frequency and location dependent manner. This is also the first investigation to measure the significant effect of an intranasal NIR LED on brain oscillation with EEG.” This study revealed important aspects and effects of PtPBM using NIR light pulsed at 10 Hz. More research on this subject, including other pulse frequencies, is warranted.
This device has been used in research studies. It is currently used in a study for TBI, which has not yet been completed. It was also employed in a pilot study for symptoms for Gulf War Illness (GWI). In this exploratory study the researcher concluded that:
Results of these two case reports suggest that PBM therapy may be safely used to help alleviate many GWI symptoms. PBM was well tolerated by both veterans and there were no adverse effects. However, the treatments will likely need to be continued on a regular basis based on previous studies that suggest the effects of PBM are not maintained. This points to the importance of having PBM devices that are amenable to home use for treating GWI. These promising, preliminary results suggest that future, larger-scale, controlled trials of home PBM for GWI are warranted. (Chao, 2019).
Neuro Alpha and alpha wave brain stimulation effects
The Neuro Alpha delivers PtPBM using alpha wave stimulation. It is suitable for a brain that needs help with more flexibility and state shifting, or conscious redirection of attention capability. Furthermore, the 10 Hz alpha PtPBM usually has a generally calming effect on the brain. Reportedly, the effects of this pulse frequency correlate with increases in internal focus, body awareness, and state of peacefulness.In a study by Saltmarche et al (2017), with individuals with mild to moderately severe cognitive impairments, participants showed significant cognitive improvement, increased function, better sleep, fewer angry outbursts, reduced anxiety, and less wandering.
Neurofeedback practitioners noticed, that if the brain tends to ruminate and loop, and has difficulty shifting between tasks and states, alpha stimulation can be very helpful. In such cases, alpha wave stimulation can provide support for much-needed cognitive flexibility. Anecdotally, a number of individuals who experienced the benefits of alpha wave stimulation reported feeling generally relaxed and calm.
On the other hand, there are individuals who can take only a little of alpha stimulation at a time. This can happen because alpha wave stimulation can introduce more variability to the brain. For example, this could be a case when it is hard for a brain to handle too much flexibility. Therefore, despite receiving beneficial effects from tPBM on cellular level, such individuals could find being exposed to prolonged alpha brain stimulation somewhat cognitively discomforting. However, the same individuals may benefit from shortening their alpha tPBM session duration to a more appropriate for them level. Thus, just 10 or even 5 minutes of alpha wave PtPBM could be sufficient to feel its benefits if you have a higher sensitivity to alpha stimulation.
The Vielight Neuro Gamma
The Vielight Neuro Gamma device emits 810 nm NIR light pulsed at the frequency of 40 Hz. This is the frequency that falls within the range of brain’s gamma oscillations band. Just like the Neuro Alpha, the Neuro Gamma can also affect other frequency bands of neural oscillations (Zomorrodi et al, Scientific Reports, Nature 2019).
Active tPBM caused significant changes in network global efficacy in the alpha band for 50–60%, 75%, 85–90% of sparsity levels, in the gamma band for 15%, 50–60%, 70–75% and 90% of sparsity levels. Sham tPBM did not cause any significant change in the global efficacy. Additionally, by analyzing brain network properties using wPLI and the graph theory measures, we observed significant effects of active tPBM. The connectivity measures, which assessed the integration and segregation properties of the network, showed a significance increase in clustering coefficient, characteristic path length (CPL) and local efficiency measures for each oscillation frequency band. The pulse frequency employed likely plays an important role in the effects of tPBM on brain activity. Pulsing NIR light not only minimizes the heating effect and increases the possible penetration depth, but may effectively interact with cellular activity via two proposed mechanisms by: (a) impacting the ionic channels kinetic such as potassium and calcium in the mitochondria (b) increasing the dissociation rate of nitric oxide from cyctochrome c oxidase. (Zomorrodi et al, 2019).
The Neuro Gamma devices have been employed in a number of studies and clinical trials, including those for Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, TBI, concussion, and autism spectrum disorder.
Neuro Gamma and gamma wave brain stimulation effects
In general, gamma wave stimulation is better suited for brains that tend to be more easily distracted and less focused. Furthermore, in some cases, combining tPBM with other activities to optimize brain’s performance can be an important factor in attaining best results. One such activity can be meditation, and current studies are exploring this amalgamation and its effects on the brain.
When it comes to the Neuro Gamma’s capabilities, they can be summarized as a non-invasive brain stimulation within the gamma band range. The 40 Hz pulse frequency range is associated with the natural gamma brain oscillations. This type of oscillations is usually present in the brain during high levels of activity in solving complex tasks. PtPBM stimulation in the 40 Hz gamma range can be beneficial for a brain that needs help to maintain engaged and complex processing states (Zhang et al, 2021).
Furthermore, studies (Chao, 2019) have shown that near-infrared light pulsed at 40 Hz can facilitate improvements in cognition. This includes improvements in speed and the ceiling of learning abilities. Other effects noticed in the studies were stimulation of brain’s immune cells, improved perfusion, and clearing out of toxic proteins.
The Vielight Neuro Duo
Last, but not least, in the lineup is the Vielight Neuro Duo PtPBM device. The Neuro Duo can pulse the light either in the alpha or the gamma frequency band. Thus, the Neuro Duo combines the 40 Hz pulse frequency of the Neuro Gamma and 10 Hz pulse frequency of the Neuro alpha in one device, offering all the benefits of alpha and gamma PtPBM. You, as the user, can select one of the two frequencies for your tPBM session. For example, a recent study involving children with autism (Pallanti et al, 2022) employed both the Neuro Alpha and the Neuro Gamma devices. It demonstrated a reduction in the severity of autism spectrum disorder, as well as a reduction in cognitive and behavioral rigidity. The study also demonstrated an increase in sleep quality, and improvement in attention in the study participants.
The Vielight Neuro Pro — the flagship
The most recent addition to the Neuro family of Vielight devices has been the Vielight Neuro Pro. One-of-a-kind, the Neuro Pro offers customization options that no other photobiomodulation device can offer.
Unlike other Neuro devices, the Neuro Pro is not a one-button-push device. It comes with an app that drives the functionality of the device, giving the user full control over photobiomodulation parameters. This ability to customize numerous parameters of a tPBM session is what sets the Neuro Pro apart.
For example, with regards to the stimulation at the level of neural oscillations, the Neuro Pro covers all frequency bands. It has a pulse range of up to 10,000 Hz. This capacity allows users to set the pulse rate at any frequency corresponding to any of the known brain’s neural oscillations.
Whether you are interested in stimulating and regulating delta, theta, alpha, beta, or gamma oscillations, the Neuro Pro can help you do that.
If you are researcher, a neuroscientist, or a health and wellness practitioner with a focus on the brain, you may appreciate the unique customization features that the Neuro Pro offers. Furthermore, if you are a serious biohacker, an advanced meditator seeking to deepen your meditative experience, or a neurotech aficionado, you will surely be interested in the Neuro Pro.
Is dose important for alpha and gamma brain stimulation?
How can I regulate the amount and level of brain photobiomodulation? How can I attain the optimal outcomes from pulsed tPBM? These are very important questions. Answering them would require consideration of the capabilities of the device used, as well as user’s individual sensitivities.
When it comes to the Vielight Neuro Alpha and Gamma devices, some users find it helpful trying different session duration options to create a tPBM experience that is optimal for them. Some people do well with only 5 or 10-minute sessions at first, and then work their way up over time. Others may find that they can tolerate only shorter session durations and stay with those with which they are comfortable. However, most users report a good tolerance of a full 20-min-session, which is the Neuro device’s pre-set default duration.
Selecting the right time of day for your tPBM session could make a difference as well. Some people are benefitting from using the gamma in the mornings, or as a midday or an afternoon “pick-me-up.” The same people can also find that, if they use it in the evenings, they have trouble sleeping. Some people benefit from a few minutes of gamma stimulation to jumpstart early in the day, and then a session of alpha stimulation in the evening, to wind down.
Finding a balanced dose of pulsed tPBM stimulation
Despite overwhelming biological similarities, we have many differences that can make us feel and react differently to various stimuli. For example, some people can run full gamma stimulation sessions and feel very energized and focused, whereas more than a brief exposure to the alpha may leave them feeling muddled and a little disconnected.
On the other hand, some may feel and enjoy the calming effect of the alpha stimulation sessions, but cannot tolerate more than only a few minutes of gamma stimulation. It is important to consider these sensitivities and use the devices accordingly. There are numerous ways that you can optimize and maximize your brain photobiomodulation experience. It only takes a little bit of effort and some trial time. Understanding that, Vielight offers a 6-month-80%-back return policy on all Vielight devices, and a two-year product warranty.
Furthermore, those who use the Neuro Pro devices have many more options available to them to fine-tune their tPBM experience. If you are a lucky Neuro Pro owner, in addition to the customizing the duration, you can consider turning off some of the LED modules, decreasing the power of the LEDs, or a combination of all three variables. This personalized customization can help you to optimize your tPBM session to fit your personal needs, tolerance, and comfort.
How to avoid brain overstimulation during pulsed tPBM?
20-min-sessions suggested for general Vielight Neuro use are usually suitable for most. However, there is a small number of individuals who may require a little bit of self-testing to establish the tPBM session duration that both tolerable and beneficial for them.
Brain overstimulation can happen as a result of excessive dosage of tPBM. Whether you are doing alpha or gamma brain stimulation, it is always best to avoid overstimulating your brain.
Overstimulation usually manifests itself in a form of a transient headache. Practice shows that there can be too much of a good thing, and more does not always mean better. Notably, an important factor in avoiding overstimulation is understanding your individual response to tPBM. It is important to establish the appropriate dose of stimulation that works for your brain specifically.
A simple way to do this is to start tPBM stimulation with lower duration and increase it over time. For example, a starting time can be 5 minutes per session, every second day, to establish your tolerance level. The users with good tolerance can gradually increase the time to 10 minutes, then to 15 minutes, and finally to full 20 minutes per session. This tolerance testing could be done over a period of 3-4 weeks. In addition to the tPBM session duration, it is important to consider the frequency of the sessions. The general suggested frequency of use for the Vielight Neuro devices is 3 times a week or every second day. However, in some cases the use can be extended to up to 6 days a week with one day off.
Some neurofeedback practitioners suggest that there are ways to mediate overstimulation with one pulse rate by using another. If a person prone to overstimulation undergoes gamma stimulation, for example, they could potentially mediate that overstimulated feeling by using alpha wave stimulation immediately after. This option could help to bring that higher frequency state in the brain’s gamma oscillations to a more agreeable level.
How to avoid brain under-stimulation during pulsed tPBM?
On the other hand, under-stimulation, or delivering insufficient levels of light energy to the brain, is also not a good practice. It would defeat the purpose of tPBM. Appropriate dosing of tPBM levels is an important factor in attaining best outcomes.
How long does it take to feel the effects of pulsed tPBM
In conclusion, it is important to note the timeline of when the effects of pulsed tPBM sessions may occur. Usually, users notice some effects of pulsed tPBM within a period of 2 weeks to 3 months after their first tPBM session. This period is reported anecdotally by the users, and seen in a number of studies, many of which have been mentioned above.
Everyone’s brain is “wired” somewhat differently, and sensitivities to brain stimulation differ. Depending on where you are on the sensitivity spectrum, you may feel the effects somewhat earlier or somewhat later.